Progression of Degenerative myelopathy
The disease progresses through four stages, with each stage being characterized by a gradual deterioration of the dog's mobility and neurological function.
- Stage 1: The dog displays signs of decreased sensation and weakness in the hind limbs. They may have difficulty rising from a lying position, show knuckling of the paws, drag their feet leading to wear on the toenails, and experience stumbling or crisscrossing of the hind limbs while walking.
- Stage 2: The dog becomes unable to walk on the hind limbs. Severe weakness is observed, and they may or may not be able to stand on their hind limbs.
- Stage 3: Paralysis affects the hind limbs, and there is weakness in the front limbs as well. Muscles in the hind limbs start to atrophy due to lack of use. Atrophy is the process where a muscle loses mass and tone when not being utilized. Fecal and urinary incontinence may occur, along with changes in vocalizations.
- Stage 4: The dog experiences complete paralysis in all four limbs. Muscle atrophy affects the entire body. Fecal and urinary incontinence persist, along with changes in vocalization. Swallowing food and water becomes challenging, as does breathing.
It is important to note that the progression of DM may vary from dog to dog, and some dogs may progress more rapidly or more slowly than others. While there is currently no cure for DM, early intervention and management can help to slow the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life for affected dogs.
There is no cure for degenerative myelopathy in dogs, but there are several treatments that can help manage the condition and slow its progression. Here are some of the most common treatments:
- Laser therapy: a recent research found that the combination of photobiomodulation therapy and rehabilitation therapy appears to have potential as a therapeutic intervention for managing the symptoms of canine degenerative myelopathy (Millar et al, 2020).
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help improve mobility, maintain muscle mass, and prevent muscle atrophy in dogs with degenerative myelopathy. This can include exercises such as swimming, assisted walking, and range of motion exercises.
- Assistive devices: Specialized devices such as wheelchairs and support slings can help dogs with degenerative myelopathy move around more easily and maintain their independence.
- Medications: There are several medications that may help manage the symptoms of degenerative myelopathy. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and pain medications.
- Nutritional supplements: Nutritional supplements such as vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants may help slow the progression of degenerative myelopathy.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture may help improve mobility, reduce pain, and improve overall quality of life for dogs with degenerative myelopathy.
It is important to note that not all treatments may be effective for every dog with degenerative myelopathy, and treatment plans may need to be adjusted as the condition progresses. It is also important to work closely with a veterinarian to ensure that treatments are safe and appropriate for your individual dog.
There have been ongoing studies on Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs, and while there is currently no cure for the disease, there have been some breakthroughs in research that offer potential treatments and management strategies.
As mentioned already, recent research into photobiomodulation laser therapy has produced very positive results, and further research is ongoing to determine the optimal photobiomodulation therapy protocol for managing degenerative myelopathy in dogs.
Another promising area of research is the use of stem cell therapy to repair the damaged spinal cord tissue. Studies have shown that stem cell therapy can lead to functional improvements in dogs with DM, such as increased coordination and mobility. Additionally, researchers are studying the use of gene therapy to target and modify the genetic mutations that cause DM.
Another area of research is the use of drugs that can slow down the progression of the disease. One drug that has shown promise is a medication called Pimobendan, which has been used in the treatment of heart disease in dogs but has also been found to have neuroprotective properties.
Tips for Pawrents
- Provide a supportive and safe environment: Make sure your dog has easy access to food, water, and a comfortable resting area. Install non-slip flooring to prevent falls, and consider using a harness or sling to assist your dog with mobility.
- Keep your dog active: While there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy, regular exercise can help maintain muscle mass and improve circulation. Swimming is an excellent low-impact exercise for dogs with DM.
- Maintain a healthy diet: A balanced and nutritious diet can help keep your dog's body functioning at its best. Talk to your veterinarian about the best diet for your dog's specific needs.
- Consider physical therapy: Physical therapy can help maintain your dog's range of motion and improve muscle strength. A veterinary rehabilitation specialist can develop a customized exercise plan for your dog.
- Seek emotional support: Caring for a dog with degenerative myelopathy can be emotionally challenging. Consider joining a support group or speaking with a counselor to help you cope with the stress and emotions of caring for a disabled pet.
Remember, while degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease, there are many ways to improve your dog's quality of life and keep them comfortable and happy for as long as possible.
Miller LA, Torraca D (Gross), De Taboada L. Retrospective observational study and analysis of two different photobiomodulation therapy protocols combined with rehabilitation therapy as therapeutic interventions for canine degenerative myelopathy. Photobiomod Photomed Laser Surg. 2020;38(4):195–205.