Medical Monday: Degenerative Myelopathy

Hello Everyone!

I hope you all had a lovely weekend! I thought that I would start a new segment called Medical Mondays on my blog. As many of you know, my goal with this blog is to help educate pet parents, and sometimes that means talking about products, current events, or rescues, but sometimes this means talking about medical issues that our pets may face in the future.

Today’s topic was inspired by Rooney’s recent back injury (in case you missed that story, you can read here). Rooney’s back injury came about as a result of his genetic disposition. There is nothing we could have done to prevent it, and there is nothing we can do in the future to prevent similar injuries. Many Corgi owners are fully aware that Corgis are prone to such injuries, much of these are grouped together as “disc disease”, which is just a fancier way of saying that Corgis will slip or rupture discs in their back.

However, Corgi parents also need to be aware that Corgis are prone to Degenerative Myelopathy as well.

What is Degenerative Myelopathy?

According to PetMD, degenerative myelopathy can be defined as a non-inflammatory degeneration of the white matter in the spinal cord. The cause of this disease is unknown, but genetics are considered to be the primary suspect of this disease.

Are Corgis the only breed prone to Degenerative Myelopathy?

No. According to PetMD, this disease is commonly seen in German Shepherds as well.

What should I watch for?

The early signs of Degererative Myelopathy are actually similar to the symptoms that Rooney recently displayed. Initially, they show weakness in their hind end and the inability to tell where their limbs are in space.

PetMD describes early stages of DM as including these signs:

progressive weakness in the hind limbs

worn nails

difficulty rising


knuckling of the toes (see below video)

scuffing, or dragging, hind feet

wearing of the inner digits of the rear paws

loss of muscle in rear legs

tremors in rear legs

Below is a video from Bright Eyes & Bushy Tails Emergency Veterinary Service of Iowa City. This video shows the test your veterinarian will perform to see if your pet is aware of their limbs in space. Notice how when the vet flips this dogs foot backward, he doesn’t immediately flip its foot back over. What this means is that the nervous system is unaware of the foot positioning in his hind legs.

How do we know that my dog is experiencing Degenerative Myelopathy and not a different spinal issue?

Firstly, this disease is typically seen in dogs over the age of 5 years old. Typically, an MRI will be performed to determine that this is indeed Degenerative Myelopathy and not something else in the spinal cord (PetMD).

What are treatment options?

Unfortunately, with this type of disease, there is no documentation of a treatment that has improved conditions, pet parents can only try to maintain quality of life. Physical therapy, such as water treadmills, acupunture, and mobility carts are often used by pet parents to improve and extend their quality of life.

Below is a video of a Corgi in a water treadmill, although this Corgi is recovering from spinal surgery and doesn’t have DM that I am aware of, this video shows a physical therapy option.

Rocky, who I called My Doodle, was a German Shepherd/Lab mix who we lost back in August 2012. Rocky suffered from what we believe was DM. Ultimately we got him a mobility cart to help him get around so that he could visit the park every day, and it really made a difference in his quality of life. He first started to shows signs of weakness in December 2010, and we were fortunate that his disease progressed slowly and we were able to spend another 20 months with him. According to PetMD, pets can maintain quality of life anywhere from 6 to 36 months after prognosis.

Acupuncture is always a great option, although it is not a treatment specific to DM. At Pleasanton Veterinary Hospital, where I relief tech, Dr. Summer Godfrey performs acupuncture on a variety of different patients, and I have personally seen many pets improve their mobility in their senior years.

My biggest fear is that Rooney will receive a DM prognosis one day and until then, I let him run as long and as free as he can (of course not right now because he is recovering).

In the mean time, I keep him insured through Trupanion Pet Insurance, so that we don’t have to make tough financial decisions when Rooney is hurt or sick. For a free quote from Trupanion, please click below.

I encourage all pet parents to be educated about the types of diseases your pet may be genetically predisposed to, knowledge is power, and being aware can help you be a better pet parent.

If you felt that Medical Monday was educational, and you would like to read more, please say so in the comments below. Also, feel free to ask questions and leave topic suggestions as well.

Have a great day!

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8 Comment

  1. Reply
    M. K. Clinton
    June 23, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Yes, I enjoyed learning about this and look forward to more medical Mondays. We’re sending love & licks to Rooney for a quick recovery period! ♥♥♥♥
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Sunflower FunMy Profile

    1. Reply
      June 23, 2014 at 12:36 pm

      Thank you!! I think all the love is really helping him recover :). I am glad you enjoyed medical Monday and I think the general response is that people want more.

  2. Reply
    June 23, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I for one, am going to enjoy Medical Mondays because of the educational factor. I always want to know anything and everything about dogs, and I found your post most interesting so I’m glad you are going to do it on a regular basis.
    Hoping for a full recovery for Rooney – and I think you are right – love works wonders!
    Barb recently posted…Rocky Ridge Animal RefugeMy Profile

    1. Reply
      June 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      Barb, thank you so much! I am glad you enjoyed it. Please let me know if there is any specific topic you would like to learn about. Have a great day!

  3. Reply
    Cathy Connolly
    June 24, 2014 at 4:00 am

    Great article! DM is a very heart wrenching diagnosis. We have had GSD for many, many years. After our first one had severe hip dysplasia at a very young age I started doing home work. When looking to buy a breed that is genetically predisposed to having these kinds of issues, do you homework on breed specific diseases. Then ask the breeder many questions. Do any of these diseases show up in your bloodlines?? If they don’t know what your talking about run! A good breeder~~breeds these diseases OUT of their bloodlines.
    Look forward to your medical Mondays!

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