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What Is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

What Is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs?

Today we are looking at a degenerative condition and asking What Is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs? Let’s try to find out more…

What Is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs?

DM, also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM), is a disease that affects the spinal cord and results in gradually progressive hind limb weakness and paralysis in the affected area. White matter degradation in the spinal cord is causing the symptoms that you’re dog is experiencing. DM is similar to some kinds of human amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is more popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease among the general public.

Although there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy in dogs, the associated symptoms can provide some relief. Treatments for DM include diet and exercise. In addition to physical therapy, vitamins B, C, and E can slow down the progression of the disease.

In some cases, medications can help slow down the progression of the disease. But in the majority of cases, no treatment is available.


A dog’s neurological system is often affected by a progressive, degenerative disease called degenerative myelopathy (DM). Clinical signs of this disease usually do not appear until the dog is older, and only a biopsy of the central nervous system can confirm the diagnosis.

In dogs, DM can be presumptively diagnosed by observing compatible clinical signs and looking for mutations in the SOD1 gene, which codes for an enzyme that protects the spinal cord from oxidative stress.

The SOD1 gene is associated with both DM in dogs and with Lou Gehrig’s disease in people.

Degenerative myelopathy diagnosis is made through a complete physical examination and neurological testing.

What Is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Basic labwork and x-rays are usually done first to rule out other causes. Advanced imaging is also sometimes used. Supportive care is the foundation of treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs. Rehabilitation and nutritional supplements may be beneficial.

Occasionally, alternative therapies such as homeopathy or chiropractic care can help a dog’s condition.

Diagnosis of degenerative myelitis in dogs depends on the location of symptoms. The first symptom is paraplegia, which is a paralysis of the hind end. It progresses gradually over time and is most often fatal if not treated.

If the disease has progressed to the hind limbs, the dog will eventually develop a paraplegia.

Symptoms of degenerative myelopathy in dogs can mimic the signs of other diseases, which is why it is essential to be certain about the diagnosis. The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination and diagnostic testing to rule out other potential causes.

Diagnostic tests may include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Depending on the severity of the condition, the veterinarian may also collect cerebrospinal fluid samples to identify the disease process.

A general anaesthetic is required to perform these tests.

When should a dog be diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy? If symptoms persist for more than a year, the condition might not be treatable with conventional methods.

Ultimately, the dog will be euthanized or die. It may be a case of genetic or environmental factors. If you suspect DM, your veterinarian should recommend an MRI. It is important to note that there is no cure for this condition.

Degenerative myelopathy in dogs can affect any breed, but it is most common in German Shepherds. In fact, it has been linked to the breeds Rhodesian Ridgeback, Boxer, and the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

While degenerative myelopathy is inherited, genetic testing does not confirm the disease. In fact, some dogs do not show any symptoms when genetically tested.

Diagnosis of degenerative myelitis in dogs requires a combination of history, neurologic examination, and genetic testing.

Clinical symptoms of this disease include slow loss of muscle mass, ataxia, and weakness. X-rays and MRIs are typically required to rule out other possible causes of a dog’s weakness, such as a tumor. Cerebrospinal fluid analysis is also important since the presence of protein in the spinal fluid is indicative of DM.

Some dogs also develop chronic disc disease, making the diagnosis of DM difficult.


The long-term prognosis for degenerative myelopathy in dogs is poor. In the majority of cases, animals are euthanized between six and three years after diagnosis. While there is currently no cure, a specialized treatment plan can help slow the disease’s progression and prolong life.

Your veterinarian can prescribe a treatment plan that is tailored to the symptoms and severity of the disease.

Early symptoms of the disease include hind leg weakness and an unsteady gait. If the symptoms are not accompanied by pain, early signs can be mistaken for an orthopedic injury.

Early signs can also include uneven wear of the rear toenails.

In dogs that have already developed degenerative myelopathy, they may be asymptomatic for several months. MRIs and CSF analyses are usually necessary for a definitive diagnosis.

