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.
- 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
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.
- Rear Weakness only: start with the Walkin’ Rear Combo Harness.
- Front Weakness only: although not typical with DM, if your dog does have weakness in their front legs only use the Walkin’ Front Combo Harness.
- Front & Rear Weakness: use both the Walkin’ Rear and Front Combo Harness system to provide total body support.
Paw Knuckling Solutions
- Walkin’ Bootie Splint: help your dog with their paw placement, while protecting their paws and nails from scraping injuries.
- Rear No Knuckling Training Sock: a training tool to help with rear paw placement.
- Front No Knuckling Training Sock: a training tool to help with front paw placement.
- Skates: perfect for wheelchair dogs with dragging paws
Hind Leg Crossing Solution
- Walkin’ Hip-EEZ System with Cross-Assist attachment: The Hip-EEZ Cross-Assist attaches to the Walkin’ Hip-EEZ hip support and sits high between the legs to prevent weakened rear legs from crossing as they walk.
Mobility Loss Solutions
The Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair is the perfect solution to help your pet regain their mobility and independence.
- Walkin’ Wheels Rear Wheelchair: perfect to help dog’s with rear leg weakness or paralysis stay mobile, active and part of the family. It’s even great for dog’s who can still walk on their own but need help with their balance or want to take weight off their legs and hips.
- Walkin’ Wheels Full Support/4-wheel Wheelchair: for dog’s experiencing weakness in their front legs. The Walkin’ Wheels Front Wheel Attachment can be added to any Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair to adapt to progression of DM and your pet’s changing mobility.