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Dog Degenerative Myelopathy

Dog Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) related to nervous disorder that occurs due to the disparity of spinal motor functions in dogs.

How does Degenerative Myelopathy progress in dogs?

It is a neuromuscular disorder that progresses with the hind limb lameness or paralysis of dogs. The main reason behind the disparity of motor functions is the occurrence of spinal disease. There is the loss of hind limbs coordination in dogs which attributes to ataxia.

The disease progresses as the hind limb weakness, difficulty standing, and ultimately walking failure. The dog becomes unable to walk in the later stages of the disease. It usually occurs in senior dogs of age between 8-14 years and causes the white matter degeneration.

Moreover, modern studies reveal the involvement of genetic disorder that is a risk factor of the degenerative Myelopathy disease. Feet dragging and wobbling are the common signs to testify to the presence of DM in dogs. One of its specifications is that the affected dog feels no pain.

Furthermore, it isn’t easy to diagnose DM from osteoarthritis in the early stages, which develops secondary to hip dysplasia in dogs. On the contrary, later stages include ataxia and limb weakness that offer an easy diagnosis.

What clinical signs of degenerative myelopathy are observable in dogs?

Degenerative Myelopathy has characteristic signs in dogs that are observable. Firstly, wobbling in dogs with DM is a common thing whenever he/she tries to stand still. Secondly, there is difficulty while getting up from the lying or sitting position.

 As the disease progresses, the hind limbs become weak, and ultimately a state of hind limb paralysis prevails. According to veterinarians, the possible signs of DM in dogs include;

  • Wobbling
  • Hind end swaying in a standing position
  • Paw’s knuckling while walking
  • The abnormal wearing of toenails
  • Scraping of feet on the ground
  • Troubling getting up from resting position
  • Walking disparity
  • Lack of hind limb coordination
  • Paralysis of hind limb

In severe cases, the disease progresses to the forelimbs, and thus coordination problems occur in forelimbs.

What are breeds more prone to get canine Degenerative Myelopathy?

In previous studies, researchers considered DM a disease of large breeds, but currently, they are pretty sure that it affects several breeds of dogs. German Shepherds were the primary concern of vets regarding this disease. Recently, other breeds like Wire Fox Terries, Boxers, Pembroke, Borzoi, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Kerry Blue Terries, Pug, Poodle, and Shetland sheepdog are of particular concern.

Moreover, Wheaten terriers, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retriever, and Welsh Corgis are at the same risk of getting the DM. Modern breeders are practicing genetic screening in predisposed breeds of dogs to avoid DM gene prevalence.

It is a good practice that eliminates the risk factor of the disease, thus makes it controllable. If you own one of these breeds and want to breed your dog, you should think about DNA testing just before breeding.

What are the causes of canine Degenerative Myelopathy?

Researchers are currently unable to locate the exact causes of canine Degenerative myelopathy. However, genetic mutation is the main culprit for developing DM in dogs. DNA testing reveals the three categories of dogs regarding muted gene SOD-1, whose presence results in the disease’s progression.

Normal dogs- They have the normal copies of two genes

Carrier dogs- These dogs have one muted and one normal copy of the gene

Dogs at risk- If both of the copies of the genes are abnormal, then there are greater chances of DM in dogs

According to researchers, the dogs having two muted copies of SOD-1 genes are the only dogs that suffer DM. On the other hand, other dogs with only one muted SOD-1 gene can be carriers but not developed the signs of DM. In some dogs, even with the two muted copies, there is no evidence of the progression of the disease.

How to diagnose canine Degenerative Myelopathy?

The diagnosis of Degenerative Myelopathy disease is challenging due to the presence of other underlying conditions. Other conditions like chronic arthritis and hip dysplasia may lead to losing hindquarter functions. That’s why spinal imaging techniques and X-rays are done to rule out the other leading causes.

Moreover, CSF analysis, neuromuscular tests, and tissue biopsies are also helpful for confirmatory diagnosis.

Is there any treatment option for canine Degenerative myelopathy?

Potential treatments of Degenerative Myelopathy are not available yet. However, the progression of the disease can be slowed down by using the combination of N-acetylcysteine, epsilon-aminocaproic acid, prednisone, and vitamin complex. Physical therapies like Hydrotherapy, physiotherapy help to maintain good range of motion which are also beneficial in restoring the limbs’ functions.


Degenerative Myelopathy is a disease that causes degeneration which occurs due to the muted SOD-1 gene in dogs. It causes the loss of hindquarter functions and makes the dog unable to walk. Physical exercises and drugs are helpful to slow down the progression of DM.