While DM is not painful in dogs, it is very similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans. As it progresses, it causes degeneration of the white matter of the spinal cord, which is crucial in transmitting information to the body.

As a result, your dog will lose muscle mass in its legs and back. This deterioration may eventually cause your dog to become unable to stand up on its own or even collapse in a severe case.

The first signs of degenerative myelopathy in dogs appear around eight years of age. The most common symptom is a loss of balance and coordination in the back. Affected dogs may stumble over slippery surfaces and appear drunk.

The disease typically progresses over months and may result in a dog losing their ability to walk or stand independently. When degenerative myelopathy is detected early, it is still possible to prevent paralysis from occurring.

While there is no cure for the disease, there are many options for treating symptoms. Degenerative myelopathy symptoms in dogs can include weakened hindquarters, difficulty in walking, and even paralysis.

The most common dogs affected by this disorder are German shepherd dogs and Pembroke Welsh corgis.

What Is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

As of 2008, it has been found in 43 breeds of dogs. If the symptoms in your dog are persistent, you should seek medical attention immediately.

While dogs may show no outward signs, a biopsy or tissue sample of the spinal cord may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. The veterinarian may also recommend an MRI or CT scan if symptoms persist.

During the diagnostic process, your veterinarian will order several tests, including multiple X-rays. If the test results are inconclusive, your veterinarian may recommend more aggressive treatment.

Your vet will likely order MRI or myelography to rule out other possible causes.

DNA tests can be performed on your dog. Some breeds are prone to developing the disease, but DNA tests are also an option.

DNA tests for degenerative myelopathy can detect a mutated copy of SOD1 in dogs.

However, the test cannot determine whether your dog has an active case of the disease. Your veterinarian will need to look for other signs of the disease, such as degeneration of the hind legs and a limp.


While the early stages of degenerative myelopathy are not painful, the disease can progress over time and cause your dog to become incontinent. In the end, your dog may even become fecal incontinent.

It typically takes 12-18 months for the disease to progress. In severely affected cases, your veterinarian may suggest euthanasia. The good news is that you can slow the progression of this disease through personalized treatment plans.

While there is no known cure for degenerative myelopathy, treating other concurrent problems may provide temporary relief. Keeping your dog physically active and reducing his stress level are key to maintaining a high quality of life.

Regular physical therapy and hind limb carts can help your dog stay active and prevent foot damage. Adding a rug to slippery floors can also delay the need for euthanasia and prolong your dog’s life.

The early symptoms of degenerative myelopathy include hind leg weakness and unsteadiness in gait. In the early stages, you may confuse the symptoms with orthopedic injuries. The disease’s symptoms often progress from mild to moderate and eventually lead to complete back paralysis.

Treatment of degenerative myelopathy in dogs should begin with an accurate diagnosis. MRIs and CSF analyses are recommended to rule out other causes of spinal cord dysfunction.

A dog with two mutated SOD1 genes is at greatest risk for developing the disease. Genetic testing for DM may be done. However, this test can only give an accurate diagnosis – and does not eliminate the possibility of DM.

A dog with two mutated copies of the SOD1 gene has a 50% chance of developing it. MRI tests, however, are not reliable for diagnosing the disease and cannot predict its severity.

Treatment of degenerative myelopathy in pets will involve surgery and medication. Surgery may be an option, but treatment is not likely to be curative. While there is no cure for this disease, the information you obtain will help you cope with the disease.

Your dog will likely die of degenerative myelopathy if left untreated. If your dog has been diagnosed with this disease, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

The disease is most common in older dogs, but can occur in young dogs as well. It is most likely to occur in breeds like the Boxer, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Chesapeake Bay Retriever, although young dogs have been reported with this disease.

The mutated gene is linked to the disease’s symptoms and is responsible for most cases. The disease is most likely to progress if a dog has two copies of the gene.

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