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Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs… Quality of Life Treatment Options

Canine degenerative myelopathy is a somewhat “uncommon” disease of the spinal cord that some older dogs may face. So, if your dog is over five years old and beginning to develop walking problems, your vet might investigate it. While there aren’t any “curative” treatments for this disorder, there are physical therapy techniques that can be employed that can “minimize” some of the common symptoms associated with this disorder as well as “possibly” slow down the progression of the disease.

This is why…

In this article, we wanted to take a moment and discuss precisely what Degenerative Myelopathy is, as well as describe what it might be like to own a dog that is suffering from this condition so that you, as a loving owner, will know what to expect. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in.

What is Degenerative Myelopathy?

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is probably “best” described as the canine “version” of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which is a disease characterized by a “slow” yet “progressive” spinal cord disorder. When this condition attacks a dog, the results are hind leg problems, perhaps ultimately ending in paralysis of the rear quarter.

Which dogs are at risk?

As mentioned, DM usually strikes after a dog turns five (or eight, depending on where you read), but there are exceptions.


Some dog breeds seem to have a genetic predisposition for developing degenerative myelopathy, which is why if you are currently considering adopting a:

Or a Shetland sheepdog, you’ll want to be sure to discuss this “risk” with your breeder so that you can minimize the chances of adopting a puppy with this genetic “trait.” These dogs are believed to be more at risk because of a genetic mutation that makes them susceptible. This gene mutation is SOD1.

Fortunately, there is now a test for this genetic mutation, which means that responsible breeders worldwide can avoid breeding “carriers” of this gene, thus reducing the chances that a dog will one day develop this condition.

Clinical Signs / First Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy

The hardest thing about making a definitive diagnosis of any medical condition when working with animals is dealing with the simple fact that they cannot express their symptoms to you. Therefore, as an owner, it’s up to you to be extra observant and notice “any” slight changes in your dog’s behavior that could indicate this disorder or other medical issues.

First symptoms that you might see in your dog:

  • The rear legs are being dragged/ not seem to work correctly.
  • Toenails on hind limbs are worn more (again, due to towing).
  • General weakness in climbing stairs, playing, etc. Emphasis on the back legs.

As the disease gets worse, you’ll see more signs and symptoms of DM, including:

  • Needing help to walk.
  • Knuckling hind feed, i.e., putting the wear on the tops of the feet and not the pads like dogs are supposed to.
  • Problems with relieving themselves; maybe a reluctance to get up to do so/ accidents in the house.

Diagnosis of DM

If you ever see your dog has problems walking or anything else that could be a spinal problem, you should see a vet ASAP. Heey will do this to make an official DM diagnosis.

  • Physical & neurological exam,
  • Blood tests,
  • Urine tests,
  • MRI,
  • Spinal fluid collection and analysis.

After this, your vet can better understand if your dog has a spinal cord disease and what the next step should be.

Treatment Options

As we mentioned before, there is no cure for DM. The best you can do is try to slow down the progression of the disease, but usually, even the options to do this are limited. Instead, Palliative care is often the “best” option available. This means giving your dog the highest quality of life despite their disease. You can do this through:

  • Letting them swim more (this may only be possible in the beginning),
  • Stretching exercises,
  • Massage,
  • Getting a doggie wheelchair when the time comes.

Now, this is when…

We usually remind folks that we at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians, or medical professionals. All we are is a bunch of folks who happen to be passionate about animals and only what’s best for them! So, if you feel like your dog may be suffering from degenerative myelopathy, QUIT reading this article and have them checked out by a professional! And hopefully, when you do, you’ll learn that your dog DOESN’T have degenerative myelopathy and the problems they are having can be easily treated.

And if this is the case…

Hopefully, you’ll also use this “scare” as an opportunity to explore what it might cost to purchase a pet insurance policy for your little guy so that if they do develop a severe medical condition later in their life, you won’t be on the “hook” to pay for those medial cost 100% on your own!

For more information about who we “feel” currently offers the “best” pet insurance policies in the industry, we invite you to check out our Best Pet Insurance Companies article.

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