What Can I Do If My Dog Has DM?

For most pet parents learning their dog has been diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy is likely their first time hearing about the debilitating mobility condition. There can be a lot of questions that come along with a DM diagnosis. Degenerative Myelopathy also known as Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy or DM is a progressive disease that affects the spinal cord of a dog. DM begins with hind leg weakness and will eventually result in full paralysis. Degenerative Myelopathy is generally seen in older dogs, symptoms will start to be seen in dogs aged 8-14.

DM impacts a pet’s strength and their ability to maintain control over their body which can drastically change both your and your pet’s life. Understanding the signs and symptoms of DM can help you prepare for the physical changes your dog will experience as their Degenerative Myelopathy progresses. 

Here are a few of the most common questions pet parents have about their dog’s DM diagnosis:

Table of Contents

Frequently Asked Questions About Degenerative Myelopathy Answered

Is DM a painful disease?

Treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs

No. Degenerative Myelopathy is not a painful condition, but it does weaken pets. Dogs with DM will struggle, which may be painful to watch, but they aren’t experiencing any pain. This loss of strength and changes in a dog’s mobility does place additional stress on a dog’s body.

Symptoms of DM come on slowly and are often very subtle and easily missed. As the disease progresses, your dog’s hind legs will lose strength before becoming completely paralyzed. Eventually the condition will move up the spine to impact the leg strength and function of the front legs. 

How quickly does Degenerative Myelopathy progress?

DM progression will vary from dog to dog, although the disease can progress rapidly. In most dogs, it takes anywhere from six months to a year from initial symptom to the final stage of Degenerative Myelopathy. The final stages of DM can progress very quickly, and a dog’s condition can deteriorate seemingly overnight. 

What can I do to help my dog with Degenerative Myelopathy?

Although there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy there are many things you can do to improve your dog’s quality of life. Work with your veterinarian or physical therapist to develop a treatment plan for your best friend. Here are a few physiotherapy options available for DM dogs:

Treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs

Acupuncture – helps to stimulate your dog’s nerves, especially in their hind end to decrease muscle atrophy and even slow the progression of the disease. Most canine acupuncture treatments will occur at least once or twice a week. 

Exercise – keeping your dog active is crucial to their mental and physical well-being. Dogs dealing with progressive mobility loss from conditions like DM, benefit from a combination of passive and active exercise. Active exercises include slow walk, weight shifting exercises, climbing stairs, and helping your dog to stand up. Examples of passive exercise include gentle stretching and maintaining range of motion. Continued exercise helps to improve a dog’s symptoms as well as keep them healthier for longer. 

Massage – Not only is massage relaxing and therapeutic, a gentle massage improves your pet’s circulation and helps to release any fluid buildup caused by inactivity.  

Canine Mobility Aids – dog wheelchairs and other assistive devices will keep your dog active and make it easier for you to lift and support your dog. All dogs with DM will require the support of a dog wheelchair. 

Treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs

Is walking good for dogs with DM?

Yes, dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy should stay as active as possible. Keeping a DM dog active can actually help slow down the progression of the disease. Physical therapy and regular structured exercises, including walking, can help dogs with DM maintain muscle strength and minimize their risk of muscle atrophy. Hydrotherapy and using an underwater treadmill can help pets maintain their strength and improve their balance and mobility. 

Does a dog with Degenerative Myelopathy benefit from using a dog wheelchair?

Treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs

Mobility loss, leg weakness, and eventual paralysis are all guarantees in dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy. It’s not a matter of if, but when your dog will need to use a dog wheelchair to stay active. Every DM dog will require a dog wheelchair, starting them early before they need to fully rely on a mobility cart can help ease the transition. A dog wheelchair will not make your dog lazy, a wheelchair is a necessary mobility tool to give your dog the support they need to exercise and go for their daily walk. 

Dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy will need an adjustable dog wheelchair that will adapt to accommodate their changing mobility needs throughout the various stages of DM. 

How long can dogs live with Degenerative Myelopathy?

Most DM dogs will reach the late stages of Degenerative Myelopathy within a year of diagnosis. Although it’s possible for a dog to live beyond that time frame, their overall quality of life will determine the right time for euthanasia. Every dog’s case is different, but the average survival time for a dog with DM is usually around 130 – 255 days. A recent study found that DM dogs with a higher activity level and who have received intense physical therapy will live longer than inactive dogs.. 

What are the final stages of DM in dogs?

In late stage Degenerative Myelopathy dogs experience complete paralysis in all four legs. During the final stages of DM, dogs will have no control over their coordination, balance, or leg function. They will not be able to stand up without assistance or the support of a wheelchair. Additionally, respiratory issues and an inability to swallow or breath on their own may occur at the very end. Most veterinarians will recommend euthanasia before the disease progresses to this point

When is it time to euthanize my DM dog?

