Over a year ago I wrote about Degenerative Myelopathy. It was one of the first Medical Monday topics I wanted to write about because Corgis are so prone to this issue. As a matter of fact, when we gave Rooney the Canine HealthCheck test earlier this year, we discovered that he does carry a gene for Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), and approximately 70% of Corgis carry that same gene.
Unfortunately, one of the Corgis on our Facebook page community has just received this devastating diagnosis. As pet parents, we want to help. When your dog is diagnosed with this disease, one of the things you can do is provide them with an exercise regimen. Therefore, I thought I would take the time to research exercises for this particular disease.
It is important to know that some of these exercises are similar to the 5 Core Strengthening Exercises I wrote about previously. However, when completing these exercises, you shouldn’t push your dog to complete them as if they are healthy because they are not. They have a disease, and you should have them complete all exercises as if that’s true. Additionally, their exercise program should include a combination of strengthening, stretching, and repetitive mobility.
GA Veterinary Rehabilitation, Fitness, and Pain Management stresses the importance of balancing the exercise program for dogs with DM between doing too much and not doing enough. Particularly, overdoing your dog’s exercise can worsen their disease. Therefore, any pet parent should work very closely with their veterinarian, or veterinary physical rehabilitation center, to make sure that they provide the correct range of exercise for their dog. GA Veterinary Rehab recommends that an exercise program for Degenerative Myelopathy consists of the following:
Here are some examples of Active Exercise:
Fulfilling Mobility: It is important for dogs suffering from this disease to keep them mobile. Muscle atrophy which occurs as a result of not using the muscles doesn’t improve their diseases. Additionally, exercise provides them with circulation and conditioning. The longer they have muscle to use, the longer they will be able to do the things they love. When I say fulfilling, I mean provide your dog with the exercise they LOVE! For example, is your morning walk the highlight of their day? Although this walk will need to get shorter as their disease progresses, it’s important that you take them for whatever they can handle for as long as possible.
Weight Shifting: Some exercises include equipment and should be completed ONLY at your local rehab center and with the oversight of a veterinary staff. However, other weight shifting exercises can be completed at home. Working with your veterinary staff on exercise selection is important because it does depend on your dog’s abilities, the current stage of their disease, and their range of motion.
Examples of Passive Exercise include:
Stretching: These exercises may include range of motion stretches. Once again, my research focused mostly on working with a veterinarian or rehab center and not deciding which stretches to do on your own.
Strengthening/Balancing Exercises: Some examples of strengthening exercises include sit-to-stand exercises and step-up exercises. These strengthening exercises should mimic movements your dog does on an a regular basis. Therefore, passively strengthening muscles they will need and often use (DawgBusiness).
Massage: Canine massage can improve circulation, increase flexibility, and maintain muscle tone (PetMassage.com). All of the above will help your dog maintain their range of motion and healthier muscles as their disease progresses.
Hydrotherapy can provide your dog with an opportunity to build muscle without the same strain on the joints. Additionally, using an underwater treadmill allows your dog to walk while eliminating the risk of falling. The below video is an example of a dog using an underwater treadmill and an explanation of how the treadmill works.
This video created by AKC Canine Health Foundation is fantastic at explaining Degenerative Myelopathy, how it’s diagnosed, what possible treatments are available, and what you can do.
The most important takeaway from this post is that you shouldn’t design your own exercise program for your dog with DM because you could worsen the disease, it is imperative that you work with veterinary staff. However, having an exercise program can significantly increase your dog’s quality of life as the degenerative myelopathy progresses.
Does your dog suffer from this disease? What types of exercises do you do?