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Home > Dogs > Canine Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Signs & Treatment

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Signs & Treatment

german shepherd dog_Hans Kemperman, Pixabay

Dogs can face many problems as they get older, and while we want to keep our pets with us as long as possible, we also don’t want them to suffer. One of the more complex and serious conditions your dog can get is a disease called canine degenerative myelopathy. It affects the spinal cord in your pet, and while it’s usually not painful, it often leads to death. Keep reading while we take a closer look at this disease to learn more about it so we can recognize signs and symptoms early on to give our pets the best life possible.


What Is Canine Degenerative Myelopathy?

As we mentioned earlier, canine degenerative myelopathy affects the spinal cord in your dog. It usually begins later in life, with most dogs first showing signs after 8 years of age. It affects the white matter in the spinal cord, and as it degrades, it cannot properly transmit signals to the brain. Many experts liken it to Lou Gehrig’s Disease.1 As it progresses, it can cause complete paralysis of the back legs, and in its later stages, your dog can lose control over its bladder and colon, leading to incontinence. Eventually, euthanization may be required to stop the dog’s suffering.

Causes of Canine Degenerative Myelopathy

Unfortunately, the exact cause of canine degenerative myelopathy is not known. However, some breeds are more prone to it than others, and some scientists hold the SOD-1 genetic mutation responsible. This mutation is present in several breeds, including German Shepherds, Boxers, Siberian Huskies, and Collies. Mixed breeds that use these dogs as a parent will also have the SOD-1 gene. Only dogs with two copies of the SOD-1 gene can develop canine degenerative myelopathy but not every dog with two copies will get the disease.

Black and white border collie dog covers face on grey background
Image Credit: JessicaMcGovern,Shutterstock

Signs of Canine Degenerative Myelopathy

Early Signs

In the early stages of canine degenerative myelopathy, you will likely notice your dog is stumbling around more often than usual, and it may have difficulty standing. A loss of muscle mass in the back legs is also common, and the legs may have tremors. You might also notice strange wear on the toenails, and the toes may begin to start knuckling, which will continue to worsen as the disease progresses. It might also have a hard time climbing stairs, and its hind legs may become uncoordinated.

Intermediate Signs

dog lying_Pexels_Pixabay
Image Credit: Pexels, Pixabay

Some of the intermediate symptoms you might see as the disease progresses include the dog walking on its paws and having a limp tail. Your dog will have poor balance and be unable to tell where its back legs are so they can become crossed. It can be hard for your dog to get up or walk, and it will lose much of the muscle in its back and legs. It may also start to have trouble urinating and defecating.

Late-Stage Signs

In the later stages of canine degenerative myelopathy, your dog will be unable to get up without help. Many owners will need to start thinking about euthanization because the dog cannot help itself. It may also begin to undergo organ failure and have uncontrolled movements.


How Long Can a Dog Live With Canine Degenerative Myelopathy?

Unfortunately, most dogs diagnosed with canine degenerative myelopathy only have about 6 months to live, though some can live as long as 3 years or more. Most scientific tests have not been successful in altering the course of canine degenerative myelopathy, but they are still trying to find a cure or at least a better way to treat the disease.

Is Canine Degenerative Myelopathy Painful?

Most experts agree that canine degenerative myelopathy is not painful for your dog, at least not physically. However, your dog might be confused about what is happening to it.

When Is It Time to Say Goodbye?

dog and vet._LightField Studios_Shutterstock
Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

You will need to get a dog with canine degenerative myelopathy checked regularly by a veterinarian who will know when the condition becomes overwhelming for your loved one. We highly recommend listening to the doctor so you can get the most time with your pet without making it suffer. In most cases, your vet will recommend saying goodbye when the dog can no longer get up and becomes incontinent, leaving your dog at risk for infections.



Canine degenerative myelopathy is a very difficult condition to live with and one that we hope your dog never has to suffer from. Hopefully, the experts will find a way to treat it soon. Until then, soak up as much time with your precious friend as possible and get him the best care. If you have learned something new from reading this guide and know the early symptoms, please share this guide to canine degenerative myelopathy in dogs on Facebook and Twitter.

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Featured Image Credit: Hans Kemperman, Pixabay

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