Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Symptoms and Care Guide

Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Symptoms and Care Guide

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord of dogs. This condition, often compared to ALS in humans, leads to a gradual loss of mobility in the hind limbs. In this article, we delve into the stages of DM, its symptoms, diagnosis, and management strategies.

What is Degenerative Myelopathy?

Degenerative Myelopathy is a late-onset disease that primarily affects older dogs. It is caused by a mutation in the SOD1 gene, which leads to the degeneration of the white matter in the spinal cord. This degeneration results in a gradual loss of coordination and strength in the hind limbs, eventually leading to paralysis.

Recognizing the Early Stages of Degenerative Myelopathy

The early stages of DM can be subtle and are often mistaken for signs of aging or arthritis. The first noticeable symptom is usually a slight wobble or drag in the dog's hind legs. This may progress to stumbling or falling, particularly when turning, running, or navigating stairs.

Subtle Changes in Gait

One of the earliest signs of DM is a change in the dog's gait. This may manifest as a slight limp, a dragging of the toes, or a difficulty in rising from a sitting or lying position. The dog may also show an unusual wear on their nails due to the dragging of their feet.

Loss of Muscle Mass

As the disease progresses, the dog may start to lose muscle mass in their hind legs. This is due to the lack of use and the degeneration of the nerves controlling these muscles.

Diagnosing Degenerative Myelopathy

Diagnosis of DM is primarily based on clinical signs, breed, and age. However, a definitive diagnosis can only be made through a post-mortem examination of the spinal cord.

Genetic Testing

A genetic test is available to identify the mutation in the SOD1 gene. However, not all dogs with the mutation will develop DM, and not all dogs with DM have the mutation. Therefore, this test is used as a tool to aid in diagnosis, rather than a definitive test.

Neurological Examination

A thorough neurological examination can help identify the signs of DM. This includes assessing the dog's gait, reflexes, and muscle strength.

Managing Degenerative Myelopathy

While there is no cure for DM, there are ways to manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life for affected dogs.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help maintain muscle strength and mobility for as long as possible. This may include exercises to improve balance and coordination, as well as hydrotherapy to allow the dog to move their legs without bearing weight.

Assistive Devices

As the disease progresses, assistive devices such as harnesses and wheelchairs can help the dog maintain mobility and independence.

The Final Stages of Degenerative Myelopathy

In the final stages of DM, the dog may lose the ability to control their bladder and bowels. They may also lose the ability to move their hind legs entirely. At this stage, it's essential to focus on maintaining the dog's quality of life and managing any discomfort or distress.

Conclusion

Degenerative Myelopathy is a challenging condition for both dogs and their owners. However, with early detection, appropriate management, and a focus on maintaining quality of life, dogs with DM can continue to lead happy and fulfilling lives.

A Selection of Your Queries:

Q.What is Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs?

Degenerative Myelopathy is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord of dogs, leading to a gradual loss of mobility in the hind limbs.

Q.What are the early signs of Degenerative Myelopathy?

Early signs of DM include a slight wobble or drag in the dog's hind legs, stumbling or falling, particularly when turning, running, or navigating stairs.

Q.How is Degenerative Myelopathy diagnosed?

Diagnosis of DM is primarily based on clinical signs, breed, and age. A definitive diagnosis can only be made through a post-mortem examination of the spinal cord.

Q.What is the role of genetic testing in diagnosing Degenerative Myelopathy?

A genetic test is available to identify the mutation in the SOD1 gene. However, not all dogs with the mutation will develop DM, and not all dogs with DM have the mutation.

Q.How can physical therapy help dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy?

Physical therapy can help maintain muscle strength and mobility for as long as possible. This may include exercises to improve balance and coordination, as well as hydrotherapy.

Q.What assistive devices can be used for dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy?

Assistive devices such as harnesses and wheelchairs can help the dog maintain mobility and independence.

Q.What happens in the final stages of Degenerative Myelopathy?

In the final stages of DM, the dog may lose the ability to control their bladder and bowels. They may also lose the ability to move their hind legs entirely.

Q.How can the quality of life be improved for dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy?

Quality of life can be improved through physical therapy, use of assistive devices, and focusing on managing any discomfort or distress.

Q.What breeds are most affected by Degenerative Myelopathy?

DM primarily affects older dogs of certain breeds, including German Shepherds, Boxers, and Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Q.Is there a cure for Degenerative Myelopathy?

Currently, there is no cure for DM. However, symptoms can be managed to improve the dog's quality of life.

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