Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) in Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Feb. 15, 2010

Myoclonus in Dogs

The term "myoclonus" is used to denote a condition in which a portion of a muscle, entire muscle, or group of muscles contracts in a coarse, repetitive, involuntary, and rhythmic manner at rates up to 60 times per minute (sometimes even occurring during sleep).

These abnormal contractions occur due to nervous dysfunction and most commonly affect groups of muscles involved in chewing and/or any of the skeletal muscles of the limbs. Myoclonus is also seen in cats, though it is rare.

Symptoms and Types

Involuntary, continuous, coarse, and rhythmic contractions of a muscle, portion of a muscle, or group of muscles is the most common sign to look out for. However, there are other symptoms your dog displays that are related to the underlying disease causing myoclonus.


The most frequent cause of myoclonus in dogs is canine distemper, though it may be drug-induced or due to lead poisoning. Myoclonus is also congenital condition, one that is often seen in Labrador retrievers and Dalmatians.


You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, including any illnesses it may have recently suffered from and symptoms it has displayed. The veterinarian will then conduct a complete physical examination as well as a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis -- the results of which may show abnormalities related to underlying cause, including inflammation of brain and spinal cord (encephalomyelitis). He or she may also take a sample of your dog's cerebrospinal fluid (a protective and nourishing fluid circulate around brain and spinal cord) or administer an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) on the animal.


The course of treatment for myoclonus will depend on the underlying cause of the disorder. Dogs with inflammation of brain and spinal cord, for example, are given medication to reduce swelling. Unfortunately, dogs with severe and chronic myoclonus suffer immensely. Your veterinarian may recommend euthanasia in these cases.

Living and Management

This problem usually continues indefinitely, although remission is possible. Dogs that display myoclonus after succumbing to the canine distemper virus have a poor prognosis.

Watch for symptoms that may be associated to the treatment for brain and spinal cord inflammation, and call your veterinarian if they should worsen. The dog may require a new diet or movement restriction depending on the severity of the disease.

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