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Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Degenerative myelopathy is a disease that affects the nervous system in older dogs. Initially, it affects the hind limbs but eventually progresses to paralysis of all four limbs.

What Is Degenerative Myelopathy?

Also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM), degenerative myelopathy (DM) is similar to some forms of human amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Dogs with degenerative myelopathy experience gradual affects to the spinal cord, which results in slow progressive limb weakness and can eventually lead to paralysis.

What Causes Degenerative Myelopathy?

Degenerative myelopathy is caused by a mutation in the superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) gene which must be inherited by both parents of the dog. This mutation of the SOD1 gene causes a degeneration of the white matter in the spinal cord leading to incoordination and eventual paralysis.

The parents may be carriers of the disease without ever showing signs and pass this mutation down to their offspring.

Currently, DNA testing can screen for the mutation but will only show whether a dog is a carrier of the mutated gene and not whether they will develop the disease.

What Are the Clinical Signs of Degenerative Myelopathy?

Recognizing degenerative myelopathy in your pet can be difficult as many often associate discomfort in older dogs with old age. As always, you should speak with your regular veterinarian to help identify some of the clinical signs and potentially diagnose your dog with degenerative myelopathy.

Early Clinical Signs of Degenerative Myelopathy

Early in the disease process, clinical signs can include:

  • Incoordination

  • Weakness of the hind limbs

  • Scuffing nails or toes during walks

  • Difficulty rising from a seated or lying position

  • Easily imbalanced if nudged from the side

Developed Clinical Signs of Degenerative Myelopathy

As the disease progresses, signs will worsen to include:

  • Paralysis of the hind limbs

  • Urinary and fecal incontinence

  • Paralysis of front limbs

  • Difficulties swallowing

  • Difficulties with respiration

What Dogs Are Commonly Affected By Degenerative Myelopathy?

The average time of initial onset of the disease is 8 years of age. Typically, degenerative myelopathy affects more large breed dogs although small breed dogs can develop the disease rarely.

Commonly affected breeds are:

  • German Shepherd Dogs

  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks

  • Pembroke Welsh Corgis

  • Cardigan Welsh corgis

  • Boxers

  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers

How Is Degenerative Myelopathy Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy will be made based on the patient’s history, clinical signs, physical exam findings, and diagnostic tests to rule out other potential problems such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. DNA testing may also be performed to detect the SOD1 mutation if degenerative myelopathy is suspected.

Degenerative myelopathy is a disease that is considered to be a diagnosis of exclusion. What this means is that there is no test that can be done to reach a definitive diagnosis of the disease so all other potential diseases must be ruled out first, which can be a challenging process.

What Is the Treatment for Degenerative Myelopathy?

Sadly, there is no treatment for degenerative myelopathy and eventually, it will be fatal to the dog. Physical therapy and rehabilitation have been found to improve the quality of life and survival time in dogs that have been diagnosed with the disease as maintaining the health of the dog’s muscles and mobility can play a significant role in their longevity.

It is important to work closely with a veterinarian as this disease progresses so that they can help determine the best course of treatment for the dog. Ultimately, a decision to euthanize may be the kindest option for the dog as their quality of life diminishes.

How Can Acupuncture Help Degenerative Myelopathy?

As mentioned, maintaining good muscle health and mobility is incredibly important as this disease progresses. While degenerative myelopathy itself is not painful, dogs with the disease will likely experience some level of discomfort as their mobility changes.

Decreased mobility in the hind legs means that dogs will be using more of their core muscles and front legs to move around which can lead to muscle fatigue and strain. Acupuncture can help to relieve the tension and discomfort in these areas making it easier for the dog to work through physical therapy and rehabilitation comfortably.

How Aloha Veterinary Acupuncture Can Help

If your dog has recently been diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, veterinary acupuncture might be a rehabilitation treatment worth considering.

Check out the benefits of veterinary acupuncture, and feel free to contact us with any questions you might have. You can also schedule a video consultation with Dr. Kho, who can discuss your pet and address any questions or concerns you may have about veterinary acupuncture for your dog’s degenerative myelopathy!

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