Mission Viejo Animal Neurosurgery

Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy

As with many other cases that require help from a vet neurologist, recognizing the symptoms of the disease in its early stages is crucial to effective treatment and preventing the disorder from decreasing your pet’s quality of life. Unfortunately, Degenerative Myelopathy cannot be cured; still, a vet could manage the disease and symptoms to reduce pain and optimize physical functionality. The following signs could mean your pet has degenerative myelopathy:

Early Stages:

  • Loss of coordination in the hind limbs.
  • Wobbling or tremors.
  • Weakness in the hind end.
  • Difficulty standing.
  • Worn nails.

Late Stages:

  • Hind leg paralysis.
  • Depression.
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence.
  • Weakness in front legs.
  • Muscular atrophy.

The symptoms of degenerative myelopathy may also become worse due to extreme exercise or extreme lethargy. It’s important for animals to strike a balance so their condition doesn’t progress. Thanks to proper care, the symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy may not advance so quickly, letting your pet lead a long, healthy life despite their disorder.

Certain symptoms can signify later stages of Degenerative Myelopathy. If your pet is experiencing difficulty breathing, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, or sudden collapse, they need immediate veterinary assistance.

Degenerative Myelopathy is one of the many chronic neurological disorders that could be afflicting your pet. This neurological disease affects the spinal cord of adult canines, meaning it’s one that targets the peripheral neural system of your pet. This condition degenerates and impairs proper function in the subject’s lower extremities, leading to weakness, incontinence, shaking, and paralysis.

Causes of Degenerative Myelopathy

As with several other neurological disorders in pets, Degenerative Myelopathy is a genetic disorder that is considerably more common in some dog breeds. Some specific mutations are considered risk factors, and as some breeds display these mutations more than others, the risk increases.

This disorder begins as the spinal cord deteriorates. This decay is noticeable first in the chest area. The white matter that communicates all sensory information between your dog’s limbs and their brain suffers from a process called demyelination, ultimately impairing the transmission of movement commands to the limbs.

True, any dog can suffer from Degenerative Myelopathy; however, some breeds, such as German Shepherds, Corgis, Boxers, Pugs, Poodles, and Golden Retrievers, are all at a higher risk of developing the disorder. Cats can also develop this neurological problem; however, it is not only limited to certain breeds, as it can result from complications following contact with the feline leukemia virus.

The veterinarian diagnoses degenerative myelopathy through elimination. First, your pet’s vet will use diagnostic tests like blood labs, myelography, and even advanced imaging (i.e. MRI). The vet will confirm that other diseases are not the cause of the symptoms. Finally, a closer look at the spinal cord can help the vet assess whether the damage to the white matter is consistent with the development of Degenerative Myelopathy.

A definitive diagnosis of DM is possible with histopathology. However, accurate clinical diagnosis is based on a complete neurological evaluation and recognition of the appropriate clinical signs and genetic testing (SOD1 homozygosity). However, not all at-risk dogs will develop the disease. For patients with clinical signs compatible with DM and who are genetically at-risk, additional diagnostics are often necessary to rule out other possible causes prior to establishing a clinical diagnosis of DM.

Treatment for Degenerative Myelopathy

Unfortunately, there is no long-term solution for degenerative myelopathy, and the prognosis for most animals is poor. However, a customized treatment plan can significantly slow down the progression of the neurological disease in dogs and cats and help maintain your pets’ quality of life. With the help of a veterinarian, pet owners can manage their pets’ condition to extend their life for up to 3 years. Common treatments include:

  • Physical rehabilitation: Gentle exercise and hydrotherapy to strengthen muscles that work and increase posterior function. Walking, weight shifting, stretching, balance exercises, swimming, and receiving massages can all help your animal.
  • Pain management: Degenerative myelopathy isn’t a painful disorder, but pets can suffer from pain resulting in the loss of movement. Treatments include acupuncture, chiropractic visits, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Assistive equipment: Animals will inevitably lose their ability to move, especially in their hind legs. To assist them with day-to-day activities, pet owners can fit them with equipment. Booties, slings/harnesses, and wheelchairs can all help prevent damage and improve quality of life.


What is degenerative myelopathy?

Degenerative Myelopathy in Mission Viejo is a neurological condition of the spine impairing the ability of peripheral nerves to properly communicate commands to the hind extremities of a dog. It inevitably results in the inability to move hind extremities and other complications.

What are the stages of degenerative myelopathy?

It is hard to zero-in on the early stages of Degenerative Myelopathy in Mission Viejo because it causes very mild weakness in your dog’s hind legs. Mid-stages of this condition result in an increased difficulty to stand and loss of muscle mass in the hind legs. Advanced stages of the disease result in a complete inability to bear weight on the hind legs.

What are the treatments required for degenerative myelopathy?

Proper care can reduce the severity of the symptoms from Degenerative Myelopathy in Mission Viejo. Your dog will need all the help they can get to live a happier life. Physical therapy, pain management, and even the use of assistive equipment will be necessary to help your beloved pet have a good quality of life.

How quickly does degenerative myelopathy progress?

The initial development of Degenerative Myelopathy in Mission Viejo is slow. The symptoms are not as noticeable and do not impair your dog’s movement so quickly. The resilience of most species of dogs also makes it very difficult to determine if they are having any difficulty associated with this disease. Unfortunately, the progression of Degenerative Myelopathy in its later stages is much faster.

What are the final stages of degenerative myelopathy in dogs?

The final stages of Degerative Myelopathy in Mission Viejo are definitely the hardest ones. Dogs lose all ability to support weight on their hind legs, and there are episodes of fecal and urinary incontinence. This stage sets in very rapidly compared to the initial development of the condition.