Degenerative Myelopathy or DM is a spontaneously occurring, adult-onset disorder of the nerves within the dog's spinal cord. 

Previously referred to as Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy or CDRM is a degenerative, progressive and incurable disease of the nerves of the spinal cord which causes gradual loss of mobility and feeling in the limbs.

Affected dogs become dysfunctional initially in the hind limbs and then in the forelimbs; the condition does not cause pain but affected animals are unable to behave or function normally which will over time have a detrimental impact on their welfare and quality of life.

The condition is a slow, progressive degeneration of an outer layer of tissue of the white matter of the spinal cord in the thoracic section of the spine causing signals to and from the dog’s brain to its limbs to fail.

Research suggests a genetic autoimmune basis for the disease, and depressed cell-mediated immunity may be present in some dogs, however its cause is currently unknown. DM has been diagnosed in a number of large breeds including Irish setter, Collies, Rhodesian ridgeback and Labradors although older German Shepherds are the breed most affected.

Signs of DM are seen in dogs older than 5 years old and classically seen at around 8 to 9 years of age and may involve a loss of co-ordination of the hind limbs or ataxia - swaying when moving; dogs may criss-cross their legs and trip themselves up when turning or wear down of the top of their nails and scuff the tops of their toes.

Weakness and loss of proprioception or positional sense results; meaning that the dog is unaware of the position and posture of the hind limbs, hence their lack of coordination. As the disease progresses, hind limb weakness occurs leading to an inability to stand followed by complete hind limb paralysis.

A noticeable disability on examination is the dog’s lack of awareness of the hind foot being placed upside down on the floor in a knuckled over position – the absent placing reflex allows the dog to leave the foot in an abnormal position, or only recover its normal position slowly – a slow placing reflex. An unaffected dog will not allow the foot to be placed upside down.

 Dogs with DM can become frustrated when they find that they cannot jump up, for example into the back of a car or perform normal daily activities such as climbing stairs as they used to, but they do not necessarily exhibit signs of pain or discomfort.

The use of myotherapy to support DM

There is unfortunately no known treatment for DM, only management and support.

Dogs diagnosed with DM are likely to have very tight and sore muscles at their front end, neck, scapular and thoracic spine. As the back end loses power as the driving force to propel itself forward, the dog has to compensate by pulling themselves forward with the muscles at front end, overworking and placing considerable strain these muscles.

Galen Myotherapy© can assist some dogs in remaining mobile for longer; making the dog more comfortable by reducing these areas of overcompensation particularly in the neck and shoulder.

Treatment can increase the circulation of blood and stimulate peripheral nerves, delaying muscle wastage in the affected limbs, it can also help the dog to gain more awareness of the rest of their body making them better able to cope with the loss of sensory information from the rear.

To talk to me about Galen Myotherapy© and how it might help your dog, contact me here.