Alright! So if you are landed here searching about Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) in dogs, then you are in the right place. This blog, besides exploring the challenges of Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs, will illuminate approaches to alleviate pain, promote mobility, and enhance the overall well-being of our beloved canine companions.
Right! But let’s find out what Degenerative Myelopathy is in the first place.
Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs is a progressive and devastating neurological disease that affects the spinal cord, hind limbs, and overall mobility. And while there is unfortunately no known cure for DM so far, there are various strategies and treatments available to help manage the condition and improve the quality of life for affected dogs.
Understanding Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
Degenerative Myelopathy is a progressive disease that primarily affects the spinal cord, leading to the degeneration of nerve fibers responsible for transmitting signals to the hind limbs. Although the exact cause of DM remains unknown, it is believed to have a genetic component, with certain breeds, such as German Shepherds and Boxers, being more susceptible.
As the disease progresses, dogs with DM experience a gradual loss of coordination and mobility in their hind limbs. Initially, subtle symptoms such as difficulty rising, dragging of paws, and a noticeable hind-end weakness may be observed. Over time, the condition worsens, eventually resulting in paralysis of the hind limbs.
Alleviating Pain and Discomfort
While DM is not typically associated with pain, affected dogs may experience discomfort due to the loss of mobility and the physical strain on their bodies. As pet owners, our primary goal is to ensure our dogs remain pain-free throughout the progression of the disease. Here are some strategies to achieve this:
1. Pain Medication: Consult with a veterinarian to determine appropriate pain management options for your dog. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other pain-relief medications may be prescribed to help alleviate any discomfort associated with DM.
2. Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation: Engaging in physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises can be immensely beneficial for dogs with DM. These exercises focus on maintaining muscle strength, improving balance, and enhancing coordination.
3. Assistive Devices: Utilizing assistive devices such as harnesses, slings, and wheelchairs can significantly improve mobility and quality of life for dogs with DM. These devices provide support and stability, enabling dogs to move independently and comfortably.
4. Home Modifications: Adapting your home environment to accommodate your dog’s changing needs is crucial. Installing ramps or providing gentle inclines can help your dog navigate stairs more easily. Placing rugs or mats on slippery surfaces can improve traction and prevent accidental falls.
5. Pain-Free Comfort: Ensuring your dog has a comfortable bed or orthopedic mattress can alleviate pressure points and provide relief during rest periods. Regular gentle massages and warm compresses can help soothe muscle stiffness and promote relaxation.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
In addition to pain management, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential for dogs with DM. Here are some key factors to consider:
1. Proper Nutrition: Providing a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet is vital for supporting overall health and managing weight. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best diet plan for your dog’s specific needs. Certain supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, may also offer potential benefits.
2. Regular Exercise: Although dogs with DM have limited mobility, they still require regular, low-impact exercise to prevent muscle atrophy and maintain joint flexibility. Short, controlled walks, swimming sessions, and therapeutic exercises tailored to their abilities can help keep their muscles toned and improve circulation.
3. Mental Stimulation: Mental enrichment activities are crucial for keeping your dog engaged and content. Puzzle toys, interactive games, and training exercises that focus on mental stimulation can help maintain their cognitive abilities and overall well-being.
4. Emotional Support: Dogs with DM may experience frustration or anxiety due to their changing abilities. Offering them plenty of love, attention, and mental stimulation can help alleviate stress and promote a positive emotional state. Consider consulting with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to address any specific behavioral challenges.
Dog Breeds Susceptible to Degenerative Myelopathy
While any dog can potentially develop DM, certain breeds are more prone to this condition than others. Understanding the breeds that are at higher risk for Degenerative Myelopathy can help you be proactive in monitoring your dog’s health and taking appropriate steps for early detection and management.
Breeds Prone to Degenerative Myelopathy:
1. German Shepherd:
German Shepherds are one of the most commonly affected breeds when it comes to Degenerative Myelopathy. They have a genetic predisposition to the disease, and it is believed to be an inherited autosomal recessive trait. German Shepherds often show symptoms of DM in their middle-aged to older years.
Boxers also have a higher risk of developing Degenerative Myelopathy. Similar to German Shepherds, it is thought to be an inherited autosomal recessive condition in this breed. Boxers affected by DM usually exhibit symptoms around 8 to 10 years of age.
3. Pembroke Welsh Corgi:
Pembroke Welsh Corgis are prone to Degenerative Myelopathy, with a relatively higher prevalence compared to other breeds. While the exact cause is not fully understood, research suggests a genetic component. Symptoms typically appear in middle-aged to older dogs.
4. Chesapeake Bay Retriever:
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are another breed known to be susceptible to Degenerative Myelopathy. Although the exact genetic basis is not well-defined, studies have indicated a higher prevalence in this breed. Symptoms typically appear between the ages of 8 and 10.
5. Rhodesian Ridgeback:
Degenerative Myelopathy has been observed in Rhodesian Ridgebacks, although the prevalence is relatively lower compared to some other breeds. The genetic factors contributing to DM in Rhodesian Ridgebacks are not yet fully understood.
6. Bernese Mountain Dog:
While Bernese Mountain Dogs are generally a healthy breed, they have been reported to be at a higher risk for Degenerative Myelopathy. Symptoms often appear later in life, around 8 years of age or older.
While the exact causes of DM are still being studied, it is evident that certain breeds have a higher susceptibility to this neurological disease. So if your dog belongs to any of these at-risk breeds, you should be vigilant and proactive in monitoring your pet’s health, observing for early signs of DM, and seeking medical care if any symptoms arise.
While Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs is a progressive and incurable disease, it is possible to make their journey pain-free and enhance their overall well-being.
By implementing a combination of pain management strategies, providing assistive devices, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and offering emotional support, we can empower dogs with DM to enjoy a fulfilling life with as much mobility, comfort, and happiness as possible.
Consult with your veterinarian and animal physical therapist to develop a personalized care plan that addresses your dog’s specific needs, ensuring they receive the best possible care throughout their battle with DM.
And make sure of regular veterinary check-ups, dog physical therapy routines, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and being aware of the signs and symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy are essential for all dog owners, regardless of breed. By staying informed and proactive, we can provide the best possible care and support for our furry companions affected by DM or any other health condition.
How I can help:
I, Dr. Joshua Hall, help injured and aging animals live pain-free lives without surgery or medication. With a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions and a specialization in orthopedic care, I have dedicated my life to providing optimal care for animals.
At my Salt Lake Animal Physical Therapy clinic you get exceptional care and personalized attention. I assure you that your animal can live their life with less pain and regain their vitality. And so that you are sure you are in the right hands, we offer a complimentary, risk-free appointment at our clinic.
Whether you are in Utah or any other state, feel free to get in touch with me here!