Monday, September 20, 2010

Does Your Dog Have Degenerative Myelopathy?

Does Your Dog Have Degenerative Myelopathy?

Degenerative Myelopathy is a diagnosis that no pet owner wants to hear. But with a simple at-home test, you can point to an answer. Of course, it is important to always consult a professional at VCA-VRA if you have any questions.

Signs of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Being on the lookout is important with this disease—it does not cause pain in your dog, so they won’t actively whimper or cry. Also some of the serious signs—loss of bowl control and the loss of functionality in limbs—do not come until late in the disease. If you notice that your dog is moving slowly, or suspect a spinal problem, here are some things to look out for:

  • The condition is slowly progressive and unrelenting
  • Your dog begins to drag one a hind limb, followed by a spreading of this asymmetry through a side of their body
  • It is unresponsive to the medications that are commonly used for spinal conditions, such as corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications

Keeping your dog active is a great method of prevention.

About Degenerative Myelopathy

In 1973 the disease was first described by Dr. Skip Averill, who thought it was a degenerative condition of the mid-thoracic spinal cord. He thought it primarily affected German Shepherds, Collies, and mixes of those two breeds. While clinical signs had been noted years before, it was thought previously to be the result of compression of the spinal cord from ossifications within the dura—described as ossifying pachymengitis. However, in the mid-70’s, it was learned that several other breeds of dogs having similar symptoms.

Although a great deal of anecdotal information was presented on the internet, very little hard data was available to add to the science of this disease. Within the last few years, it became a serious problem in Corgis. Dr. Joan Coates and Dr. Gary Johnson and their co-workers have found a genetic association in this disease that has been found to be statistically relevant.

Unfortunately, the test will only determine if a dog can get the disease. But fortunately, false negatives are virtually unheard of. This means that if one's dog is negative for this disease with this test, our science today tells us they don't have DM.

In addition, a genetic link has been found between the dog disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)—commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease.

VCA-VRA supports this test. Not because it is perfect--but because this diagnosis is frequently used when a dog has an undiagnosed spinal cord condition. There are other diseases that are progressive and some of them are not fatal. Degenerative Myelopathy, to the best of our knowledge, is always fatal. We encourage owners to perform this simple, at-home test and see if their dog is negative. If so, they should consider further testing to find out whether their dog has a similar-looking neurologic condition.


For some more information bout degenerative myelopathy, check out these links:


  1. Thanks for sharing this important information. DM affects many corgis and the DNA test helps now in diagnosis and should help over time in lowering the incidence of the disease.

  2. I'm interested in learning more about Dr. Clemmon's research of DM in the German Shepherd. I'd heard so much about it, but have not heard anything new in recent years. My dog is a white GSD and since his research was specific to the GSD, I very interested in finding out more about his research.