Canine Degenerative Myelopathy.


In another of our series of dog health articles, Holidays4Dogs looks this time at  Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM). This disease can generally be described as a progressive paralysis of the hind limbs associated with spinal cord degeneration. It is usually not painful and tends to develop in older dogs. Read on for more information.

DM was once regarded as a disease in German shepherd dogs, but in recent years it has been seen in other breeds of dog including; boxers, corgis, Bernese mountain dogs and cavalier king Charles spaniels, to name but a few.

What causes Degenerative Myelopathy?

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Bernese Mountain Dog

DM is a genetic abnormality in dogs. The most common form is a mutation of the gene code for superoxide dismutase which is a protein that destroys free radicals in the body.

When free radicals are produced in large quantities, they begin to the cause death of cells in the body and a range of degenerative type diseases. However, there are other genetic and environmental factors that can contribute to the development of DM.

It is possible to genetically screen breeds at risk of this disease. Therefore, dogs vulnerable to DM can be identified. The likelihood of a dog developing DM is especially important in dogs that are to be bred from. However the test does not identify dogs that have the disease – only dogs that may develop it.

Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy.

Typically, DM affects dogs that are over five years old but, more often, it is seen in dogs over the age of eight. The dog may begin to show signs of slight weakness in the hind limbs which will progressively worsen over a period of months. Eventually the dog will begin to walk as if ‘drunk’. He, or she, may also drag their paws along the ground when walking. As time goes on, dogs with DM can become increasingly unstable – enough to fall over, or collapse at the rear.

Diagnosis and treatment.

Unfortunately, the prognosis for this disease is not good. Eventually, the affected dog will be unable to walk, or support his own weight. Some dogs also become incontinent due to further weakness in the muscles. In some cases, the spinal cord can be affected further up, so that the front limbs then become affected.

Diagnosis needs to be carried out by a vet where clinical signs, breed and age of the dog, will be carefully considered.

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Although the disease cannot be reversed there are some treatments which may help slow the progress of DM.  Supplements of antioxidants, for example, have been suggested in slowing the progression of the disease. However, this has not been scientifically proven.

Hydrotherapy is another recommendation for dogs suffering from DM. Toe grips and harnesses are often recommended for dogs that still have some mobility.

Some dog owners resort to mobility carts for dogs that have lost power in the hind-quarters. Unfortunately, this can be an expensive option and there is still the chance that the dog will develop paralysis in the front legs.

Ultimately, it should be remembered that this is, at least, a non painful disease and adjustments to the dog’s environment can help to retain a good quality of life for a dog suffering from DM.