When to Euthanize A Dog With Degenerative Myelopathy?

When to Euthanize A Dog With Degenerative Myelopathy

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 to 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.

Stages of Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy in dogs goes through three main stages, each with worsening spinal cord damage.

Stage 1: Early/Mild

This first stage of degenerative myelopathy is often missed since symptoms are subtle. Signs to look out for include:

  • Uncoordinated or unusual gait, like a bunny-hopping walk
  • Stumbling or wobbling
  • Dragging one rear foot when walking
  • Knuckling over on one foot
  • Scuffing nails on one foot

In Stage 1, usually, only one limb is affected at first. This can lead owners to mistakenly think it’s a sprain or arthritis.

A veterinary neurologic exam can diagnose degenerative myelopathy in its early stage. Starting physical therapy exercises early on is crucial to maintaining your dog’s mobility for as long as possible.

Stage 2: Progressive

In Stage 2, degenerative myelopathy progresses from one limb to affect multiple limbs. Key signs are:

  • Weakness and muscle loss in rear limbs
  • Limping or dragging of rear legs
  • Difficulty standing up or hopping up
  • Loss of proprioception (sense of limb position)
  • Inability to feel where paws are placed
  • Continued knuckling over on multiple feet
  • Reluctance to go on walks

In Stage 2, dogs can still move voluntarily, but their coordination quickly worsens. The front limbs also begin to show subtle symptoms, such as an uneven gait. To help your dog walk comfortably despite these symptoms, use rear support harnesses or slings.

Stage 3: Advanced

In the final stage, dogs become paralyzed because they lose motor neuron connections.

  • Paraplegia develops (paralysis in rear legs)
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Inability to stand or walk
  • Muscle atrophy in rear limbs
  • Front limb weakness in some dogs

Sadly, many choose euthanasia at this stage due to the severity of the condition. Since most dogs can’t move independently, they need supportive care, such as help with bladder and bowel functions. Before deciding on the next steps, carefully consider your dog’s quality of life at this advanced stage.

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.

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.

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
  • Boxers
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Poodle
  • Kerry Blue terries
  • Great Pyrenean Mountain dog
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Bernese Mountain dogs
  • Borzoi, Cavalier
  • King Charles spaniels
  • Pug
  • Pembroke
  • 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.

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