The decision to euthanize is something only you and your veterinarian can make. Typically pet parents can see when a dog is ready to pass but this will be the most difficult choice you can make as a caregiver. Many dogs can live happy and healthy lives with limited impacts after their DM diagnosis.

Is my dog in pain?

Most DM dogs do not seem to be in pain, just very weak. If your dog starts to exhibit symptoms of being in pain, there may be another condition such as arthritis complicating the condition.

How do I know if my dog has entered the late stages of degenerative myelopathy?

The jerkiness of movement. The dog’s tail, legs, and hind end will move in an uncontrolled, spastic way. Sometimes the hind legs will kick out for no apparent reason. The tail may raise and lower randomly as if the dog needs to defecate. Extreme weakness, loss of coordination, and balance. Dogs need help to walk and care must be taken so that they don’t fall and injure themselves. They are weak to the point where they cannot squat to defecate or urinate (they will fall if not supported). They aren’t able to get up from a down position without help, and cannot stand for long without support. Eventual paralysis of the hind end and weakness in the front end, including shoulders and legs. In the very late stages, the dog will become so weak he is unable to support himself in any way. Respiratory issues will occur along with organ failure.


Your dog’s DM diagnosis is scary, but the good news is that there are things you can do to improve its quality of life. While there is no cure for DM, you can manage the symptoms! Keeping the muscle tone in your dog’s hind end is crucial for extending your pup’s life, so hydrotherapy and physical therapy exercises are great. You can also get a dog wheelchair to help keep your dog active and playful! Focus on your dog’s mobility and continued activity. With a combination of physical therapy, a dog wheelchair, and lots of love, your dog can live a longer, more active life. Dogs with degenerative myelopathy can stay active.

Did we answer all your questions on “DM Questions”?

— Update: 08-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article The Complete Guide to Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs from the website www.kingsdale.com for the keyword treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs.

Degenerative myelopathy in dogs is a progressive neurological disease that affects the spinal cord. It is also more accurately termed Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy. Dogs that develop degenerative myelopathy have a genetic mutation. Symptoms can include weakness in the hind legs, loss of coordination, and loss of bladder control. The disease can progress quickly, often getting worse within a few months. It’s common for dogs to start dragging their hind legs after being diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy. Ultimately, they will find it challenging to walk or even stand on their own. Unfortunately, there are no treatments available for this disease yet. However, there are many steps you can take to help your dog live longer with degenerative myelopathy.

What is degenerative myelopathy in dogs?

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a progressive degenerative neurological disease that affects the spinal cord. This means it causes damage to nerve cells in the spine, which can result in weakness and sensory loss below the damaged area of the spinal cord. Degenerative myelopathy often starts with hind limb weakness or paralysis that gets worse over time. It’s not known what causes degenerative myelopathy, but it’s not contagious and doesn’t result from injury to the dog.

What causes degenerative myelopathy in dogs?

A genetic mutation is considered the main source of degenerative myelopathy (DM).

How is degenerative myelopathy diagnosed?

A thorough neurological exam is the best way to diagnose degenerative myelopathy. During the exam, your veterinarian will look for symptoms that point to degenerative myelopathy, including weakness in the hind legs, loss of coordination/ataxia, and neurological deficits affecting the hind limbs. If degenerative myelopathy is suspected, your veterinarian may recommend further tests to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms. As degenerative myelopathy is a genetic disorder, there is a genetic test available to screen for the genetic mutations that cause DM (degenerative myelopathy).

How is degenerative myelopathy treated in dogs?

Unfortunately, there are no specific treatments available for degenerative myelopathy. Some medications have been suggested to slow the progress, but studies have not supported their use. Your veterinarian will recommend supportive care based on your dog’s specific needs. Pets may be prescribed physical therapy, which can help keep their muscles active to maintain strength. Studies have shown that dogs that received physiotherapy had longer survival times and slower progression of the disease.

Read more  Degenerative Myelopathy In Dogs: Symptoms, Prognosis, Treatment & More

What is your dog’s prognosis with degenerative myelopathy?

The average lifespan of degenerative myelopathy is around two years. It will be challenging for your dog to walk or even stand within a few months of diagnosis. Unfortunately, degenerative myelopathy carries a grave prognosis and the focus should be on providing supportive care and maintaining their quality of life. Some dogs progress faster than others but in most dogs, it progresses over a period of many weeks to months.

How does degenerative myelopathy progress?

Degenerative myelopathy is a degenerative disease, meaning it will progress over time. Symptoms can include weakness in the hind legs, loss of coordination/ataxia, and eventually paralysis of the hind limbs. Degenerative myelopathy often starts with dogs scuffing the tops of their hind paws when walking.

