Degenerative myelopathy is a genetic disorder that can affect your dog's spinal cord and severely limit mobility. Our Mechanicsburg veterinarians explain more about this crippling condition in dogs.
Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)
Degenerative myelopathy (also known as DM) is a disease that is thought to be caused by a genetic mutation found in some dogs. Your dog must have two copies of a specific mutated gene to develop this condition; however, not all dogs with a double mutation will necessarily develop this condition. Dogs with a single mutation of the gene are carriers, and if bred with another carrier, they may pass the condition on to their puppies.
Also called chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM), degenerative myelopathy in dogs is a degenerative disease affecting the pet's spinal cord which will gradually lead to a loss of mobility and eventually to loss of bladder and bowel control. This disease is seen in dogs over 4 years of age, (most often in dogs over 8), with symptoms that will become progressively more severe over time.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) Disease in Dogs Symptoms
If you are concerned that your dog may have canine degenerative myelopathy, the following are a few symptoms that can indicate early stage DM:
- Swaying backend when your pet is walking
- Difficulties rising into a standing position
- Scraping nails when walking
- Exaggerated movements when walking
- Knuckling (rear paws turning under so that your pet walks on their knuckles)
- Stumbling and tripping
- Rear legs crossing
- Loss of balance
Sadly degenerative myelopathy can quickly become severe, leading to the following symptoms:
- Loss of ability to stand on hind legs
- Unable to stand, even when lifted into position
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Gradual loss of strength in the front end
How quickly does degenerative myelopathy progress?
Unfortunately, DM tends to progress very quickly. Most dogs that have been diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy will become paraplegic within six months to a year.
How long can a dog live with degenerative myelopathy?
It's important for pet parents to note that while it can be distressing to see your canine companion lose their mobility at such a fast rate, degenerative myelopathy is not usually painful in dogs.
You might be wondering if there is a cure for degenerative myelopathy. There are no treatments, new or old, available for pets diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, and the progressive nature of this disease means that pets can quickly become unable to walk unassisted, and will soon become incontinent.
Pet parents may choose palliative care for their dog once mobility is lost; however, some pets can function well for months or even years with the assistance of a doggie wheelchair (mobility cart).
How can I help my dog if they have degenerative myelopathy?
Following a diagnosis of DM, your vet will help you to determine the best approach for your pet. While no treatment is available, there may be ways to help your pup cope with this condition.
In addition to considering various styles of dog wheelchairs, slings, and carriers, it will be critical to keeping your pup at a healthy weight because obesity puts additional strain on the body. In some cases, a combination of supplements and medications such as vitamins B, C, and E, epsilon-aminocaproic acid, N-acetylcysteine, and prednisone may slow disease progression.
What dog breeds get degenerative myelopathy?
While any dog can develop degenerative myelopathy, the German Shepherd is by far the most commonly diagnosed breed. Other breeds that are more susceptible to this disease include:
- Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- Golden Retriever
- Wire Fox Terriers
- Golden Retriever
- Great Pyrenean Mountain Dog