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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.


If your dog is over five years old and is beginning to develop problems walking, your vet might investigate for it.

And while…

There really aren’t and “curative” treatments for this disorder, there are physical therapy techniques which can be employed which can “minimize” some of the common symptoms associated with this disorder as well as “possibly” slow down the diseases progression.

This is why…

In in this article, we wanted to take a moment and discuss exactly 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 canines “version” of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  Which is a disease characterized by a “slow” yet “progressive” spinal cord disorder.

And in the case…

Of when this condition attacks a dog, the results are hind leg problems, perhaps ultimately ending in paralysis of the hind quarter.

Which dogs are at risk?

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


Some dog breeds seem to have a genetic pre-disposition 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”.

It is believed…

That these dogs are more at risk because of a genetic mutation that makes them susceptible.  This gene mutation is SOD1.


There is now a test for this genetic mutation, which means that responsible breeders worldwide are able to 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 that dealing with the simple fact that they cannot express their symptoms to you.

So, therefore…

It’s up to you, as an owner to be extra observant and notice “any” slight changes in your dog’s behavior that could be indicative of this disorder or any other medical issues for that matter.

Here are some of the first symptoms that you might see in your dog:

  • Rear legs being dragged/ not seeming to work properly.
  • Toenails on hind limbs are more worn out (again, due to dragging).
  • 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; ie 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. This is what he/she will do to make an official DM diagnosis.

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

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

Treatment of Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs

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.


Palliative care is often the “best” option available. This basically means trying to make your dog have the highest quality of life possible despite his/her disease. You can do this through:

  • Letting him/her 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 like to remind folks that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians or medical professionals.  All we are is a bunch of folks who just happen to be passionate about animals and only what what’s best for them!


If you feel like your dog may be suffering from degenerative myelopathy, QUIT reading this article and go have him or her checked out by a professional!

And hopefully…

When you do, you’ll learn that your dog DOESN’T have degenerative myelopathy and the problems that he or she is having is something that 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 on your little guy so that if he or she actually does develop a serious medical condition later in his or her 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 right now, we would invite you to check out our Best Pet Insurance Companies article.

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