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What is degenerative myelopathy in dogs?

What is degenerative myelopathy in dogs?

Degenerative myelopathy is a genetic abnormality which can affect your dog's spinal cord and severely limit your pet's mobility. Here our Winston-Salem vets explain more about this debilitating condition in dogs.

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

Degenerative myelopathy (sometimes simply referred to as DM) is a disease that is believed to be caused by a genetic mutation found in some dogs. To develop this condition your dog must have two copies of a particular mutated gene, however, not all dogs with a double mutation will necessarily develop this condition. Dogs with a single mutation of the gene are carriers and could pass the condition on to puppies if bred with another carrier.

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.

How do I know if my dog has degenerative myelopathy?

If you are concerned that your dog may have canine degenerative myelopathy, the following are a few symptoms which 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 strength in 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.

There is no treatment available for pets diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, and the progressive nature of this disease means that pet's can quickly become unable to walk unassisted, and will soon become incontinent.

Pet parents may choose palliative care for their pup once mobility has been lost, however some pets can do very well for months or even years with the help 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. 

As well as considering different styles of dog wheelchairs, slings and carriers, it will be essential to keep your pup at a healthy weight since obesity adds extra strain to the body. In some cases progression of the disease may be slowed with a combination of supplements and medications including vitamins B, C, and E, epsilon-aminocaproic acid, N-acetylcysteine, prednisone. 

What dog breeds get degenerative myelopathy?

While any dog can suffer from degenerative myelopathy, by far the most common dog breed to be diagnosed with DM is the German Shepherd. Other breeds that face an increased risk of this disease include:

  • Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Golden Retriever
  • Boxers
  • Wire Fox Terriers
  • Borzoi
  • Golden Retriever
  • Great Pyrenean Mountain Dog

Our neurology department at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the spinal cord such as degenerative myelopathy in dogs. If your pet has DM, ask your vet about a referral for your pup to see our Veterinary Neurologist. Our veterinary neurologist works with your primary care vet and other specialists to ensure your pet will receive the best care possible. 

Caring for Winston-Salem Pets

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists, we accept new clients to our specialty services by referral only. Our 24/7 emergency service welcomes all clients.

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