Degenerative myelopathy in dogs is a degenerative condition that affects the spinal cord. The average lifespan of degenerative myelopathy is two years due to the degeneration of motor neurons in the spinal cord. It’s important to provide your dog with supportive care to ensure they remain comfortable and mobile as degenerative myelopathy progresses. A genetic test is available to screen for degenerative myelopathy genes, but it remains unclear whether breeding carrier dogs will help reduce degenerative myelopathy incidence or if carriers should also be prevented from breeding. Degenerative myelopathy in dogs progresses degeneratively and results in hind limb weakness, loss of coordination/ataxia, and paralysis over time. There is no treatment available for degenerative myelopathy. Some medications may slow degenerative myelopathy’s progress, but studies have not supported their use. It will be challenging for your dog to walk or even stand within a few months of degenerative myelopathy diagnosis and unfortunately, true degenerative myelopathy carries a grave prognosis.

— Update: 08-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Degenerative myelopathy – diagnosis and treatment (Proceedings) from the website www.dvm360.com for the keyword treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs.

Canine degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a spontaneously occurring, adult-onset, progressive spinal cord disease. Degenerative myelopathy was first described by Averill as a spinal cord disorder that predominates in German Shepherd dogs. If decreased pelvic limb reflexes are observed, nerve root involvement is presumed and the disease termed chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy. Initially thought to be specific to the GSD, it also was designated German Shepherd Dog myelopathy. This disease is not uncommon in some pure bred dogs with an overall prevalence rate of 0.19%. Although the German Shepherd Dog is the most commonly affected breed, DM has been reported in other breeds and most recently in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi (PWC). Higher disease prevalence has been determined in a number of other purebred dogs, such as the Boxer, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Signalment and disease duration

There is no sex predilection. Age of onset of neurologic signs is usually 8 years and older in large breed dogs with DM. A study in PWCs reported a mean age of onset of 11 years. The clinical course of DM can vary up to 3 years after the suspected diagnosis with a mean time for disease duration to be 6 months in larger breeds of dogs (Figure 1). The pet owners often opt for euthanasia when their dogs lose the ability to support weight in the pelvic limbs. Breeds of smaller size allow the pet owner to give the appropriate care for their pet over a longer time. The median time of disease duration in the PWC was 19 months. Longer survival times in DM affected dogs may also be attributed to increased access to physical rehabilitation facilities for companion animals.

Figure 1: Breeds representing mean age at onset, mean age at death and mean duration of clinical signs for Pembroke Welsh Corgi (PWC), Chesapeake Bay Retriever (CBR), Boxer, and Rhodesian Ridgeback (RR) with a diagnosis confirmed by histopathology or presumptive based on normal imaging

Progressive, asymmetric upper motor neuron (UMN) paraparesis and lack of paraspinal pain are key clinical features of DM. Physical examination findings include loss of muscle mass in the caudal trunk muscles, pelvic limb weakness, and worn nails. Descriptions for severity of loss of muscle mass have differed. Most reports attribute this loss to disuse but flaccidity has been noted in the later stage of disease which suggests neurogenic muscle atrophy. Gait deficits at time of onset show spastic paresis and general proprioceptive ataxia (loss of joint position sense as described for domestic animals). Asymmetric weakness at disease onset also is frequently reported. Most large breed dogs progress to nonambulatory paresis or paraplegia within 6 to 12 months from time of diagnosis. If the disease progresses over a longer duration, clinical signs will ascend to affect the thoracic limbs. If euthanasia is delayed, the clinical signs will cause flaccid tetraparesis/plegia and other lower motor neuron (LMN) signs. Due to its smaller size and longer disease duration, this was a more common scenario in the PWC.4 At disease onset, descriptions of spinal reflexes correspond with UMN paresis. Decreased reflexes noted with the patellar and withdrawal reflexes occur in the latter disease stage. Urinary and fecal continence usually are spared until the latter disease stage.


Until recently the pathogenesis of canine degenerative myelopathy had remained unknown. Griffiths and Duncan originally hypothesized DM to be a “dying-back disease” confined to the CNS suggesting a toxic etiology. Recently, studies of the brain of DM affected GSDs showed neuronal degeneration and loss in some brainstem nuclei. Johnston et al. suggested that a defect in the neuron, itself that may lead to abnormal axonal transport and degeneration in the distal axon.

An immunologic role in the pathogenesis of GSD DM has been proposed based upon observations of depressed responses to thymus-dependent mitogens and increased concentrations of circulating immune complexes. Although immune-related degenerative disease is a plausible theory, immunosuppressive therapies have shown no long-term benefits in halting the progression of DM. Based on the immunologic hypothesis, Clemmons et al. (FASEB, 2006) claimed that there is a point mutation in the hypervariable region 2 of DLA-DR� and termed allele *1101J and reported homozygosity in DM affected GSDs. A more recent study showed that data did not provide evidence for involvement of DLA-DRBI in DM and indicated that the test offered by the University of Florida was not predictive for DM.

