Canine Degenerative Myelopathy

Canine DM

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive degenerative spinal cord disease. Commonly seen in older dogs and considered a non-painful progressive hind limb paralysis. 

Tragically it is a fatal disease and can be very distressing for owners who have to support their dog through the process. However, many dogs can lead happy and fulfilling lives for many years with the love, care and support of their dedicated owners.  What are the causes? What are the signs to look for? and What are the treatment options?

Recent studies have shown a link to a genetic abnormality with a protein that is responsible for killing free radicals in the body.  When this protein is not functioning properly an excess of free radicals accumulates in the body which can lead to cell death and many degenerative diseases.  Some forms of motor neuron disease in humans are linked to the same gene mutation.

The signs and symptoms of DM are similar to many other neurological and spinal conditions so a thorough neurological veterinary exam is required.  Your Vet will look at your pet’s clinical history and age and may perform blood tests, cerebrospinal fluid test, radiography, ultrasound, MRI etc.

Clinical signs can include:

  • hind limb weakness
  • paw scuffing/dragging and crossing over of hind paws
  • hind limb ataxia (drunken sailor walk)
  • difficulty cornering often falling over

Unfortunately degenerative myelopathy leads to paralysis where your dog will no longer be able to walk and support their body weight.  Further progression leads to faecal and urinary incontinence and after many years may affect the forelimbs as well.

There is no treatment for DM, however, owners can help their dogs lead happy lives for many years with hydrotherapy, walking aids and physiotherapy.  Hydrotherapy aims to maintain muscle mass and help neurological processing contributing to a better quality of life both mentally and physically. Kinesiology and massage also help to maintain and improve the quality of life your dog can lead.  

In the end it is quality of life which will determine the time for euthanasia.

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