When it comes to serious diseases that afflict dogs, degenerative myelopathy is one to look out for. The saddest thing about it is that you will watch your dog get worse day after day. At some point, you’ll have to make the merciful decision to end the dog’s suffering and give it a dignified end.
If your dog is diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, you have anything between 6 months to three years to euthanize it. Your vet will help you pick the right time based on how late the stage of the disease is. That gives you time to prepare for that tough moment.
Needless to say, your dog doesn’t have to suffer unnecessarily as the disease progresses. So in a way, it’s the humane thing to do. However, reaching that decision isn’t always easy. At the same time, you’d want your dog to enjoy the last days of its life in comfort and dignity.
When Should You Euthanize a Dog with Degenerative Myelopathy?
This is one of the toughest decisions you’ll have to make in your life. It’s just as tough as deciding when to take someone close to you off life support. But there will come a time when the disease is ravaging the dog’s body that you realize that the dog is in so much pain and every new day it’s getting worse.
It cannot move well. It has lost its appetite. Its vision is blurry, and it has obviously lost control over much of its body. Even if it cannot tell you about its suffering, it’s obvious that the end is drawing near. After talking to your vet, you’ll be able to set the date.
How Long Can a Dog Live with Degenerative Myelopathy?
From the time you get the shocking news that your dog has got degenerative myelopathy, you have anything between 6 months to 3 years. It depends on how fast the disease is progressing. In some cases, with the right care and if the dog has good genes, your dog could live much longer than that.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for degenerative myelopathy. You can slow off the inevitable and try to make sure your dog is not suffering much. But sooner or later, you’ll have to make that hard decision. You have to choose the right time to euthanize your dog. You should do that in close consultation with your vet who treats the dog.
Are Dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy in Pain?
While degenerative myelopathy progresses and the dog enters the late stages of the disease, it will lose control over much of its body. However, if there’s a silver lining here it’s that the dog doesn’t feel pain. Its body is paralyzed which means it cannot feel anything including pain.
But even if the dog isn’t feeling physical pain, you can imagine what it’s going through when it cannot move, walk, or run like it used to. It will have a sad look in its eyes which tells you everything you need to know about how the dog is feeling right now.
What are the Stages of Degenerative Myelopathy?
What really makes degenerative myelopathy such a lethal disease is that it practically creeps in unnoticed. In its earliest stages, you won’t even know that there’s something wrong with your dog. Its legs get weak and a little shaky. But you will chalk it off to exhaustion or something.
But as the disease progresses, the dog will have trouble standing up or walking steadily. Its hind legs become too weak to support it. When it walks it shuffles and its nails make a scraping sound on the floor. And in the late stages, the dog will stumble into walls and furniture a lot as it tries to keep balance. That’s when the dog will start to have accidents.
Early Signs of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
In the very early stages of degenerative myelopathy, you won’t even notice that there’s something wrong with the dog. But if you pay close attention you’ll observe that its hind legs are a little shaky. Then the dogs walk starts to look different. Even the way it carries itself is not the same.
Its gait is not as confident and solid as it used to be. It slouches and there’s a trembling in its hind legs even when it is walking. It also tends to stay put more and doesn’t try to run or jump.
Causes of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
It’s not just that there’s no cure for degenerative myelopathy, the causes of the disease lie hidden in the dog’s genes. It’s a genetic disease that many breeds suffer from. This means it’s not about the food, environment, lack of exercise, or any other external cause. The dog has the disease from the day it’s born and there’s nothing you can do to stop it or prevent it.
All you can do is try to detect the disease early on and help the dog make the most of what’s left of its life in peace.
How Common is Degenerative Myelopathy?
Many dog breeds get the disease. With the widespread of crossbreeding, the disease made the leap across many breeds now. While it affects a small percentage of dogs in general, no specific breed is immune to it. This makes it your job to keep an eye on your dog as it grows and watch for the telltale signs we mentioned earlier. Even though you can’t stop the disease, you can still make the dog’s life as comfortable and normal as possible.
Hip Dysplasia vs Degenerative Myelopathy
Unlike hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy is a genetic disease. It’s not caused by an accident or due to overexercising or lack of exercise. The dog gets it due to mutation in its genes which shows the first signs when the dog gets on in years. Also, degenerative myelopathy doesn’t cause pain while hip dysplasia is painful and affects the hips.
Is There a Cure for Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs?
The short answer is no. So far there has been no cure for degenerative myelopathy. As the disease takes over the dog’s body and it loses its mobility, there’s nothing you or the vet can do but to help the dog go through its day as conveniently as possible.
Breeds Prone to Degenerative Myelopathy
Due to crossbreeding, most dog species are now prone to degenerative myelopathy. This means that no matter what breed you have and even if it’s not on the following list, you should watch out for signs of the disease. Some of the most breeds that get this disease include:
- Cardigan Welsh Corgis
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- Kerry Blue terries
- Great Pyrenean Mountain dog
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Bernese Mountain dogs
- Borzoi, Cavalier
- King Charles spaniels
- Wire Fox Terriers
- Golden Retriever
Should You Walk a Dog with Degenerative Myelopathy?
While the dog suffering from degenerative myelopathy might have trouble walking, it will still need the exercise. Walking can help keep the muscles of the hind legs going for longer. So you should take the dog out for walks as often as you can.
This too has a great effect on the dog’s mental health. It will enjoy the outdoors and feel like its life is normal again even if it cannot run or chase butterflies like it used to. If the dog’s hind legs can no longer support it, you can use wheels to help it move around. There are many Youtube videos that show you how you can do that.
Many dogs suffering from this disease can still lead a relatively normal life with the use of wheels. They can move around and go about their daily life with ease. It’s heartwarming to see the dog on wheels not losing its spirit and still greeting you with a smile every time you come home.
Is Degenerative Myelopathy Genetic?
Yes. And that’s what makes it such a hard disease to beat. No matter what breed you get, you cannot be sure that your dog doesn’t have the mutating gene. That’s due to crossbreeding and the popularity of designer dogs.
At some point on the dog’s family tree, there might be a breed that is prone to the disease. This means that there’s a likelihood that your dog could develop the disease as it gets older. And since there’s no cure, all you can do is hope.
How to Care for a Dog with Degenerative Myelopathy?
You have to take into consideration that the dog’s mobility is limited. It cannot walk straight let alone run. It will stumble into walls, doors, and furniture as it tries to move. So make sure that the place is neat and nothing comes in the dog’s way.
As the dog’s disease worsens, consider designing wheels to help it move around. These are wheels that you attach to the dog’s hind legs. The legs are lifted off the ground and the wheels will keep the dog balanced. It will look like the dog is pulling a cart. This helps your dog move around easier and becomes less prone to accidents.