Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

What is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs?

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord of dogs. It is a disease of the central nervous system that causes degeneration of the myelin sheath surrounding the nerves of the spinal cord, leading to paralysis of the hind limbs.

Signs and Symptoms of DM in Dogs

The most common signs of DM in dogs include:

  • Loss of coordination in the hind limbs (ataxia), such as the dog’s hind legs becoming wobbly and their gait becoming unsteady
  • Weakness in the hind limbs, such as the dog’s hind legs becoming weaker over time
  • Knuckling or dragging of the hind paws, such as the dog’s hind legs crossing over each other when trying to walk or the nails of the hind paws becoming worn down
  • Difficulty standing and impaired balance, such as the dog’s hind legs trembling or collapsing when standing or their head bobbing when trying to stay upright
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control, such as the dog’s inability to hold its bladder or having difficulty defecating

Diagnosing DM in Dogs

The diagnosis of DM in dogs is usually based on a neurological examination, plus additional tests such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and a nerve conduction study. A complete blood count and chemistry panel should also be performed to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms. Finally, a genetic test can be performed to determine whether the dog has a gene that is associated with a higher risk of developing DM.

Treating DM in Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no cure for DM. Treatment is focused on managing the symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. This includes physical therapy to maintain muscle mass and strength in the hind limbs, using assistive devices such as carts and/or harnesses to help with mobility, providing therapeutic nutrition to help maintain function and prevent malnourishment, and administering medications to reduce inflammation and pain.

Preventing DM in Dogs

The best way to prevent DM in dogs is to avoid breeding dogs with a known genetic predisposition to the disease. Screening tests can be performed on breeding dogs to identify any that may be at risk of passing the gene to their offspring. Additionally, dogs with a family history of DM should not be bred.

Finally, all dogs should receive regular check-ups, including neurological examinations, to ensure that any problems are caught and addressed as early as possible.

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