Early DM studies suggested a genetic cause. The first report to suggest familial disease of DM was in the Siberian Husky. Based on frequency of affected dogs having affected relatives, there is clear familial aggregation in the PWC, Rhodesian Ridgeback (Coates – unpublished data), Boxer (Coates – unpublished data), and Chesapeake Bay Retriever (personal communication – Dr. Sam Long, University of Pennsylvania). The lack of pedigree data and histopathologic confirmation in presumed affected dogs of early generations from affected families make it difficult to evaluate the inheritance pattern of DM. Currently, an autosomal recessive inheritance pattern is presumed. Obtaining DNA samples from relatives of DM affected dogs has been challenging due to the late-onset of DM and parents being deceased.

We used the canine SNP chip (Affymetrix v2) to genotype DNA samples from affected and healthy dogs. Genome-wide association mapping analysis revealed a peak with strongest association on canine chromosome 31 which also showed markers that contained the canine the superoxide dismutase (SOD1) gene. Resequencing of SOD1 in normal and affected dogs revealed a G to A transition, resulting in an E40K missense mutation. Homozygosity for the A allele was associated with DM in five common dog breeds (German Shepherd dog, Boxer, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Welsh Corgi, and Chesapeake Bay Retriever). The frequency of the A allele in a separate “other breeds” control group, consisting of samples from dog breeds in which DM was rarely diagnosed, was significantly lower than that for the controls from the affected breeds. Not all animals that are homozygous for this mutation will get the disease. Thus, penetance amongst the mutant homozygotes is incomplete. To summarize, we have discovered a risk factor for dogs to develop DM. We believe that there are other genetic modifiers and environmental factors that could influence whether these dogs at risk actually get DM.

Mutations in the SOD1 gene are known to cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in humans; also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease derives its name from the combined degeneration of upper and lower motor neurons projecting from the brain and spinal cord. The Greek derivation of amyotrophy means, “muscles without nourishment.” Lateral is the location within the spinal cord of axonal disease and sclerosis refers to diseased axons being replaced by sclerosis or “scar” tissue. The disease affects people in their fourth or fifth decade of life. Most people die within 5 years after disease onset.

— Update: 09-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article 5 Tips for Helping Your Dog with Degenerative Myelopathy from the website www.thewildest.com for the keyword treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs.

When I first noticed my Boxer, Gus, dragging his back foot, I teased him about being lazy. At age 10, Gus was finally mellowing out after a decade of careening through life like a rodeo bull. Eventually, though, he began to drag that foot on our walks, and because we live in an urban, mostly paved area, all that friction began to wear down his nails and scrape the skin from his knuckles.

That was the first sign that Gus had degenerative myelopathy (DM). An insidious disease, degenerative myelopathy in dogs is a slowly progressing condition that affects the nerves of the spinal cord, cutting off communication between the brain and limbs. Over time, the affected dog will become paraplegic and eventually will be unable to stand. Here’s everything you need to know about degenerative myelopathy, plus tips for helping your dog stay mobile if they're diagnosed.

Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Symptoms of degenerative myelopathy in dogs are often missed because they look similar to other conditions such as hip dysplasia, where the hip joint doesn't work properly. The most apparent sign of degenerative myelopathy is wobbly rear legs and paw dragging. The deterioration often progresses over several months. During that time, dogs with degenerative myelopathy will experience ataxia (impaired balance and coordination) in their rear legs, ultimately losing the ability to walk.

Older dogs, typically of large breeds including German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Boxers, Corgis, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Mastiffs, and Ridgebacks are most commonly affected by degenerative myelopathy.

When it comes to diagnosing degenerative myelopathy in dogs, a simple DNA test offered by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), requiring only a saliva swab, can help your vet determine whether your dog is a carrier or at-risk for the disease. An MRI of the spine is the gold standard diagnostic for DM, says neurology specialist Dr. Avril Arendse at MSPCA-Angell. With an MRI, veterinarians can rule out the possibility of hip dysplasia, disk disease, tumors or other neurological causes for the clinical signs.

Treatment for Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Currently, there is no scientifically-proven, effective treatment for degenerative myelopathy. Veterinarians may be able to treat some related symptoms to relieve discomfort, but a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, including walking and swimming, are the main ways to keep dogs with the condition as mobile as possible. “Intensive physical rehabilitation and selected assistive equipment can extend a dog’s survival time by up to three years, versus six months to a year for dogs who do not receive therapy,” adds Best Friends Dog Rescue. 

While this sounds like very bad news — and well, it kind of is — there are some silver linings: If your dog is diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, rest assured they will experience very little pain. And just because mobility is a growing challenge for them, that doesn't mean you'll lose them sooner. You likely have plenty of days left together — possibly even years. And to make the best of them, you’ll need a strategy, as well as some new gear to compensate for your pup’s handicaps. Below is what helped Gus and me.

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How to Care for a Dog With Degenerative Myelopathy

1. Purchase a Pair of Dog Boots

Search for “dog boots” on Amazon and you’ll find hundreds of choices. After many failed attempts (and a lot of wasted money), I finally figured out that for a dog with degenerative myelopathy, only two factors matter: boot security (so it will stay on despite being dragged repetitively) and durability (so it can withstand all the friction). A boot with a high, adjustable ankle section takes care of the first requirement, and flipping the boot upside down is my best advice for the second. I found that placing the boots sole-side-up didn’t affect Gus’s ability to walk in them, and it kept them from becoming a shredded mess after just a walk or two.

