Degenerative myelopathy of dogs is a slowly progressive, non-inflammatory, and painless, degeneration of the myelin sheath that surrounds the spinal cord. It is most commonly seen in German Shepherds and Welsh Corgis, although is occasionally recognized in other breeds such as Boxers. The cause is unknown, although genetic factors are suspected.
The early onset usually occurs later than age 5 and usually begins with a slight knuckling over of the rear feet. You will usually start to notice the toenails starting to wear a little sooner than usual. The knuckling over is due to an inability to sense where the limbs are in space. Some other signs seen during the early stages are progressive weakness in the rear legs, or tremors. You might also notice loss of muscle in the rear legs and difficulty rising. The most common symptom that we see in our DM patients that we fit for a wheelchair for the rear legs is the drunken gait.
During the early stages of DM are the most common times to use a dog wheelchair for assistance. A dog with rear limb weakness will often develop front limb weakness due to compensatory strain. In addition, during the early stages of DM stress and pain are not involved, and the help of a wheelchair to support the rear legs, can improve the quality of life profoundly and limit the front limb strain noted.
Despite the improved quality of life that a dog wheelchair can provide during the early stages of DM, this disease is progressive, and will eventually effect the front limbs. You will start to notice a little more stress and anxiety in your dog. Be sure to keep your own stress level managed, as this can speed up the progression of this scary disease. Speak with your vet, and develop a plan for managed care, such as vitamin supplementation and physical therapy.
If your dog has reached middle and end stages of DM and is using the assistance of a pet wheelchair, we do offer a front end extension that can be added to your existing Ruff Rollin’ Rear Support to convert it into a Full Support Wheelchair. At this point, your dog can experience life with a little more support, while you develop a plan for end of life care.
Most importantly, find a support group that will help you in all these stages of this disease so you and your dog can enjoy more time together.