Degenerative myelopathy in dogs

Julia Dicconson
Content Manager
September 29, 2021

Degenerative myelopathy is a non-painful condition that causes progressive changes in a part of the spinal cord responsible for nerve communication to the hind limbs, impairing a dog’s ability to walk.

Degenerative myelopathy has been linked to a DNA mutation and is thought to be similar to some forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

Signs can mimic arthritis, or other spinal cord problems, which may also be concurrent conditions.

What are common degenerative myelopathy signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

  • Difficulty getting up
  • Unsteadiness or swaying when walking
  • Hind limb weakness
  • Scuffing on the back toenails

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Loss of hind limb muscling
  • Falling over easily
  • Gait ataxia (walking incoordination) and crossing hind limbs
  • Urinary or faecal incontinence
  • Hind limb paralysis

Hind weakness in a dog with degenerative myelopathy

How is degenerative myelopathy managed in dogs?  

Degenerative myelopathy has no cure, but it can be managed with supportive care. Physical therapy helps maintain muscle strength, and pain medications or acupuncture can be prescribed for concurrent arthritis. 

A combination of supplements, amino acids and home-cooked meals has shown variable results. Special harnesses or custom canine wheelchairs can offer walking support. 

Managing incontinence or pressure sores is essential once a dog becomes non-ambulatory. 

What is the prognosis for dogs with degenerative myelopathy?

Unfortunately, degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease that will ultimately result in complete hind limb paralysis. 

Dogs receiving physical therapy have a longer survival time and a better quality of life, but most dogs are euthanised 6 to 12 months after diagnosis.  

Management tips for dogs with degenerative myelopathy

At-home needs include:

  • Easy access to food, water and a comfortable location
  • Modified surfaces to increase traction
  • Ramps and safety gates
  • Physical therapy and safe, regular exercise
  • Mobility aids (e.g. a sling, harness or custom canine wheelchair)
  • Dog nappies and potty pads, if needed
  • Preventing pressure sores and maintaining clean bedding

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog suddenly collapses and cannot move, has uncontrollable shaking or panting, or is vocalising in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable or they begin losing their quality of life. 

Don’t wait until the very end. It’s important to consider your pet’s end-of-life journey early, so that you, your family and your pet are all supported through the process.

When the time comes, we’re here for you. Goodbye Good Boy provides a range of end-of-life services to make the difficult process of saying goodbye a little easier. 

We offer quality of life assessments from qualified vets, specialist grief counselling, at home euthanasia from dedicated end of life veterinarians, as well as cremation services and memorial options to help remember your pet for their unique character.

We are with you at every step of the journey.

To find out more, you can call our team of passionate pet lovers on 1800 953 619.

This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.