Posts Tagged ‘Understanding Degenerative Myelopathy’

Understanding Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

Friday, March 7th, 2014

degenerative myelopathy

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive neurologic disease of the spinal cord. It is characterized by weakness and coordination of the hind limbs. As the disease progresses the hind limbs will become weaker and weaker until they are paralyzed. The disease will continue to progress up the spinal cord eventually causing front limb paralysis and death. DM is most often caused by a genetic gene mutation, and is comparable to ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease in people. At this time the disease is incurable, but there are things you can do to help slow the progression and provide your dog quality of life. 

Dogs are usually older than 5 years when signs first appear. Often the first symptoms owners notice are stumbling and tripping over the back paws, however there are many symptoms to be aware of including:

  • Progressive weakness of the hind limbs
  • Worn nails
  • Difficulty rising
  • Stumbling
  • Knuckling of the toes
  • Scuffing hind feet
  • Wearing of the inner digits of the rear paws
  • Loss of muscle in the rear legs progressing to general muscle loss
  • Tremors of the rear legs
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence
  • Front leg weakness
  • Mental anxiety
  • Pressure sores on boney prominences
  • Inability to rise
  • Poor hygiene
  • Pneumonia
  • Depression
  • Infection/sepsis

*Note that the above symptoms may represent other medical concerns that should be discussed with your veterinarian

DM has been identified in 43 breeds, including German Shepherds, Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Shetland Sheepdogs, Corgis, Pugs, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.  If you have a dog who is showing these symptoms (whether they are a breed that is predisposed to DM or not) you should visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.

There is no known cure for DM at this time. The disease is non-painful, however, it is important to develop a physical therapy plan as soon as possible.  Physical therapy has been shown to increase life expectancy significantly as well as significantly increase your dog’s quality of life.

When developing a therapy plan for a dog with DM, the whole dog has to be taken into consideration. Often dogs diagnosed with DM also have arthritis or other old injuries (like a repaired torn cranial cruciate ligament) that should be taken into account. The general plan for DM includes 5 parts: active exercise, passive exercise, massage, hydrotherapy, and paw protection. Depending on the dog, we may also recommend laser therapy and acupuncture. As a rehab practitioner and vet, our goal is to slow the progression of the disease by keeping your dog as active as possible. It is also recommended that you request an at home exercise plan from your rehab vet. The more regular your routine for providing planned exercise and activity, the better it will be for your dog.

There are products that can be helpful for you and your dog as you work together. The Help ’em Up Harness will allow you to safely give your dog assistance moving around. As the disease progresses, eventually a dog wheel chair will be needed. Dogs use the wheel chair a couple hours a day to allow them some freedom of movement and to explore their world. You will want to regularly consider your dog’s quality of life. (What is your dog’s favorite thing to do? Is it to eat, play ball, swim, go on walks, or greet mom when she gets home? Having good quality of life means enjoying these things.) He/she should be checked every 3-4 months for urinary tract infections, and any wounds in order to closely monitored for signs of infection. In the latter stages of the disease, as the weakness moves forward in the body, it may become more difficult for your dog to breath and pneumonia may become a risk. At this point in the progression, it is important for you to watch for mental anxiety and depression. At some point, euthanasia becomes the kindest gift to then give your dog, but until then, enjoy your time together, and be thankful of each other and all the other two and four-legged creatures in your life.