Degenerative myelopathy (also called: DM or progressive rear limb weakness or paralysis) was first described as a specific neurologic disease in the early 1970's. Typically, the dogs age at onset of DM can be anywhere from five to fourteen years of age.
DM has been reported in almost all the larger breeds of dogs (ex. Collies, Belgian Shepherds, Old English Sheep Dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks) but the disease seems to appear fairly frequently in the German Shepherd which suggests that there is a predisposition for German Shepherd dogs to develop DM.
What is degenerative myelopathy? DM is best thought to be a autoimmune disorder that results in destruction of the central nervous system - especially in the spine. Some veterinarians describe it as being similar to Multiple Sclerosis in humans.
Oftentimes the first signs of DM in the German Shepherd are abnormally worn down toe nails of a hind paw, dragging/knuckling of a hind paw and loss of coordination in the rear end of the dog.
Dogs affected with DM usually have rear limbs that actually cross over each other and trip the dog up. It's almost as if the dogs can not control their rear limbs direction - the dogs want to go one direction and the legs another.
DM seems to present itself in the following way; it is a painless and slow progressive rear limb weakness or paralysis. Sometimes there may also be discomfort due to arthritis in the hip or lower back area, but this often improves with activity. The dog will become progressively weaker in the back end and will shuffle the rear legs.
Currently there is no specific test used to diagnosis Degenerative Myelopathy. In most cases diagnosis is made by ruling out other possible causes of posterior weakness, such as disk disease. DM seems to progress at different rates in every affected dog and it seems as though stress does play a role in its advancement.
At the moment, Degenerative myelopathy is incurable, but there are several supportive treatments that are available that seem to help the symptoms. Two supportive treatments include moderate exercise and vitamin supplementation.
If your dog presents any of the symptoms listed above, please consult your veterinarian as soon as possible for further details on the best Degenerative myelopathy treatment options available for your dog.
"A really companionable and indispensable dog is an accident of nature. You can't get it by breeding for it, and you can't buy it with money. It just happens along." - E B White, The Care and Training of a Dog
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