Muscular Dystrophy in Dogs

Muscular dystrophy in dogs is a result of low amounts of dystrophin, resulting in the progressive degeneration of muscles.

Muscular Dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy in dogs is seen in many breeds, but is seen the most frequently in Golden Retrievers. Muscular dystrophy occurs when the dog lacks dystrophin. Dystrophin is a protein necessary for the proper function of muscle membranes. There are several types of Muscular Dystrophy. Duchenne is the most common form of MD in canines.

Muscular Dystrophy Is Hereditary

Yes. Males are at a higher risk for muscular dystrophy because of genetics. The condition is carried only by the X chromosome. As a result, female dogs need to inherit the gene from both mother and father, while the male dog only needs one parent to pass the gene down. Cases of muscular dystrophy in female dogs are known for being milder than cases in male dogs, as well. Females are more often carriers and show little to no clinical signs of the disease.

Because it is a hereditary disease most common in pure-bred dogs, breeders should be aware if their dogs carry this gene and how it works so they are not passing it on from dog to dog.

Symptoms of Muscular Dystrophy

Symptoms generally begin showing up between 6 to 8 weeks of age. Things you'll want to watch out for include:

  • Difficulty swallowing due to an enlarged tongue
  • Lack of interest in playing/exercise
  • Muscular weakness
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty moving tongue
  • Limb deformity
  • Tremors/shaking
  • Gait abnormalities

Treatment of Dogs with Muscular Dystrophy

There are no cures for muscular dystrophy. There are no therapies, either. Progression of the disease can be slowed, in some cases, with anabolic supplements – that is, steroid hormones.

Stem Cell Research Findings

In 2006, a research team in Italy discovered that implanting stem cells into dogs with muscular dystrophy greatly improved their symptoms. Four out of the six dogs who received stem cell injections began to improve as their level of dystrophin increased and they regained muscle strength and mobility. Two of the dogs, injected in later stages of the disease, regained their ability to walk.

Stem cell research for muscular dystrophy is still in the early stages, as researchers are trying to determine why some dogs responded to the treatment, but not all. There is also the question of whether to inject using stem cells from a healthy dog into a sick one, or to take the sick dog's stem cells and "correct" them. The latter technique, while it did increase the level of dystrophin in the sick dogs, was not as successful as injecting with healthy cells.

Prognosis of Dogs with Muscular Dystrophy

Unfortunately, even with the stem cell research breakthroughs, life expectancy in dogs with muscular dystrophy if sketchy at best. Some dogs may survive only a few days, while others might go on to live a couple of years. Muscular dystrophy in dogs often causes problems with the heart, and it's these complications that lead to death.