The Stages of Degenerative Myelopathy

German Shepherd with DM

Degenerative Myelopathy or DM is among the biggest diseases impacting pet mobility. An awareness of the disease and its progression can help prepare you and your pet for what’s to come.

It’s important to note that Degenerative Myelopathy is not painful and at onset mobility will be affected slowly. If your dog is experiencing pain, contact your Vet immediately.

Early Stages of DM

It’s difficult to diagnose Degenerative Myelopathy in its earliest stages. The first stage is an almost imperceptible weakness in a dog’s rear legs. The change in a dog’s gait at this point is so minute and incredibly difficult to see. A more reliable to check your dog’s back feet once a month. Look for uneven wear on your dog’s rear toenails. Uneven wear on the innermost nails of the rear paws is an early tip-off of DM.

Early to Mid-Stage DM


As DM progresses, your pet’s symptoms become much more apparent and much easier to see.

Changes to be aware of:

  • Beginning to have difficulty standing up.
  • Maintaining their balance is a struggle, but they can recover on their own.
  • Scrapping nails: On walks, listen to your dog for sounds of scraping nails. At this stage, scraping will occur periodically and will not be constant.
  • Dog begins to lose muscle mass in the hind end.

Your dog’s response time may be delayed as well. If you turn your dog’s rear paws under in this stage, they should be able to right their foot to place their paw directly under them, although there may be a longer response time.

Late Mid-Stage DM

As your dog’s condition worsens, it will become harder for your dog to stand up from a laying down position. Their awareness of paw placement or proprioception worsens. They are beginning to lose feeling in their rear paws.

Changes to be aware of:Lift-N-Step Harness Bloodhound

  • Their nails will begin to scrape more often as they walk, until it becomes constant.
  • Stumbling or tripping due to faulty foot placement.
  • Exaggerated movements, such as high stepping onto curbs.
  • Tail movement becomes less active
  • Rear legs may begin to cross as they weaken and lose sensation.
  •  May start to have ‘accidents’.

Paw placement will worsen as your dog’s DM progresses. At this stage dog’s paws may ‘knuckle under’ causing them to walk on the tops of their feet, with their toe’s underneath. Your dog may not be able to right their paw or have a delayed response time.

Early Late-Stage DM


As a dog begins to advance into Late-Stage DM you will begin noticing drastic changes in their mobility.

Changes to be aware of:

  • Jerky movements in rear legs and tail
  • Cross Extensor Response: touching one paw and the other paw reacts
  • Maintaining balance is impossible (especially when squatting)

Late Stage DM

Tom Turkey_Black Lab Wheelchair

DM can progress quickly, especially when it reaches its final stages. Signs of late-stage DM appear to happen overnight or within the space of a few days.

Changes to be aware of:

  • Dog is unable to bear any weight on its rear legs
  • Dog can not get up and even once lifted is unable to stay standing without support
  •  Urinary and bowel incontinence
  • Weakness begins in the shoulders, causing front end weakness.

How to Help Your Pet with Degenerative Myelopathy

Watching your best friend struggle with DM is incredibly difficult and it’s even more frustrating for your pet. Luckily, there are some simple ways you can help make your pet’s life a bit easier as their body changes.

Solutions for Difficulty Standing or Maintaining Balance

  • Up-n-Go Rear Support Leash: a simple leash that slips on your dog’s legs while they’re lying down, allowing you to help to get them up on their feet. Once up, you can slip it off or continue to assist them in case they wobble. Great for quick trips outside!
  • Walkin’ Combo Harness: a handy harness that’s comfortable enough for your dog to wear all day and progresses with them as they weaken. Not only can it be used as a lifting harness, it can even attach to the Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair.

Paw Knuckling Solutions

Hind Leg Crossing Solution

Mobility Loss Solutions

The Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair is the perfect solution to help your pet regain their mobility and independence.

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4 thoughts on “The Stages of Degenerative Myelopathy

  1. Pingback: Stages of Degenerative Myelopathy | DM Mobility Solutions - Pet City Navigator
  2. Mick is about 89 lbs and I live alone with him and another doggie. I’m not terrifically strong. Mick has a K9Cart that he doesn’t much like. I struggle to get him into it because he is heavy. He has CDM and can now only sometimes stand without me supporting his hindquarters. Mick is 10-1/2 years old, a black Lab Retriever and a very good boy. … When we reach the stage where he can’t get up, what can I do? When do I have to have him put down? When does his quality of life become not good? I don’t want Mick living in despair. I don’t know what to do. For now thank God he can still come outside to poo and pee, with me struggling to pull him on a body-sling. And on the weekends I get him into his K9Cart. There are no places around here where he can swim, which is awful. I love him so! I want only the best for him. Thank you.

    1. Hi Sue,

      Caring for a pet with mobility issues comes with its own set of challenges, the most important thing you can do is be there for your dog. It sounds like you’re doing an amazing job and you’re asking all the right questions. Every dog will have a different experience, and they’re condition will degenerate at different speeds. Mick is definitely going to need his wheelchair, if he doesn’t seem to like it, it may not be adjusted correctly or may be uncomfortable for him. If the fit of the wheelchair looks good, I’d focus on making the wheelchair a positive experience for Mick. Use positive reinforcement, lots of praise and treats so he can begin associate getting in his wheelchair with a positive experience. As the disease progresses, there will come a time when he struggles to stand and luckily lifting harnesses are available that can help you give him the boost he needs, and we have many harnesses that are compatible with the Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair to making get him in and out of the wheelchair easier. If he enjoys the water, I would check in your area to see if there are any pet rehab facilities nearby that offer hydrotherapy.

      Many dog’s with DM can continue to have a great life with their wheelchair. His diagnosis doesn’t mean the end and he can go on with a great quality of life. If you have any further questions, please give us a call at 888-253-0777 we’re happy to answer any of your questions regarding DM or discuss the options available for Mick.

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