For most pet parents learning their dog has been diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy is likely their first time hearing about the debilitating mobility condition. There can be a lot of questions that come along with a DM diagnosis. Degenerative Myelopathy also known as Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy or DM is a progressive disease that affects the spinal cord of a dog. DM begins with hind leg weakness and will eventually result in full paralysis. Degenerative Myelopathy is generally seen in older dogs, symptoms will start to be seen in dogs aged 8-14.
DM impacts a pet’s strength and their ability to maintain control over their body which can drastically change both your and your pet’s life. Understanding the signs and symptoms of DM can help you prepare for the physical changes your dog will experience as their Degenerative Myelopathy progresses.
Here are a few of the most common questions pet parents have about their dog’s DM diagnosis:
Frequently Asked Questions About Degenerative Myelopathy Answered
Is DM a painful disease?
No. Degenerative Myelopathy is not a painful condition, but it does weaken pets. Dogs with DM will struggle, which may be painful to watch, but they aren’t experiencing any pain. This loss of strength and changes in a dog’s mobility does place additional stress on a dog’s body.
Symptoms of DM come on slowly and are often very subtle and easily missed. As the disease progresses, your dog’s hind legs will lose strength before becoming completely paralyzed. Eventually the condition will move up the spine to impact the leg strength and function of the front legs.
How quickly does Degenerative Myelopathy progress?
DM progression will vary from dog to dog, although the disease can progress rapidly. In most dogs, it takes anywhere from six months to a year from initial symptom to the final stage of Degenerative Myelopathy. The final stages of DM can progress very quickly, and a dog’s condition can deteriorate seemingly overnight.
What can I do to help my dog with Degenerative Myelopathy?
Although there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy there are many things you can do to improve your dog’s quality of life. Work with your veterinarian or physical therapist to develop a treatment plan for your best friend. Here are a few physiotherapy options available for DM dogs:
Acupuncture – helps to stimulate your dog’s nerves, especially in their hind end to decrease muscle atrophy and even slow the progression of the disease. Most canine acupuncture treatments will occur at least once or twice a week.
Exercise – keeping your dog active is crucial to their mental and physical well-being. Dogs dealing with progressive mobility loss from conditions like DM, benefit from a combination of passive and active exercise. Active exercises include slow walk, weight shifting exercises, climbing stairs, and helping your dog to stand up. Examples of passive exercise include gentle stretching and maintaining range of motion. Continued exercise helps to improve a dog’s symptoms as well as keep them healthier for longer.
Massage – Not only is massage relaxing and therapeutic, a gentle massage improves your pet’s circulation and helps to release any fluid buildup caused by inactivity.
Canine Mobility Aids – dog wheelchairs and other assistive devices will keep your dog active and make it easier for you to lift and support your dog. All dogs with DM will require the support of a dog wheelchair.
Is walking good for dogs with DM?
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. Hydrotherapy and using an underwater treadmill can help pets maintain their strength and improve their balance and mobility.
Does a dog with Degenerative Myelopathy benefit from using a dog wheelchair?
Mobility loss, leg weakness, and eventual paralysis are all guarantees in dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy. It’s not a matter of if, but when your dog will need to use a dog wheelchair to stay active. Every DM dog will require a dog wheelchair, starting them early before they need to fully rely on a mobility cart can help ease the transition. A dog wheelchair will not make your dog lazy, a wheelchair is a necessary mobility tool to give your dog the support they need to exercise and go for their daily walk.
Dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy will need an adjustable dog wheelchair that will adapt to accommodate their changing mobility needs throughout the various stages of DM.
How long can dogs live with Degenerative Myelopathy?
Most DM dogs will reach the late stages of Degenerative Myelopathy within a year of diagnosis. Although it’s possible for a dog to live beyond that time frame, their overall quality of life will determine the right time for euthanasia. Every dog’s case is different, but the average survival time for a dog with DM is usually around 130 – 255 days. A recent study found that DM dogs with a higher activity level and who have received intense physical therapy will live longer than inactive dogs..
What are the final stages of DM in dogs?
In late stage Degenerative Myelopathy dogs experience complete paralysis in all four legs. During the final stages of DM, dogs will have no control over their coordination, balance, or leg function. They will not be able to stand up without assistance or the support of a wheelchair. Additionally, respiratory issues and an inability to swallow or breath on their own may occur at the very end. Most veterinarians will recommend euthanasia before the disease progresses to this point
When is it time to euthanize my DM dog?
The decision to euthanize is something only you and your veterinarian can make. Typically pet parents can see when a dog is ready to pass but this will be the most difficult choice you can make as a caregiver. Many dogs can live happy and healthy lives with limited impacts after their DM diagnosis.
Is my dog in pain?
Most DM dogs do not seem to be in pain, just very weak. If your dog starts to exhibit symptoms of being in pain, there may be another condition such as arthritis complicating the condition.
How do I know if my dog has entered the late stages of degenerative myelopathy?
The jerkiness of movement. The dog’s tail, legs, and hind end will move in an uncontrolled, spastic way. Sometimes the hind legs will kick out for no apparent reason. The tail may raise and lower randomly as if the dog needs to defecate. Extreme weakness, loss of coordination, and balance. Dogs need help to walk and care must be taken so that they don’t fall and injure themselves. They are weak to the point where they cannot squat to defecate or urinate (they will fall if not supported). They aren’t able to get up from a down position without help, and cannot stand for long without support. Eventual paralysis of the hind end and weakness in the front end, including shoulders and legs. In the very late stages, the dog will become so weak he is unable to support himself in any way. Respiratory issues will occur along with organ failure.
Your dog’s DM diagnosis is scary, but the good news is that there are things you can do to improve its quality of life. While there is no cure for DM, you can manage the symptoms! Keeping the muscle tone in your dog’s hind end is crucial for extending your pup’s life, so hydrotherapy and physical therapy exercises are great. You can also get a dog wheelchair to help keep your dog active and playful! Focus on your dog’s mobility and continued activity. With a combination of physical therapy, a dog wheelchair, and lots of love, your dog can live a longer, more active life. Dogs with degenerative myelopathy can stay active.