Degenerative Myelopathy in German Shepherds

Degenerative Myelopathy in German Shepherds

Just like humans, German Shepherds suffer from various diseases and some of them are incurable. Degenerative Myelopathy is one of those progressive diseases that mostly affect the spinal cord and as the disease progresses a dog will lose its ability to walk.

The impact of Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) on German Shepherds is first visible with the hind legs when walking. It will eventually lead to complete paralysis of certain groups of muscles in that area and up along the spinal cord.

Degenerative Myelopathy
German Shepherds

The name Degenerative Myelopathy comes from the dielectric material that forms a coating around the neurons and it is vital for the functioning of the nervous system. With the process of degeneration the dog first has trouble getting up, later it progresses to difficulties in walking and at the end the dog is completely unable to coordinate its moves (especially the hind legs).

Degenerative myelopathy usually does not occur in young dogs. The signs of DM can be usually seen after the dog has turned 5 years and most often when it turns 7 years. Not all dogs experience the same progression of this disease, but typically it takes one year for DM to fully progress and the dog becomes paralyzed.

Large dog breeds are most often the most risky group when it comes to Degenerative Myelopathy, especially German Shepherds. According to some statistics up to 3% of German Shepherds around the world are suffering from this disease. That’s around 30.000 German Shepherds only in the USA.

The definite cause of Degenerative Myelopathy in German Shepherd is not yet determined. However researchers are sure that DNA mutation is one of the main reasons. It is probably because of the specific German Shepherd’s DNA that DM occurs so often in this breed. However, DM is not exclusive to German Shepherds and other breeds such as the English Cocker Spaniel, Kerry blue terrier, Pug, Whippet, Corgi’s, Boxers and different breeds of bloodhounds all suffer from DM.

Although DM is not a curable disease it is important to react when you first notice the signs of the disease. Sometimes this signs can be mistaken with those of hip dysplasia (an abnormal structure of the hip socket which can eventually lead to arthritis in dogs). That’s why taking a test is a must for all owners who see some of these signs or for owners that have breeds like the German Shepherd. Understand that you do not have to wait to see if your dog develops DM. The test can tell if the dog is at risk even before it turns 5 years old.

As we have mentioned before, Degenerative Myelopathy is incurable because the myelin sheath cannot be replaced and the neurons running up and down the spinal column do not have another way to protect themselves. However, for thousands of dogs there was a way to slow down the progression and make your dog feel more comfortable while coping with the disease.

Other treatments include:

  • Gene therapy – Recommended even when the dog is young (if your dog tests positive for DM).
  • Exercising – Physiotherapy is very important because it can extend the life expectancy of the dog.
  • Change of eating habits – Finding a proper and suitable diet for the dog is also important (home-made food is preferred).
  • Supplements – There are some supplements, such as Sanus Biotex that can be very helpful in treating German Shepherds suffering from DM and other breeds too. They include substances that can improve the work of the hips, bones and the muscles.
  • Follow, for an in-depth review of the most successful Treatments for Degenerative Myelopathy.