What is Degenerative Myelopathy?
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive condition affecting the spinal cord. Similar to ALS in humans, dogs with DM experience slowly progressive hind limb weakness and eventual paralysis as the condition worsens. DM is a genetic condition that occurs most often in the German Shepherd breed.
Most common breeds affected by DM Include:
- German Shepherd
- Siberian Husky
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Golden Retriever
- Cardigan Welsh Corgi
- Pembroke Corgi
Dogs with DM will typically begin to show signs of the condition between 8-14 years old. DM is not a painful disease, but it does weaken pets and this weakness can put added stress on your dog’s body. If your dog is showing signs of pain, they may have another condition. Speak with your Veterinarian regarding diagnosis and developing a treatment plan.
Early Signs of DM
In the very earliest stages of DM the symptoms of the disease can be hard to spot. Degenerative Myelopathy signs come on slowly, if your dog’s mobility changes suddenly, it is likely a different condition. For DM look for the following signs:
- Knuckling in the hind paws – this occurs when a dog’s paw turns under so that the dog scrapes the top of the paw and nails
- Dog’s hind end appears to sway when standing still
- Dog loses their balance when gently pushed from the side
- Back feet are scraped when walking, may lose hair on top of back paw or see noticeable signs of nails wearing unevenly from repeated scraping
- Dog struggles to stand up from a lying position
Degenerative Myelopathy Progression
As the condition progresses and the spinal cord deteriorates the symptoms will worsen and move up the spine. Dogs will scrape their nails more often as they walk and stumbling will become more frequent as legs weaken further. In the later stages of the disease, DM dogs will be unable to bear weight on their hind legs and will become completely paralyzed in the rear, all DM dogs will need a wheelchair at some point to stay mobile. The weakness and paralysis will slowly move forward until it affects the front legs as well. Other assistive devices like harnesses and support slings may be helpful to help assist your dog when they aren't using their wheelchair.
Learn More: The Stages of Degenerative Myelopathy
Help Your Dog with Degenerative Myelopathy
Unfortunately, there is no cure for DM but there are ways that you can help manage your dog’s symptoms and help improve their quality of life.
Dog Wheelchairs for Degenerative Myelopathy
Assistive equipment, like a wheelchair can help to provide your dog the support they need to maintain an active lifestyle. All DM dogs will require a wheelchair at some point in their diagnosis. As the hind legs weaken a wheelchair will help to support a dog’s back legs, allowing them to continue to get the exercise they need. As the hind end because paralyzed, stirrups can be used to lift the legs off he ground and prevent them from dragging. The Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair can adapt to fit your dog’s changing mobility, a front attachment can be added when the front legs begin to weaken. A full support or quad wheelchair will support both the front and rear legs.
Positive Impact of Physical Therapy
Although it’s not possible to reverse the effects of DM, canine rehabilitation can be incredibly beneficial. A 2006 study showed that dogs who have received intensive physical rehabilitation tend to survive longer than dogs who only moderately underwent physical therapy. A multi-faceted approach can help slow down some of the progression. Physical exercises can help dogs maintain muscle strength, strengthen the legs, maintain spinal flexibility, and slow signs of atrophy. Rehab therapy may be combined with other types of therapy like hydrotherapy, laser therapy, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and massage. Your pet professional will work with you to create a treatment plan that is suited for your dog’s specific needs.