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What is Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) Disease in Dogs?

What is Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) Disease in Dogs?

Degenerative myelopathy is a hereditary condition that affects your dog's spinal cord and severely limits mobility. Our Rock Hill veterinarians provide more information about this debilitating condition in dogs.

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

Degenerative myelopathy (commonly abbreviated as DM) is a disease thought to be caused by a genetic mutation found in some dogs. Your dog must have two copies of a specific mutated gene to develop this condition; however, not all dogs with a double mutation will develop this condition. Dogs with a single mutation in the gene are carriers, and if bred with another carrier, they can pass the disease on to their puppies.

Degenerative myelopathy in dogs, also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM), is a degenerative disease affecting the dog's spinal cord that causes loss of mobility and, eventually, bladder and bowel control. This disease affects dogs over the age of four (most common in dogs over the age of eight), with symptoms that worsen over time.

Symptoms of DM in Dogs

If you are concerned that your dog may have canine degenerative myelopathy, the following are a few symptoms that can indicate early stage Degenerative Myelopathy:

  • Swaying backend when your pet is walking
  • Difficulties rising into a standing position
  • Scraping nails when walking 
  • Exaggerated movements when walking
  • Knuckling (rear paws turning under so that your pet walks on their knuckles)
  • Stumbling and tripping
  • Rear legs crossing
  • Loss of balance

Sadly degenerative myelopathy can quickly become severe, leading to the following symptoms:

  • Loss of ability to stand on hind legs
  • Unable to stand, even when lifted into position
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Gradual loss of strength in the front end

How quickly does degenerative myelopathy progress?

Unfortunately, DM tends to progress very quickly. Most dogs that have been diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy will become paraplegic within six months to a year.

How long can a dog live with degenerative myelopathy?

It's important for pet parents to note that while it can be distressing to see your canine companion lose their mobility at such a fast rate, degenerative myelopathy is not usually painful in dogs.

You might be wondering "Is there a cure for Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs?" Unfortunately, there is no treatment, new or old, available for pets diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, and the progressive nature of this disease means that pets can quickly become unable to walk unassisted, and will soon become incontinent.

When a pet's mobility is lost, pet parents may opt for palliative care; however, with the help of a doggie wheelchair, some pets can live for months or even years (mobility cart).

How can I help my dog if they have degenerative myelopathy?

Following a diagnosis of DM, your vet will help you to determine the best approach for your pet. While no treatment is available, there may be ways to help your pup cope with this condition. 

In addition to researching different types of dog wheelchairs, slings, and carriers, it will be critical to keep your dog at a healthy weight, as obesity puts the body under additional strain. In some cases, a combination of supplements and medications, such as vitamins B, C, and E, epsilon-aminocaproic acid, N-acetylcysteine, and prednisone, can help slow the progression of the disease.

What dog breeds get degenerative myelopathy?

While any dog can develop degenerative myelopathy, the German Shepherd is by far the most common dog breed to be diagnosed with it. Other breeds that are more susceptible to this disease include:

  • Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Golden Retriever
  • Boxers
  • Wire Fox Terriers
  • Borzoi
  • Golden Retriever
  • Great Pyrenean Mountain Dog

Our neurology department at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Rock Hill specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the spinal cord such as degenerative myelopathy in dogs. If your pet has DM, ask your vet about a referral for your pup to see our Veterinary Neurologists. Our veterinary neurologists work with your primary care vet and other specialists to ensure your pet will receive the best care possible.

Vet Care for Rock Hill Pets

Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Rock Hill, accepts new patients to our specialty services by referral only. Our emergency service welcomes all patients.

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