Degenerative Myelopathy in German Shepherds: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a serious condition that affects the spinal cord of some dogs, especially German Shepherds. It causes progressive weakness and paralysis of the hind legs, eventually affecting all four limbs. It is similar to ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans.

Causes of DM in German Shepherds

DM is caused by a genetic mutation in the SOD-1 gene, which affects the function of nerve cells. Dogs that inherit two copies of this mutation (one from each parent) are at risk of developing DM, while dogs that inherit only one copy are carriers and do not show symptoms. The mutation is common in German Shepherds and other breeds such as Boxers, Corgis, and Huskies.

Symptoms of DM in German Shepherds

The first sign of DM is usually knuckling of the hind feet, which means the dog walks on the top of its toes instead of the pads. This can lead to injuries and infections on the feet. The dog may also sway or stumble when walking or standing and have difficulty getting up or climbing stairs. As the disease progresses, the dog loses muscle mass and coordination in the hind legs and becomes unable to stand or walk. The dog may also develop urinary and fecal incontinence, anxiety, and infections. The disease does not cause pain, but it affects the dog’s quality of life and mobility.

Treatment of DM in German Shepherds

Unfortunately, there is no cure for DM or treatment that can stop or reverse the degeneration of the spinal cord. The treatment is mainly supportive and palliative, aiming to make the dog comfortable and prevent complications. Some of the options include:

  • Physical therapy and exercise to maintain muscle strength and circulation
  • Hydrotherapy or swimming to reduce pressure on the joints and spine
  • Massage and acupuncture to stimulate blood flow and nerve function
  • Wheelchairs or carts to help with mobility and independence
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation and swelling
  • Antibiotics to treat infections
  • Supplements such as vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants to support nerve health
  • Painkillers, if needed, to relieve discomfort

The prognosis for DM is poor, as most dogs become paralyzed within 6 months to 2 years after the onset of symptoms. Some dogs may live longer with proper care and support, but euthanasia may be considered when the quality of life is compromised.

Prevention of DM in German Shepherds

The best way to prevent DM is to avoid breeding dogs with the mutation. Genetic testing can identify dogs that are carriers or at risk of DM, and help breeders make informed decisions. Responsible breeders should test their dogs for DM before breeding them and avoid mating two carriers or two at-risk dogs. This way, they can reduce the incidence of DM in future generations.

DM is a devastating disease that affects many German Shepherds and their owners. By understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment options, you can provide your dog with the best possible care and comfort.

In conclusion, if you suspect that your German Shepherd may be suffering from degenerative myelopathy, it is of utmost importance to consult a veterinarian to discuss the condition. Always remember to seek a second opinion when it comes to your furry family members, as their well-being is our responsibility. By taking the necessary steps to prevent and manage degenerative myelopathy, we can ensure that our beloved canine companions live their lives to the fullest, surrounded by the love and support they deserve.

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