2. Invest in a Harness

Your dog will need rear-end support. Some people use a simple beach towel as a support sling for stairs and slippery flooring, but after a few false starts, I found a full-body harness (like this one) with a front handle near the shoulder and another near the hips to be the solution we needed. At first, it allowed me to assist Gus every now and then. Near the end of his life, his “butt handle,” as I took to calling it, was essential for helping him use the bathroom and picking him up quickly when he fell.

3. Find a Community

Studies show that physical therapy can more than quadruple the survival time in dogs with degenerative myelopathy. I can attest that after his weekly underwater treadmill sessions, Gus seemed a little stronger and more dexterous. But those appointments provided us with something even better — a team. Talking to the physical therapists each week made me feel less alone in dealing with Gus’s challenges, which can sometimes feel like a lot.

Another unexpected bonus of physical therapy was the veritable lending library of gear at our fingertips. After dogs with degenerative myelopathy pass, their humans often donate the boots and harnesses they’ve accumulated. Because of their generosity, we were able to try out different boots and slings, as well as borrow a wheelchair, which can cost hundreds of dollars for larger dogs.

4. Take Care of Yourself

In the last few months of Gus’s life, when his back legs had all but given out, I carried him up the stairs every night like a wheelbarrow. In the morning, I would hoist him out of bed and ease him down the stairs using that trusty butt handle, which seemed to be in my hands for most of the day. I am not ashamed to admit that facilitating nearly every movement of my 80-pound dog was physically exhausting. Caring for a dog with canine degenerative myelopathy will require your strength, so make sure you’re getting your own downtime and exercise in, too.

5. Keep Notes

Gus’s degenerative myelopathy progressed in bursts. One day he crossed the hardwood floor with confidence, and the next, he looked to me for help. Sometimes weeks and months would go by with little sign of deterioration. This made it difficult for me to accurately assess his quality of life, which is an essential factor and the hardest part of this disease: deciding when it’s time to let your dog go.

My best and cheapest piece of degenerative myelopathy-related gear was a notebook in which I jotted a few notes each night detailing Gus’s challenges that day, as well as the things he was able to do well. Most importantly, I kept track of his mood and temperament. Not only did these pages help me feel more certain about when it was time to say goodbye, but they now serve as a reminder of our time together, and just how much I loved him.

— Update: 10-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article [Updated] A Natural Approach to Managing Degenerative Myelopathy from the website www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com for the keyword treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs.

Degenerative myelopathy is a devastating disease.

Affected dogs develop weakness in the rear legs and gradually become paralyzed. Eventually they can’t control their bowels and lose motor control on the entire upper half of the body. This degenerative process can take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years.

There’s no conventional treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs. It’s distressing to watch your dog struggle with decreasing mobility. But fortunately, it’s not usually painful. And holistic treatments can improve your dog’s quality of life.

Let’s review some information about degenerative myelopathy in dogs.

  • What is degenerative myelopathy?
  • Symptoms of degenerative myelopathy
  • Breeds more likely to get it
  • Diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy
  • What you can do to help your dog

What Is Degenerative Myelopathy In Dogs?

Another name for degenerative myelopathy is chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy.

It’s a progressive disease that’s usually seen in dogs 8 years or older. There’s a nerve sheath called myelin around the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. Myelin insulates the spinal cord and conducts nerve impulses through the body.

In degenerative myelopathy your dog’s own immune system attacks the myelin sheath. This creates a local accumulation of inflammatory cells. The chronic inflammation destroys the myelin sheath, leading to progressive nerve tissue damage. The damage usually begins in the middle of the back.

This nerve damage results in loss of voluntary and involuntary motor control. Some neurologists have compared degenerative myelopathy in dogs to Multiple Sclerosis in humans. But new research shows it’s closer to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) … or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The Merck Veterinary Manual states the cause of the disease is “a mutation in the superoxide dismutase1 (SOD1) gene, inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern with incomplete penetrance.” But other experts don’t agree. I’ll talk about that when we get to Diagnosis below.

Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy affects the rear legs first. Initially you may mistake it for other orthopedic problems. You may see your dog start to drag a foot on walks. The two middle nails on that weak paw may wear more than the others.

Eventually, you’ll see a lack of coordination and wobbliness in the gait. Your dog’s reflexes will slow in her hind feet and legs. Soon afterward, her thigh muscles will start to atrophy and her tail may be limp.

As the disease progresses, your dog will have difficulty standing for long. Getting up from a lying position will be hard. Fecal and urinary incontinence inevitably follow. The rear legs become so weak that your dog will need help getting up. She’ll have trouble holding a position to pee or poop. (Dogs with degenerative myelopathy often walk and poop.)

