But back to the topic at hand: degenerative myelopathy. DM, as its sometimes abbreviated, is a spontaneously occurring spinal cord disorder affecting dogs that is similar to Lou Gehrig's disease in people. It can occur in any breed but is more common in certain breeds like German Shepherds, Corgis, and Boxers. It usually occurs between 8 and 14 years of age and those dogs with the genetic mutation for DM are more likely to develop it.
Degenerative Myelopathy causes a progressive loss of nerve function and weakness in the body. At first, you will notice a loss of coordination in the back legs. You may see your dog drag his back feet or "knuckle" over in the back. He will seem wobbly and unsteady in the back legs, appearing to walk like a drunken sailor. You will notice that he is weaker in the back end. He may no longer be able to go up steps or get into the car. He may have trouble holding the position to "go potty." This will worsen over time to where your dog will have trouble standing. As the disease advances, it will affect his front legs, and he will lose control over his urination and his bowels. Rear limb paralysis usually occurs within 6-12 months without physical rehabilitation.
While the disease is incurable and will ultimately end in death or euthanasia, aggressive physical rehabilitation has been shown to slow the progression of the disease. Physical rehabilitation can also manage any secondary discomfort that may arise due to compensations for the weakness in the rear legs. Assistive devices are necessary as it progresses and a rehab vet will be able to assist with knowing when and what to use. Ultimately, a custom cart may be in order to keep your dog mobile for as long as possible. With rehab, life can be extended by months to even a few years. And more importantly, it can be good quality life, with mobility and free of pain!