Degenerative myelopathy in dogs

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. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this progressive disease by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website

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