You’ll likely see some of these symptoms:

  • Swaying in the rear end
  • Easily falling over when pushed
  • Wobbling
  • Knuckling or scraping of the paws when walking
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty getting up from a sitting or lying position
  • Falling down when walking or standing
  • Inability to walk
  • Paralysis of the hind limbs

Next, her front limbs will start to weaken as well.

Once the front limbs weaken, many owners choose euthanasia. The disease isn’t painful … but your dog’s biomechanics will shift to compensate for her lack of mobility. Eventually, that will cause discomfort through overuse of certain tissues.

Commonly Affected Breeds

The breeds most often affected include:

  • German Shepherd
  • Boxer
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Irish Setter
  • Dalmatian
  • Weimaraner
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Samoyed
  • Briard
  • Siberian Husky
  • Miniature Poodle
  • Standard Poodle
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Golden Retriever
  • Wire Fox Terrier
  • American Eskimo Dog
  • Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Pug


There are several types of diagnostic tests to diagnose degenerative myelopathy. Your vet will usually do blood work (including a thyroid panel) and spinal X-rays. Other tests may include an electromyogram (EMG), MRI or CT scan, myelogram, or spinal tap. This is to help rule out other spinal diseases, like:

  • intervertebral disc disease
  • spinal cord tumors
  • degenerative lumbosacral syndrome
  • degenerative joint diseases such as dysplasia

The Test That May Not Help

Your vet may take a blood or cheek swab sample to test for the mutant SOD1 gene. Most vets use this test to confirm a diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy.

But there’s a problem with this test: it isn’t always accurate.

Homeopathic veterinarian Sara Chapman DVM is skeptical of this test in predicting disease.

She’s seen degenerative myelopathy patients with no abnormal copies of the SOD1 gene.

Other elderly at risk patients (with two copies of the abnormal gene) had no disease … but their owners panicked every time their dog dragged a toe.

Dr Chapman states: “No test is going to be 100% accurate, but there really doesn’t seem to be very good correlation at all between the At Risk / Clear state and disease.”

The recognized expert in degenerative myelopathy in dogs is RM Clemmons DVM PhD. He published the website Degenerative Myelopathy German Shepherd Dogs. It’s a useful source of information about the disease. I encourage you to visit the site.

Dr Chapman met Dr Clemmons and asked him about the SOD1 testing.

He told her the current SOD1 test is not is not predictive of the development of disease. It isn’t useful for definitively diagnosing disease or for eliminating breeders. The SOD1 seems to be near the locus for the degenerative myelopathy gene … so it gets associated with it in some cases.

Dr Clemmons also said that the focus on this test … means nobody is focusing on finding out what’s truly responsible for the disease. He’d like to see more work toward improved diagnostics.

Your Dog May Have A Different Disease

So … if your vet uses this test to diagnose your dog, she may have a different spinal cord disease.

Many older dogs develop mild proprioceptive deficits … so they don’t always know where their hind feet are. They may drag their toes at times. This is usually much less serious than degenerative myelopathy.

Dogs can also develop disc problems that mimic the disease. But treatments for disc diseases are different than for degenerative myelopathy. So you. may want to work with a vet who’ll pursue a more definitive diagnosis.

Clinical traits that may be unique to degenerative myelopathy include:

  • Disease progression
  • Asymmetric UMN (upper motor neuron) weakness at onset
  • Pelvic limb proprioceptive ataxia
  • Lack of pain

If your dog does have degenerative myelopathy, there are steps you can take. They’ll help her feel better and prolong her quality of life. Dr Julie Mayer, the founder of Integrative Pet Care in Chicago, recommends a number of holistic approaches.

How You Can Help Your Dog

There’s no conventional veterinary medicine treatment for degenerative myelopathy. Even the Merck Veterinary Manual states there’s no evidence that steroids or other drugs work.

But there are natural approaches that can improve your dog’s quality of life. Treatments that do help include acupuncture, homeopathy, exercise, diet and nutraceuticals.


Acupuncture can help by stimulating the nervous system. Your practitioner may use electroacupuncture. After inserting the acupuncture needles, he’ll connect small electrodes to a few needles. This creates a microcurrent between them, driving the acupuncture effect deeper.

It’s very beneficial for paralyzed or partially paralyzed patients. Treatment is usually once or twice a week for a few sessions in a row.


Exercise is probably the most important therapy for degenerative myelopathy in dogs. Constant stimulation of the nervous system helps keep the nerve impulses firing. Studies show that physiotherapy can improve symptoms and prolong the dog’s mobiilty.

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A 2006 Swiss study of 50 dogs showed this effect. Animals receiving intensive physiotherapy had longer survival times than others in the study:

  • Intensive physiotherapy: 255 days mean survival time
  • Moderate physiotherapy: 130 days
  • No physiotherapy: 55 days

Hydrotherapy is the safest and most effective form of exercise for these patients. Free swimming and underwater treadmill therapy benefit the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Water therapy provides the safest, gentlest form of exercise.

