What Is Degenerative Myelopathy

What Is Degenerative Myelopathy

This month, Dr. Christina Cole is back on our blog to discuss another common disease that affects several of her clients, degenerative myelopathy.

This month, Dr. Christina Cole is back on our blog to discuss another common disease that affects several of her clients, degenerative myelopathy.

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a disease of the spinal cord in animals, specifically dogs, that has been likened to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in humans. According to the Veterinary Merck Manual: “Degenerative myelopathy {…} is a slowly progressive, non-inflammatory degeneration of the axons and myelin primarily affecting the white matter of the spinal cord.”1 When the white matter is affected, there is progressive loss of motion, loss of awareness of location in space, decreased sensation in the limbs, ataxia, hyporeflexia, and eventually paraplegia.

Long backed, larger dogs tend to have a predisposition to this disease. Breeds most commonly affected by it are the German Shepherd, Corgis, Boxers, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks.2,3 The disease itself is not painful and non-inflammatory, so taking anti-inflammatories will not affect the course of it.


At this time, ways to prevent the disease is unknown. If your dog is positive for a specific gene (SOD1) mutation and has two copies (homozygous), the likelihood of them being affected is fairly high and they will pass the gene on to offspring. Those with only one copy (heterozygous) have a lower risk of being affected personally but have a high chance of passing the gene on to any offspring.1 The way the disease is expressed and passed on is similar to ALS in humans.


Animals diagnosed with DM are often given a prognosis of six months to three years until they are fairly incapacitated by the disease. Definitive diagnosis is made via MRI or through testing of the cerebrospinal fluid.1 At this stage there is no treatment proven to improve the disease. Early studies have shown some animals do well using supplements, glucocorticoids, acupuncture, and chiropractic. The amount of research behind the validity of any treatment, however, is limited and thus needs to be expanded.

If Your Animal Shows Symptoms

If you suspect your animal has degenerative myelopathy, the best course of action is to visit your veterinarian. An animal diagnosed with DM can certainly live a great life and is not destined for misery. Quality of life can be improved through a variety of treatments, including chiropractic. After treating multiple dogs with DM, I’ve noticed incredibly positive results. Animals given six months to live have actually surpassed that diagnosis and been able to enjoy the months/years they have left. Supplementation for the joints, ligaments, muscles, and bone can absolutely ease any discomfort they may be having and also improve the ability to heal, and sustain a higher quality level of life. Every animal is different and the most important thing any fur parent can do is be aware of your pet, and if you suspect something is wrong, get it checked out!

Dr. Cole will be hosting pet adjustments at the store:

  • Tonight from 5 - 8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, November 3 from 5 - 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, November 14 from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
  • Tuesday, November 17 from 5 - 8 p.m.

If you'd like to schedule a chiropractic adjustment at The Pet Beastro or set up a Chronic Health Plan for your animal with degenerative myelopathy, give the store a call at (248) 548-3448.

  1. The Merck Veterinary Manual. Hendra Virus Infection. Available at: www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/53100.htm. Accessed July 10, 2015.
  2. Awano T, Johnson GS, Wade CM, et al. Genome-wide association analysis reveals a SOD1 mutation in canine degenerative myelopathy that resembles amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2009;106:2794–2799.
  3. March PA, Coates JR, Abyad RJ, et al. Degenerative myelopathy in 18 Pembroke Welsh Corgi dogs. Vet Pathol 2009; 46:241–250.


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