Canine Degenerative Myelopathy

Canine degenerative myelopathy is an incurable disorder of the white matter of the spinal cord. Middle aged and older dogs possessing a certain defective gene have an increased risk of developing this pet disease, so it is more common in members of some breeds than others. While it is possible for cats to suffer from a similar disorder, feline degenerative myelopathy is extremely rare. 

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy

How it Affects your pet

The white matter of the spinal cord is made up of fibers that carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body. In dogs with degenerative myelopathy, these nerve fibers lose their insulating sheathes, and some die. The loss of fibers and fiber insulation reduces the ability of the spinal cord to effectively conduct signals in a pet. When this happens, the limbs do not receive appropriate movement commands from the brain, and the brain does not receive sensory information from the limbs. This degeneration results in paralysis and sensory deficits. The onset of symptoms is gradual, and the early stages of degenerative myelopathy are often mistaken for some type of orthopedic injury. The diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy is one of exclusion. This means the veterinarian must rule out other diseases that could cause the affected dog’s symptoms before settling on a diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy. Tests required to exclude other possible causes for the symptoms of this pet disease might include physical examination, blood work, radiographs, MRI, analysis of spinal fluid and other tests.

Common symptoms

Degenerative myelopathy is a slowly progressive pet health condition, so early symptoms are very subtle. More severe symptoms only occur in the later stages of the disease. Common symptoms of early degenerative myelopathy include the following: Weakness in the hind limbs, Difficulty rising and settling, Walking on the knuckles, Dragging the hind feet, Trembling of the hind legs and Muscle loss in the hind legs. The following symptoms are associated with advanced cases of canine degenerative myelopathy: Weakness in the front legs, Restlessness, Pressure sores, Incontinence, Restlessness, Anxiety, Infections, Constipation, Muscle wasting, Collapse, Pneumonia and Organ failure.

Treatments

Treatment for degenerative myelopathy is supportive. It consists of dietary supplements, physical therapy and lifestyle adjustments. In some cases, pain medications may also be necessary. Some veterinarians also recommend alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. When pets can no longer walk, carts and slings can be used as mobility aids. Affected pets can be kept comfortable for a period of time, but there is no cure. Most dogs with this pet health condition are euthanized within three years of the initial diagnosis.

Breeds Affected

This condition occurs in dogs of all breeds, but German shepherds and corgis are more likely to suffer from degenerative myelopathy than dogs of other breeds.

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy Affects

  • The white matter of the spinal cord is made up of fibers that carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body. In dogs with degenerative myelopathy, these nerve fibers lose their insulating sheathes, and some die. The loss of fibers and fiber insulation reduces the ability of the spinal cord to effectively conduct signals in a pet. When this happens, the limbs do not receive appropriate movement commands from the brain, and the brain does not receive sensory information from the limbs. This degeneration results in paralysis and sensory deficits. The onset of symptoms is gradual, and the early stages of degenerative myelopathy are often mistaken for some type of orthopedic injury. The diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy is one of exclusion. This means the veterinarian must rule out other diseases that could cause the affected dog’s symptoms before settling on a diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy. Tests required to exclude other possible causes for the symptoms of this pet disease might include physical examination, blood work, radiographs, MRI, analysis of spinal fluid and other tests.

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