Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive condition that affects the nerves of the spinal cord and is often seen in corgis. Affected dogs develop a gradual loss of mobility which progresses into paralysis of the hind limbs with loss of functionality. The age of onset is typically around 8 years and upwards, and therefore is more commonly seen in senior dogs. Following is a personal story of a dedicated owner, Caitlin Netzer, dealing with this devastating disease that affected her beloved corgi.
First Signs of Trouble
When we first started seeing signs of degenerative myelopathy in my corgi, the symptoms were similar to a back injury. Earlier in the year my dog had back surgery for a blown disc and two other discs that were slipped. Back issues are extremely common in corgis and typically make for a long recovery.
Common issues while corgis are recovering include problems using their back legs and maneuvering. You’ll notice them struggling to steady their balance and walk flat-footed. However, these symptoms continued well after her recovery.
Months after my dog recovered, her back left foot was struggling to properly function. What we came to realize is that her foot was “knuckling,” a term used to describe when the dogs foot and toes curl over. She was essentially walking on her knuckles.
Knuckling can happen from back surgeries, but as time progressed we realized it was getting worse. When my dog initially hurt her back we learned about a disease called, degenerative myelopathy (DM).
Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
Degenerative myelopathy is very similar to human ALS. It is a slowly progressive degenerative disease, which attacks the spinal cord. It is typically found in older dogs and begins in the hind legs. An owner with a dog who has DM will begin to see a loss on coordination. A dog will typically begin to drag their feet, wobble, or tip over.
In the case of my dog, it never really spread to her right foot—to this day we are unsure if she passed away from complications from DM or if she possibly had cancer.
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Whether you should let your dog through the door first boils down to personal preference. You may have heard that allowing dogs to go out of doors first is bad because by doing so we are allowing dogs to be "alphas over us," but the whole alpha and dominance myth is something that has been debunked by professionals.
DM is a heartbreaking disease to witness, as you’ll find your dog unable to do the things they used to do. They can no longer walk, properly run, or jump. DM takes a dedicated pet parent and a determined dog to make the rest of their lives comfortable. As the symptoms progress, dogs typically lose the ability to walk in both legs, where they will then have to drag themselves around.
After they lose the ability in their legs, the disease continues. The horrible disease continues up the spine, which eventually reaches the lungs and makes it difficult for the dog to breathe, eat, and go to the bathroom. These symptoms are the last stage of DM and when an owner must make a heart wrenching decision.
Working Through the Disease
Genetic testing is available to see if your dog possesses the gene found in DM. We tested my dog and found out she did in fact have the gene. There are no treatments available to stop the spread of DM. However, there are several things we did to comfort my dog.
Although my dog was inflicted with DM, she was determined and willing to work through the disease. Winnie passed away on April 14, 2015. Leading up to the days she was still willingly dragging herself around the house, excited to use her wheels, and seemed comfortable from all of the resources we provided for her.
A dog can live a long and happy life with DM. By following the recommendations for providing comfort and understanding the symptoms, your dog will be able to better adapt and live a wonderful life.
No one should ever turn their back to a disabled pet, because there are ways to cope. Following are ways you can provide comfort.
Things You Can Do
• Purchase a wheelchair – both K9 Carts and Eddie’s Wheels provide great support.
• Help ‘Em Up Harness is available to help lift up the dog’s backend, which makes it a great support for exercise and walking.
• We purchased a treat ball that we filled with treats, so my dog would chase it around in her wheels, while supporting and exercising her legs.
• Exercise may help provide comfort and strength.
Know the signs and symptoms:
• Weakness in hind legs
• Rugged and worn out nails
• Stumbling and unbalanced
• Loss of muscle in back legs
• Worn out hair on the feet and scuffing
Degenerative myelopathy is a challenging disease to understand. Through patience and hard work, an owner will be able to overcome the initial struggle. As time goes on, the disease will become easier to manage for both you and your pet.
Disclaimer: the above is a testimonial only. If you suspect your dog is suffering from an orthopedic problem, please see your vet for diagnosis and treatment.