Canine Degenerative Myelopathy Symptoms

Canine degenerative myelopathy is a progressive condition of the spinal cord. It's most common in German shepherds, though it can occur in some other large breeds. There's no way to stop the progress of the disease, but vets feel that proper management can help slow degenerative myelopathy's progression in dogs. Here's what you should know about canine degenerative myelopathy and its symptoms.

Causes of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Vets don't know what causes degenerative myelopathy. It usually occurs in German shepherds between 5 and 14 years of age. Irish setters, standard poodles, Belgian shepherds and Boxers are among the other large breeds that have been known to succumb to degenerative myelopathy. Male dogs are more prone to this condition than female dogs. 

Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease, meaning that dogs get slowly weaker and weaker over a four to six month period of time following diagnosis. Degenerative myelopathy usually affects the hind legs first, but muscle weakness can spread to the front legs as well.

If your dog develops degenerative myelopathy, his hind legs will seem to grow slowly weaker. He may have trouble standing up or jumping. His nails may drag when he walks, and his toes may take on a knuckled appearance. The inner toes of his hind feet may become irritated or inflamed as your dog struggles to balance his weight on the hind feet.

Dogs with degenerative myelopathy may begin to stumble frequently as they become progressively weaker due to nerve damage. Their hind legs may tremble and they may experience muscle loss in the hind legs as these muscles atrophy. Eventually, dogs with degenerative myelopathy will lose control of their bladder and bowels. As the disease moves into its final stages, symptoms of weakness, trembling and stumbling will begin to affect the front legs as well.

Managing Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

There's no cure for canine degenerative myelopathy, and the best treatment can hope for is to slow the progression of the disease somewhat. You can help to manage your dog's canine degenerative myelopathy by administering nutritional supplements designed to slow the progression of the disease. A special diet of rice, vegetables, pork and tofu may help some dogs stave off the symptoms of degenerative myelopathy for longer. Gentle exercise, such as swimming and walking, as well as physical therapy, can help to slow the progression of canine degenerative myelopathy.

Your dog will also need to be nursed as the disease progresses. Keep your dog as clean and dry as possible, especially after urinary and fecal incontinence set in, as incontinence puts your dog at risk for lesions, ulcers and secondary skin infections. Use rugs and carpets in your home to help give your dog the traction he'll need when standing, sitting and walking with degenerative myelopathy. A bath towel, rolled up and wrapped under your dog's middle, makes a handy sling that you can use to help support your dog's weight while he walks.

Most dogs with degenerative myelopathy must be euthanized within 12 months of diagnosis.