Walks and structured therapeutic exercise are also very important. They help maintain:

  • Balance and proprioception
  • Flexibility of the joints
  • Muscle tone
  • Good circulation

Find a canine rehab facility that can teach you some exercises to do with your dog.

Eventually, weakness or paralysis of the hind legs may set in. Then a wheeled cart can allow your dog to remain active and prolong her enjoyment of life


A balanced nutritional protocol will support the body. It helps control inflammation and regulate the immune system.


First and foremost, consider the quality of protein you feed. The higher the bioavailability of the protein, the better off your dog will be. The digestion process takes a lot of energy and creates a lot of heat. That’s not what the body needs … so the less work the intestines have to do, the better.

This means stop feeding kibble! Processed and starchy foods like kibble can aggravate degenerative disease symptoms. A Swedish study by Dr Kollath fed young animals a cooked, processed diet. At first they seemed healthy. But once they matured, they began to age rapidly … and develop degenerative disease symptoms. The control group receiving a raw diet did not age as fast … and showed no degenerative disease symptoms.

So make sure your dog gets a fresh, whole food, raw meat based diet for maximum digestibility and health.

Omega-3 Fats

Degenerative myelopathy can stem from an over-reactive immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to immune health. We’re cautious about recommending fish oil supplements, because they oxidize so easily. Rancid fish oil is worse than no fish oil. So, if you use it, make sure it’s a high quality brand, in a dark glass bottle. Keep it refrigerated … and always sniff it for that telltale fishy smell before giving it to your dog!

You can also feed your dog whole fish. Good options are oily fish like mackerel, herring or sardines. It’s OK to use canned fish. If you feed ruminants (like beef, lamb, goat), give 1 oz fish for every pound of meat. If you feed poultry, give 4 oz fish for every pound of meat.

Another great option for Omega-3 fats is to give your dog phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are tiny ocean plants that fish feed on. They’re rich in Omega-3s as well as minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on dosing. Some supplements contain more fillers than others.


Inflammation anywhere in the body creates free radicals. They’re unstable electrons that can damage cell DNA and cause cell death. Antioxidants can neutralize the free radicals and help maintain proper levels.

Some antioxidants that can help dogs with degenerative myelopathy are:

  • Vitamins C, E and A
  • Carotenoids
  • Selenium
  • Glutathione peroxidase
  • Super oxide dismutase (found in phytoplankton)
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe),
  • N-Acetyl-Cysteine
  • Taurine

Look for food sources of these nutrients. They’re much better absorbed than synthetic supplements made in a lab.

Here are some foods to add to your dog’s diet to lower inflammation.

Treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs

Dr Mayer also recommends adding some anti-inflammatory herbs. Work with a herbalist or holistic vet to find the right herbs and doses for your dog’s specific issues.

Another important ingredient, MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), is an effective anti-inflammatory substance. But again, use foods rich in MSM rather than giving a supplement. MSM is naturally in red meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, garlic, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale and wheat germ.

Lecithin can also help. It’s composed of fatty substances and phospholipids that make up a portion of the nerve cell wall membrane. It may provide building blocks for the myelin sheath and nerve tissue in the spinal cord. Most unprocessed nuts, unprocessed grains, unprocessed soy, and eggs contain lecithin.

Degenerative myelopathy is a horrible disease. It’s not painful for your dog … but it’s agonizing for you to watch your dog lose her mobility. Don’t give up! You can use a combination of therapies to slow the disease or even stop it from progressing.

— Update: 10-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Degenerative Myelopathy In Dogs: Symptoms, Prognosis, Treatment & More from the website www.caninejournal.com for the keyword treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs.

Treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs

Has your dog become less mobile? Is he having trouble going on walks or climbing stairs? There could be many reasons for this, including arthritis and hip dysplasia. But one lesser-known condition he could be suffering from is degenerative myelopathy (DM), an inherited spinal cord disease in dogs. Learn more about DM here to see if your dog could be at risk for this debilitating condition.

What Is Degenerative Myelopathy?

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a hereditary adult-onset spinal cord disease similar to the human disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dogs with DM experience slowly progressive weakness and an inability to control hind limbs, eventually leading to paralysis. Symptoms usually don’t begin until dogs are around 8 years old, but the range can be anywhere from 4-14 years old.

Breeds At High Risk For DM

At first, experts considered DM mainly a large-breed disease, but more recent research has uncovered many more at-risk breeds. Breeds most at risk include:

  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Boxers
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Collies
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Kerry Blue Terriers
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
  • Poodles (Miniature and Standard)
  • Pugs
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks
  • Shetland Sheepdogs
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Welsh Corgis (Cardigans and Pembrokes)
  • Wirehaired Fox Terriers

Will My Dog Develop Degenerative Myelopathy?

Researchers have identified the genetic mutation in the SOD1 gene as a major risk factor for DM, so doing a DNA test on your dog can shed light on whether he has this genetic mutation.

