What Can I Do If My Dog Has DM?

For most pet parents learning their dog has been diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy is likely their first time hearing about the debilitating mobility condition. There can be a lot of questions that come along with a DM diagnosis. DM impacts a pet’s strength and their ability to maintain control over their body which can drastically change both your and your pet’s life. Understanding the signs and symptoms of DM can help you prepare for the physical changes your dog will experience as their Degenerative Myelopathy progresses. 

Here are a few of the most common questions pet parents have about their dog’s DM diagnosis:

Frequently Asked Questions About Degenerative Myelopathy Answered

Is DM a painful disease?

German Shepherd with degenerative myelopathy

No. Degenerative Myelopathy is not a painful condition, but it does weaken pets. Dogs with DM will struggle, which may be painful to watch, but they aren’t experiencing any pain. This loss of strength and changes in a dog’s mobility does place additional stress on a dog’s body.

Symptoms of DM come on slowly and are often very subtle and easily missed. As the disease progresses, your dog’s hind legs will lose strength before becoming completely paralyzed. Eventually the condition will move up the spine to impact the leg strength and function of the front legs. 

How quickly does Degenerative Myelopathy progress?

DM progression will vary from dog to dog, although the disease can progress rapidly. In most dogs, it takes anywhere from six months to a year from initial symptom to the final stage of Degenerative Myelopathy. The final stages of DM can progress very quickly, and a dog’s condition can deteriorate seemingly overnight. 

What can I do to help my dog with Degenerative Myelopathy?

Although there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy there are many things you can do to improve your dog’s quality of life. Work with your veterinarian or physical therapist to develop a treatment plan for your best friend. Here are a few physiotherapy options available for DM dogs:

Rehab therapy for dogs with DM

Acupuncture – helps to stimulate your dog’s nerves, especially in their hind end to decrease muscle atrophy and even slow the progression of the disease. Most canine acupuncture treatments will occur at least once or twice a week. 

Exercise – keeping your dog active is crucial to their mental and physical well-being. Dogs dealing with progressive mobility loss from conditions like DM, benefit from a combination of passive and active exercise. Active exercises include slow walk, weight shifting exercises, climbing stairs, and helping your dog to stand up. Examples of passive exercise include gentle stretching and maintaining range of motion. Continued exercise helps to improve a dog’s symptoms as well as keep them healthier for longer. 

Massage – Not only is massage relaxing and therapeutic, a gentle massage improves your pet’s circulation and helps to release any fluid buildup caused by inactivity.  

Canine Mobility Aids – dog wheelchairs and other assistive devices will keep your dog active and make it easier for you to lift and support your dog. All dogs with DM will require the support of a dog wheelchair

German Shepherd Wheelchair buy now

Is walking good for dogs with DM?

Yes, dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy should stay as active as possible. Keeping a DM dog active can actually help slow down the progression of the disease. Physical therapy and regular structured exercises, including walking, can help dogs with DM maintain muscle strength and minimize their risk of muscle atrophy. Hydrotherapy and using an underwater treadmill can help pets maintain their strength and improve their balance and mobility. 

Does a dog with Degenerative Myelopathy benefit from using a dog wheelchair?

Corgi wheelchair

Mobility loss, leg weakness, and eventual paralysis are all guarantees in dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy. It’s not a matter of if, but when your dog will need to use a dog wheelchair to stay active. Every DM dog will require a dog wheelchair, starting them early before they need to fully rely on a mobility cart can help ease the transition. A dog wheelchair will not make your dog lazy, a wheelchair is a necessary mobility tool to give your dog the support they need to exercise and go for their daily walk. 

Dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy will need an adjustable dog wheelchair that will adapt to accommodate their changing mobility needs throughout the various stages of DM. 

How long can dogs live with Degenerative Myelopathy?

Most DM dogs will reach the late stages of Degenerative Myelopathy within a year of diagnosis. Although it’s possible for a dog to live beyond that time frame, their overall quality of life will determine the right time for euthanasia. Every dog’s case is different, but the average survival time for a dog with DM is usually around 130 – 255 days. A recent study found that DM dogs with a higher activity level and who have received intense physical therapy will live longer than inactive dogs.. 

What are the final stages of DM in dogs?

In late stage Degenerative Myelopathy dogs experience complete paralysis in all four legs. During the final stages of DM, dogs will have no control over their coordination, balance, or leg function. They will not be able to stand up without assistance or the support of a wheelchair. Additionally, respiratory issues and an inability to swallow or breath on their own may occur at the very end. Most veterinarians will recommend euthanasia before the disease progresses to this point.

Conclusion

Your dog’s DM diagnosis is a scary one, but the good news is that there are things you can do to improve their quality of life. Focus on your dog’s mobility and continued activity. With a combination of physical therapy, a dog wheelchair, and lots of love you’re dog can live a longer more active life. It is possible for dogs with degenerative myelopathy to stay active.

German Shepherd with Walkin' Wheels dog wheelchair
Walkin’ Wheels Wheelchair
German Shepherd combo harness for leg support
Walkin’ Combo Harness
Dog rear support leash for stairs
Walkin’ Rear Support Leash

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2 Comments

  1. I have a 90 lb dog and I have to carry him in and out of the house. I put the rear harness on the cart and then go back in and put his front harness on him, then I take a towel and put that under him and lift him up to carry his butt outside he can walk with his front legs. My problem now is that sometimes he doesn’t want me to lift him and sometimes yelps. So if they don’t feel pain what is happening? He does from time to time have trouble controlling his bladder and his bowels (thankfully they are solid).

    Sometimes I think I don’t have his wheelchair adjusted right. When he stands he keeps going backwards. I have tried every rear harness you have and still can’t find one that he looks comfortable in, I don’t know maybe that just me.

    • Hi Alice – dogs with DM can still feel pain, but there’s no pain cause by Degenerative Myelopathy. It’s quite possible that there is some discomfort caused by something else internally, if your dog is crying out when you lift him I would recommend speaking with your veterinarian. We are happy to help you get his wheelchair adjusted correctly, please contact us at 888-253-0777

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