Understanding the Basics About Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
A degenerative spinal disease, Degenerative Myelopathy can cause lameness in dogs. Here’s what to look for and how to treat this illness.

Also known as spinal cord disease, degenerative myelopathy is a serious condition that affects a dog’s spinal cord and eventually leads to lameness. This disease can affect dogs of all breeds and ages and, unfortunately, it has no known cause and no cure. Degenerative myelopathy is a heartbreaking disease because there is nothing that can be done once symptoms start to manifest. Let’s talk about the basics of this disease so you will know what to expect.

What is Degenerative Myelopathy?

As the name of this disease would suggest, degenerative myelopathy is a progressive and degenerative disease of the spinal cord. This condition affects the dog’s central nervous system, particularly the cervical and lumbar portions of the dog’s spinal cord.

Related: What is Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?

Degenerative myelopathy typically manifests in middle-aged to older dogs between the ages of 8 and 14 years, though it can technically affect dogs of any age. This disease generally begins with the formation of lesions on the spinal cord and it may also involve damage to the neurons in the brain. In terms of physical symptoms, degenerative myelopathy may cause changes to the dog’s gait and coordination, causing him to wobble a little as he walks.

As the disease progresses, it may cause partial or full limb paralysis and loss of bladder/bowel control. Some dogs also experience muscle atrophy as they are unable to use their hind limbs. Once the disease manifests, the clinical course generally ranges from 6 months to 1 year before the dog becomes completely paraplegic.

Related: Mobility Aids Help Senior Dogs Keep Moving

The cause for degenerative myelopathy is not known, though there does seem to be a genetic aspect to the disease. All dogs have the potential to develop this condition though some breeds seem to have a higher prevalence – examples include Welsh Corgis, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Boxers, Collies, and Poodles. Though degenerative myelopathy can lead to some very serious symptoms, it is fortunately not a painful disease.

How is Degenerative Myelopathy Treated?

One of the most heartbreaking characteristics of degenerative myelopathy is its degenerative nature. Once your dog starts to display symptoms, it is only a matter of time before he loses the ability to walk. The long-term prognosis for this disease is poor due to its degenerative nature in addition to the fact that there is no known cure.

The only treatments for degenerative myelopathy are supportive in nature. Some studies have shown that regular exercise may help to delay atrophy and slow the progression of spinal cord damage – a healthy diet is also beneficial as is the maintenance of a healthy bodyweight. There are no medications which has been proven effective against degenerative myelopathy and pain relievers are typically not necessary.

Not only is there no known cure for degenerative myelopathy, but there is also no way to prevent the disease from manifesting or from progressing after onset. The best thing you can do for your dog is to learn as much as you can about the disease so you know what to expect and can make concessions for your dog to help him live as normal a life as possible.

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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