You got to the vet and get the diagnoses. Your told that your dog has Degenerative Myelopathy (DM). But what does that mean?
DM in dogs effects the spinal cord in older dogs and is progressive. Degenerative Myelopathy symptoms begin with a loss of coordination in the rear legs, and then progresses to the dog wobbling when walking, then eventually leads to dragging the feet. It typically begins between the ages of 8 and 14. It begins in the thoracic region and is the stripping away of the insulation of the nerve fibers, as well as loss of the actual fibers themselves. The result of this loss is an interference with the communication between the brain and limbs. DM is slowly progressive over 6-36 months from diagnosis.
Research indicates that a mutation in a gene puts certain dogs at a greatly increased risk for developing the disease. Canine Degenerative Myelopathy testing is now available. The DNA test is able to identify dogs that are carriers, dogs that are clear, and dogs that are a much higher risk of developing myelopathy. The test is available through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.OFA.org).
Certain breeds are more effected by degenerative myelopathy: Boxers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, German Shepherds, Standard Poodles, and Pembroke Welsh Corgis. These dogs are predisposed to the genetic mutation.
Dog physical therapy is the supreme treatment for canine degenerative myelopathy. A study by Kathmann et al (2006) in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine found a specific dog physical therapy regimen that yielded a survival time four times that of those that did not receive any treatment and twice as long as those that received a moderate amount of therapy or exercise. The treatment regimen included: active exercise (5-10 min 5x/day), passive exercise (3x/day), massage (3x/day), swimming (1x/week), and paw protection as needed. Here at Salt Lake Animal Physical Therapy, we specialize in treating degenerative myelopathy in dogs and have vast experience implementing this special protocol. Other hands-on treatments that can only be performed by a trained canine physical therapist have also shown to add even more to this improvement in the dogs’ DM.
Dr. Roger Clemmons DVM also provides great additional info regarding nutrition and supplementation. More info can be found here:
The bottom line is that working with a trained canine physical therapist with experience treating DM in dogs, along with proper nutrition and supplementation, is the best path forward for a dog with DM. This will vastly improve the quality of the dogs’ life and extend your time with the animal.