Degenerative Myelopathy FAQ

What are the first signs of DM in dogs?

The 8 initial signs of Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) in dogs often manifesting gradually and can be subtle. Common early signs of DM may include:

  1. Mild Gait Abnormalities: Dogs may exhibit a slight, often asymmetric, dragging of their back paws when walking. This is reffered to as posterior paresis. This may be more noticeable on smooth or slick surfaces.

  2. Difficulty with Balance: They may appear ataxic which is an unsteady or wobbly gait. This may be particularly dramatic when trying to turn or navigate corners.

  3. Muscle Atrophy: Thinning of the muscles in the hind, or pelvic limbs. Muscle atrophy can be particularly noticeable around the thighs, hips, and lower back.

  4. Loss of Coordination: They may have trouble coordinating their movements, which can be observed when trying to stand up from a lying position.

  5. Loss of Reflexes: Conscious proprioception deficits in the hind legs, also know as the "knuckling" reflex, may be diminished or absent. Worn nails can be an early sigh of a CP deficit.

  6. Altered Paw Position: Dogs might have a wide based stance with their rear or pelvic limbs. This can be a compensation due to their hind limb weakness.

  7. Slower Movement: Dogs may be slower to rise from a sitting or lying position, and their overall movement may become more deliberate. Dogs with DM may display a lack of endurance as well.

  8. Difficulty Climbing Stairs or Jumping: Once easy tasks like jumping into the car, onto the couch or running up the stairs may become challenging over time.

Early signs can be indicative of various orthopedic or neurological conditions, and a definitive diagnosis of DM starts with a veterinary neurological examination. Specific tests like blood work, xrays/ radiographs, CT scan, or an MRI may also provide useful in making the diagnosis. If you suspect your dog may be showing signs of DM, consulting a veterinarian for a proper evaluation is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.

How long can a dog live with DM?

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive and incurable condition. The lifespan of a dog with DM can vary, but the disease generally leads to a decline in mobility and quality of life over time.

On average, dogs diagnosed with DM may live for several months to a few years after the onset of clinical signs. However, the progression of the disease is highly individual and can vary significantly from one dog to another.

Various factors can influence the rate of progression, including the dog's age at onset, overall health, and how early supportive measures (such as a dog back brace and/or physical therapy) are implemented.

While there is no cure for DM, supportive care and interventions can help improve a dog's quality of life and manage their symptoms. These measures may include providing mobility aids, maintaining a consistent exercise routine, and adapting the dog's environment to accommodate their changing needs.

Ultimately, each dog's journey with DM is unique, and the goal of caregivers is to ensure their comfort and well-being throughout the course of the disease. Regular consultation with a veterinarian can help guide decisions regarding the best care and support for a dog with DM.

What is the treatment for DM in dogs?

Currently, there is no known cure for Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) in dogs. However, there are supportive measures and physical rehabilitation and treatments that can help manage the condition and improve a dog's quality of life. These may include:

  1. Physical Rehabilitation and Exercise: A structured physical therapy program can help maintain muscle strength, range of motion, coordination and overall function. Regular, short duration exercise can also be beneficial.

  2. Assistive Devices: Mobility aids like wheelchairs or back braces can provide support and enable dogs with DM to maintain their mobility and independence.

  3. Maintaining a Healthy Diet: Proper nutrition is important for overall health. A balanced diet can help manage weight and support a dog's immune system.

  4. Supplements: Some supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and specific vitamins, may be recommended to support overall health.

  5. Medication for Symptom Management: While there's no cure for DM, medications may be prescribed to help manage specific symptoms like pain or inflammation.

  6. Adaptations to the Environment: Making adjustments to the dog's living space, like providing non-slip flooring or ramps, can make it easier for them to move around.

  7. Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Regular visits to the vet can help monitor the progression of the disease and address any new or worsening symptoms.

  8. Emotional Support: Providing a loving and supportive environment is crucial for a dog with DM. Spending quality time together and ensuring they feel safe and comfortable can greatly improve their well-being.

It's important to work closely with a veterinarian to tailor a treatment plan to the specific needs and condition of the dog. Every dog with DM is unique, and a customized approach is essential in providing the best care and support.

What are the 5 stages of degenerative myelopathy?

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) in dogs progresses through several distinct stages. These stages are generally characterized by specific clinical signs and symptoms:

  1. Stage 1 (Early Onset):

    • Initial signs may be subtle and easily overlooked.
    • The dog may exhibit mild hind limb weakness or an uneven gait.
    • Some dragging or scuffing of the hind paws may be observed, especially on smooth or slick surfaces.
  2. Stage 2 (Intermediate):

    • Hind limb weakness becomes more noticeable.
    • The dog may have difficulty rising from a sitting or lying position.
    • The gait may become more unsteady and wobbly.
  3. Stage 3 (Advanced):

    • Hind limb weakness progresses, and muscle atrophy (thinning) becomes more pronounced.
    • The dog may struggle to walk and may show signs of knuckling or dragging their paws.
    • Maintaining balance and coordination becomes increasingly challenging.
  4. Stage 4 (End Stage):

    • Paralysis of the hind limbs is likely, and the dog may be unable to stand or walk.
    • Loss of bladder and bowel control may occur.
    • The front limbs may also become weakened over time.
  5. End of Life:

    • As DM is a progressive and incurable condition, the end stage typically leads to a significant decline in overall quality of life.
    • The dog may require extensive assistance with daily activities.

