Spinal Cord Disease in Dogs

Degenerative myelopathy refers to the disease of the dog's spinal cord or bone marrow. It is a progressive fatal hereditary disease that occurs in dogs. In this condition, fibers in the brain, spinal cord and nerves of dogs slowly degenerate due to a genetic mutation. 

Although the disease can affect any dog or any breed or age, it has an insidious onset typically between 7 and 14 years of age.

This disease affects the central nervous system of the dog and can progress to affect the cervical and lumbar portions of the spinal cord in later stages. Lesions are often present on the spinal cord. Neurons in the brain stem may also be affected by the disease.

Symptoms begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs, causing the affected dog to wobble when walking. This can first occur in one hind limb and then affect the other. With progression of disease, the limbs become weak and the dog begins to buckle and has difficulty standing until it is unable to walk. The clinical course can range from 6 months to 1 year before dogs become paraplegic. If signs progress for a longer period of time, loss of urinary and fecal continence may occur and eventually weakness will develop in the front limbs. Another key feature of DM is that it is not a painful disease.

Common symptoms associated with this disease are

Increased muscle atrophy and the inability to maintain posture

Partial or full limb paralysis

A loss of the ability to control defecation and urination

Exaggerated spinal reflexes

Loss of muscle mass 

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