Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) in Dogs | Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

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Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a common disease in senior corgis that begins with paralysis of the hind legs and eventually the inability to breathe. It is a disease that progresses slowly and has a relatively long survival time of 3 to 4 years, making it important to care at home. Veterinarian Sato explains the symptoms, causes, and treatments.

What is Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)?

Degenerative myelopathy is a disease of the spinal cord that is common in corgis, and is also called “DM (Degenerative Myelopathy) ” in English. It begins with paralysis of the hind legs around the age of 10, then moves to the front legs and progresses slowly.

Over the course of three to four years, paralysis spreads throughout the spinal cord, eventually leading to the inability to breathe. Unfortunately, no cure has been established, but it progresses slowly and painlessly, so you can reach a peaceful end depending on your ingenuity.

Breeds prone to degenerative myelopathy (DM)

German Shepherds, Boxers , Bernese Mountain Dogs, etc. are known as breeds that are frequently affected by degenerative myelopathy. Although very rare, it has also been reported in Shelties (Shetland Sheepdogs).

Read Also: What is Glaucoma in Dogs?

Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) in Dogs

Symptoms of degenerative myelopathy can be divided into three stages: early, intermediate, and late.

Early degenerative myelopathy (DM)

The paralysis of the hind legs appears first, giving the impression of striding since it begins on one leg. You may also swing with your feet facing outwards or cross inwards. It is painless and does not change the dog’s reaction.

When you stop, you may experience a symptom called “knuckling,” in which the top of your foot touches the ground.

When the paralysis that started in one leg begins to affect the other, the person may have trouble walking, spread their legs as if they were spreading their legs, or fall sideways. In rare cases, paralysis of the forelimbs may be seen at this stage.

Mid-stage degenerative myelopathy (DM)

His hind legs are completely paralyzed and he is unable to stand on his own. However, the dog doesn’t feel pain and will drag it around. Paralysis can then be seen in the front legs as well as the hind legs.

Complete paralysis of the front legs makes it difficult to stand. At this stage, dysphonia, in which the usual barking cannot be produced, and urinary and defecation disorders, in which urination and defecation are unsuccessful, may be seen.

Late-stage degenerative myelopathy (DM)

Breathing problems can be seen. Dogs normally breathe both thoracically and abdominally, but at this stage chest breathing is lost and abdominal breathing is seen to be stronger to compensate. Gradually, you will lose your voice and eventually you will not be able to breathe.

Causes of Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) in Dogs

Degenerative myelopathy is a disease of unknown cause, but in 2008, a research team at the University of Missouri in the United States announced that mutations in a gene called “superoxide dismutase 1” (SOD1) are related to degenerative myelopathy.

In fact, there seems to be no doubt that mutations in the SOD1 gene increase the risk of developing the disease.

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) Treatment

Definitive diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy can be made by histopathological examination, which cannot be done during life. Other diseases that cause paralysis include intervertebral disc herniation, tumors, and inflammatory diseases (such as meningitis and myelitis). Testing for the SOD1 gene is also helpful.

There is no established treatment, so care at home is important. It is said that active exercise slows the progression in the early stages, so the use of a dedicated cart (wheelchair) is recommended. However, since there are diseases such as disc herniation where exercise is not recommended, a careful diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy is required.

It seems that euthanasia is sometimes selected overseas due to the fact that the onset is more frequent in large dogs and progresses quickly, and due to cultural differences. In Japan, corgis (medium-sized dogs) develop symptoms and can live for about 3 to 4 years without pain, so most of them die peacefully under the care of their owners.


  • Degenerative myelopathy is common in corgis
  • No cure but slowly progressing
  • Care at home is important because there is no pain

Degenerative myelopathy is common in corgis and is also known as “DM”. The cause and treatment are unknown, but it develops after the age of 10 and progresses slowly. Since it is a disease with a relatively long survival period of 3 to 4 years, care should be taken to improve the QOL (quality of life) of your dog.

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