Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs can progress quickly, especially when it reaches its final stages. Signs of late-stage DM appear to happen overnight or within a few days.
DM in most dog breeds is caused by a mutation in the SOD1 gene (SOD1A variant). Dogs with two copies of this variant are considered at a higher risk for developing DM, although it is not guaranteed that they will develop the disease.
Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
Affected dogs will be wobbly and may knuckle over the paws, cross the hind limbs, or stumble while walking. With progression of the condition, a severely affected dog will lose the ability to stand on or move the hind limbs.
Degenerative Myelopathy has a slow, insidious onset with a slow progression of weakness. It is not uncommon for the signs to progress slowly, plateau, and then start to progress again.
14 Disorders that often mimic and coexist with DM include degenerative lumbosacral syndrome, intervertebral disc disease, spinal cord neoplasia and degenerative joint diseases such as hip dysplasia or cranial cruciate ligament rupture.
The disease can progress quickly, often getting worse within a few months. It's common for dogs to start dragging their hind legs after being diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy. Ultimately, they will find it challenging to walk or even stand on their own.
Degenerative Myelopathy can progress quickly from stage to stage. Significant mobility loss occurs within the first year of diagnosis, in most cases of DM within six months to 1 year of diagnosis before dogs become paraplegic. Complete organ failure is possible in the end stages of Degenerative Myelopathy.
Diagnosis of Myelopathy
Diagnostic tests your doctor may include are: A spine X-ray to rule out other causes of back or neck pain. Spine MRI or spine CT, to show areas of pressure on the spinal canal. Myelography, to determine location and presence of abnormalities of the spinal cord.
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.
Causes of Neurological Disorders in Dogs. Neurological conditions are commonly caused by genetic disorders, and some breeds are more prone to them. They can also be caused by cancer, trauma, and toxins. Brain tumors may be the root cause of a dog's seizures or behavior changes.
Sudden onset of collapse can be secondary to a variety of disorders including spinal cord injury, orthopedic disease, or systemic illness. This sudden hind-leg weakness may be a sign of a disease that requires prompt attention from your regular veterinarian. Or even a trip to the emergency room.
Numerous neurological conditions can result in your dog having trouble walking. These include degenerative disc disease, degenerative myelopathy, myasthenia gravis and myositis. Your veterinarian will be able to examine your dog in order to determine what is causing him to have trouble walking.
How is it diagnosed? Degenerative myelopathy (DM) can only definitively be diagnosed by identifying classic microscopic changes in the spinal cord on autopsy. DM is strongly suspected in dogs where all other causes for neurologic disease are ruled out.
For just $75, AffinityDNA will test whether your dog carries the genes associated with Degenerative Myelopathy. Using a simple swab from the inner cheek of your dog, we will ascertain whether or not your dog carries the genetic mutation that is likely to develop into the condition.
Yes, dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy should stay as active as possible. Keeping a DM dog active can actually help slow down the progression of the disease. Physical therapy and regular structured exercises, including walking, can help dogs with DM maintain muscle strength and minimize their risk of muscle atrophy.
Red flags particularly suggestive of cancer, infection, or inflammation are malaise, fever, unexplained weight loss, pain that is increasing, is unremitting, or disturbs sleep, a history of inflammatory arthritis, cancer, tuberculosis, immunosuppression, drug abuse, AIDS, or other infection.
As cervical myelopathy presents with such a variety of symptoms associated with other conditions, it can often lead to a delay in diagnosis and, sometimes, misdiagnosis in primary care. For example, sciatica can mimic certain symptoms of cervical myelopathy in the lower limb.
Cervical myelopathy occurs in the neck and is the most common form of myelopathy. Neck pain is one of the symptoms of cervical myelopathy, but not all patients experience it.
Spinal cord lesions caused by canine degenerative myelopathy are undetectable on standard clinical MRI limiting our ability to diagnose and monitor the disease.
The important thing to remember with degenerative myelopathy is that the condition itself is not painful to the dog, but is more “painful” for the owner to watch. If you have a dog with degenerative myelopathy it is important to remember that it's about the quality of your dog's life and not the quantity of the days.
Radiographs (X-rays) are usually the first line of diagnostic tests performed in determining if a dog has DM. X-rays these are excellent for ruling out hip dysplasia or other degenerative joint disease in the hind-limb joints and spine.
DCM usually develops gradually (over months to years) before it starts to cause symptoms. DCM isn't curable, but can usually be managed with medication. DCM tends to get gradually more severe over time, but the earlier a dog is diagnosed and treated the better their outlook.
STAGE 4 – LMN tetraplegia and brain stem signs (~ over 36 months) – At the end of the disease, the degeneration can progress to involve neck, brain stem, and brain. Patients will not be able to move all four limbs, have trouble breathing, and have difficulty with swallowing and tongue movement.
It is slowly progressive and is very similar to ALS in humans. Unfortunately, there is NO cure, but regular, frequent physical therapy (including land-based exercises and hydrotherapy) has been shown to increase survival times in dogs!