It's important to note that the progression of DM can vary widely from one dog to another. Some dogs may progress through these stages relatively quickly, while others may show a slower progression. Additionally, not all dogs will experience every stage, and some may exhibit atypical symptoms.

If you suspect your dog may be affected by DM, it's crucial to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and to discuss appropriate management strategies for your specific situation.

Does DM come on suddenly in dogs?

No, Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) in dogs typically does not come on suddenly. Instead, it usually manifests gradually over time. The early signs of DM are often subtle and may be overlooked or mistaken for normal aging.

Initially, dog owners may notice mild changes in their dog's gait or hind limb coordination. These signs may include a slight dragging of the back paws, particularly on smooth surfaces. As the condition progresses, hind limb weakness becomes more noticeable, and the dog may have difficulty rising from a sitting or lying position.

While the progression of DM varies from dog to dog, it is generally a slow-developing, chronic condition. If you suspect your dog may be showing signs of DM, it's advisable to seek veterinary attention promptly for a proper evaluation and to discuss appropriate management strategies.

Are dogs with DM in pain?

In the early stages of Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), dogs typically do not experience significant pain. The condition primarily affects the dog's mobility and coordination. However, as DM progresses and the dog's muscles weaken and atrophy, they may become more susceptible to discomfort or decubitus ulcers/ pressure sores from prolonged immobility.

Every dog's experience with DM can be different, and individual pain thresholds may vary. Some dogs may also have concurrent conditions like IVDD(intervertebral disc disease) that can cause discomfort.

While DM itself does not cause severe pain, it's crucial to monitor your dog closely for any signs of discomfort or distress. If you suspect your dog is in pain, or if you notice any changes in their behavior or mobility, it's recommended to consult with a veterinarian. They can provide appropriate pain management strategies and ensure your dog's overall well-being.

What breed of dogs get DM?

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is most commonly observed in certain breeds, particularly those with a genetic predisposition. Breeds that are more frequently affected by DM include:

  1. German Shepherd: This breed has a higher incidence of DM compared to many others.

  2. Pembroke Welsh Corgi: Corgis, in particular, are known to be susceptible to DM.

  3. Boxer: Boxers are also among the breeds that can be affected by DM, though it's less common compared to some others.

  4. Siberian Husky: While not as high-risk as some other breeds, Huskies can also develop DM.

  5. Golden Retriever: This breed can be affected, but it's not as prevalent as in some of the others listed.

  6. Labrador Retriever: Similar to Golden Retrievers, Labs can develop DM, though it's not as common.

Remember that while these breeds have a higher predisposition to DM, the condition can potentially occur in any breed or mixed-breed dog. Additionally, individual factors like genetics, age, weight, and overall health can influence a dog's risk for developing DM.

If you have a breed that is known to be at higher risk for DM, it's a good idea to be aware of the signs and consult with a veterinarian for regular check-ups and preventive measures.

What does back bracing do for dogs with degenerative myelopathy?

A back brace for dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) serves several important functions:

  1. Provides Support: The brace offers additional support to the spine and hindquarters, helping to stabilize the dog's posture and maintain a more normalized gait.

  2. Aids in Mobility: By providing structural support to the back and hind legs, the brace assists the dog in maintaining balance and coordination, which can be particularly challenging for dogs with suffering from ataxia and DM.

  3. Reduces Strain: It helps distribute weight and pressure more evenly across the body, reducing the strain on the weakened or affected areas.

  4. Promotes Comfort: A well-fitted brace can alleviate discomfort and pain associated with DM, allowing the dog to move more comfortably and with less effort.

  5. Delays Muscle Atrophy: By helping the dog maintain a more natural posture and gait, a back brace can potentially slow down muscle wasting and atrophy, which is common in dogs with DM.

  6. Enhances Quality of Life: Overall, a back brace can significantly improve the dog's quality of life by enabling them to move more freely and engage in normal activities for a longer period of time.

It's important to note that a properly fitted and designed back brace is crucial. It should be prescribed or recommended by a veterinarian who is familiar with your dog's specific condition. Regular check-ups with the veterinarian are also essential to monitor the dog's progress and ensure that the brace continues to provide the necessary support and benefits.

How common is degenerative myelopathy in dogs?

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is considered a relatively common neurological condition in dogs, especially in certain breeds. It's estimated that around 10% of older dogs, particularly those over the age of 8, may be affected by DM. However, in specific breeds that are genetically predisposed, such as German Shepherds, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and Boxers, the prevalence can be notably higher.

While DM is more frequently observed in certain breeds, it can potentially occur in any breed or mixed-breed dog. Additionally, individual factors like genetics, age, and overall health can influence a dog's risk for developing DM.

Regular veterinary check-ups, awareness of breed-specific risks, and understanding the signs of DM are crucial in early detection and management of this condition. If you suspect your dog may be showing signs of DM, consulting with a veterinarian for proper evaluation and guidance is advisable.