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Degenerative Myelopathy in German Shepherds

General Information

Degenerative myelopathy is a slowly progressing paralysis of the rear quarters in middle-aged to old German Shepherds. Initially the dog drags its rear toes slightly and scrapes the tops of the toenails as it walks. This progresses to knuckling over of the rear paws and crossing of the feet during walking. The forelegs function normally, and affected dogs are otherwise in good health.

The disease progresses until affected dogs eventually cannot rise or walk on the rear legs. The rear leg muscles undergo severe wasting (atrophy). The cause of this degeneration is unknown, but the underlying disease is degeneration of the white matter in the spinal cord.

Important Points in Treatment

1. Extensive testing is necessary for correct diagnosis, since the signs of degenerative myelopathy are similar to those of other spinal conditions.

2. There is no known cure for degenerative myelopathy. During the early stages, anti-inflammatory drugs help, but it is not known if these drugs actually slow progression of the disease.

3. Good supportive home care is necessary in the middle and late stages of the disease. This includes assisted exercise to maintain muscle tone as long as possible, soft bedding to help prevent skin sores on the rear legs, and helping the dog to rise and walk as needed. During these stages of the disease, the dog's ability to have normal eliminations must be monitored. Feel free to discuss these matters with the doctor.


Notify the Doctor if Any of the Following Occur:

* Your dog refuses to eat.

* Your dog's signs change or suddenly worsen.

* Your dog cannot urinate or have bowel movements.

* You cannot carry out any prescribed treatments.

* Your dog becomes depressed.