We recommend several at-home DNA test kits that can identify factors that increase the risk of degenerative myelopathy: Embark, Wisdom Panel, and EasyDNA. See our reviews of the best dog DNA tests to see how they compare and what else you can learn about your dog through a DNA test.

Keep in mind that if your dog has the SOD1 mutation, it doesn’t mean that he’ll definitely develop DM. It just means he’s at a higher risk. But this knowledge can help your veterinarian with a more accurate diagnosis if your dog begins showing early symptoms.

Symptoms And Stages

Degenerative myelopathy symptoms usually progress over months and, in some cases, several years. DM typically doesn’t affect dogs mentally; they remain alert throughout the disease’s progression. Here’s how symptoms typically progress.

Early Stage

  • Difficulty getting up from a lying position
  • Hind end weakness (difficulty climbing stairs, going for walks, jumping onto furniture, etc.)
  • Hindquarters appear to sway when standing still
  • Dog falls over easily when pushed from the side
  • Dragging the hind feet, causing the nails to look worn down

Intermediate Stage

  • Knuckling of hind feet with a reluctance to put hind feet on the underside on the ground
  • Difficulty supporting weight with hind legs
  • Inability to walk without support
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Difficulty eating
  • Change in the tone of barking

Advanced Stage

  • Paralysis of hind legs
  • Weakness in front legs
  • Eventual paralysis in front legs

See A Video Of Symptoms As They Progress

This brief video shows you how degenerative myelopathy progresses through several stages. It helps you understand how the symptoms appear in dogs and what to expect over time with this disease.


Unfortunately, the only way to definitively diagnose DM is through a postmortem examination of the spinal cord during a necropsy (animal version of an autopsy). However, veterinarians try to arrive at a suspected diagnosis by eliminating other conditions, which can involve a long process of numerous tests.

Veterinarians typically will conduct X-rays, CT, or MRI scans to rule out such conditions as arthritis, hip dysplasia, intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), tumors, trauma, or other issues that could cause weakness and mobility problems. Other tests may include tissue biopsies, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis, and neuromuscular tests. If your dog hasn’t already had a DNA health-risk test, your vet may conduct one for the SOD1 mutation to determine if that could be a cause.

Treatment And Prognosis

Unfortunately, there’s no medication or other treatment to cure or halt the progression of DM.

What’s the life expectancy of dogs with degenerative myelopathy? Dogs with DM typically live with the disease for anywhere from six months to three years, depending on when it’s diagnosed and how fast it progresses.

The good news is that DM isn’t considered a painful disease. Keeping dogs with DM as active as possible is important to preserve their quality of life and maintain muscle mass. For example, try to keep taking your dog on walks for as long as he’s able to get around.

Veterinarians typically recommend physical therapy and often hydrotherapy. Some physical therapy exercises, like massages, can be performed at home. Your vet may also refer you to a canine rehabilitation specialist for your dog’s physical therapy.

A well-balanced diet will help to make sure that your dog continues to receive all of the nutrients he needs to stay healthy. You may want to consider switching to an all-natural fresh or healthier kibble dog food as another option to feed your dog a nutritious diet.

Some vets may also recommend a combination of supplements like vitamins B, C, and E, epsilon-aminocaproic acid, and N-acetyl cysteine; however, there’s no scientific evidence that they help slow the progression of the disease.

Because DM is a progressive disease and gets worse despite treatment, the prognosis for dogs with this disease is poor.

Our Personal Experience With DM

Tools To Help Your Pup

Treatment for degenerative myelopathy in dogs

As DM progresses, your dog will eventually lose the ability to be mobile on his own, so you’ll want to consider getting him a harness as well as a cart or wheelchair to assist his hind legs. A dog harness, like the PetSafe CareLift Rear Support Harness, can help you assist him up the stairs, into a car, onto your bed, etc. But, don’t use this more than needed because it reduces your dog’s ability to maintain muscle mass.

Also, see our article on the best wheelchairs for dogs for our recommendations. These equipment options can help maintain your dog’s sense of independence and provide a better quality of life for the time he has left.

When Should I Consider Euthanizing My Dog With DM?

Euthanasia (humane death) is never an easy topic to discuss. When to put down a dog with degenerative myelopathy depends on each dog’s situation. Many people decide to euthanize their dog before the disease progresses into the front legs (eventually leading to total body paralysis) or before it leaves a dog unable to control his urination and bowel movements. This is a decision that you should discuss with your veterinarian. Your vet can’t make this decision for you, but they can help you in the decision-making process.

Does My Dog Have Another Condition?

As we said above, the early symptoms of degenerative myelopathy closely resemble some other conditions. You may want to learn more about arthritis and hip dysplasia in dogs to see if these conditions could be the cause of your dog’s mobility problems. But be sure to consult with your veterinarian to get the proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Tagged With: Arthritis, DNA, Reviewed By Dr. Pendergrass, DVM


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About the Author: Tung Chi