Spinal Cord Disease in Dogs

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Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Degenerative myelopathy is the general medical term that refers to the disease of the dog's spinal cord or bone marrow. The condition does not have specific cause and may remain unidentified. While the disease can affect any breed and any age of dog, older animals are most often afflicted with the disease. Prognosis of this disease is not positive, as it is the degeneration of the animal's spinal cord, leading to loss of numerous bodily functions.

Symptoms and Types

This disease affects the central nervous system of the dog and can progress to affect the cervical and lumbar portions of the spinal cord in later stages. Lesions are often present on the spinal cord. Neurons in the brain stem may also be affected by the disease. Here are some common signs of this disease:

  • Increased muscle atrophy and the inability to maintain posture
  • Partial or full limb paralysis
  • A loss of the ability to control defecation and urination
  • Exaggerated spinal reflexes
  • Loss of muscle mass


The cause for degenerative myelopathy is unknown. Although there does appear to be a genetic link, there is no clear evidence to support the presence of a genetic mutation and the probability of the disease affecting a dog. In some genetic studies that are underway, German Shepherds, Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgi's, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Irish Setters, Boxers, Collies, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Poodles have shown an increased prevalence for the disease.


Initial lab tests are commonly used to rule out a variety of underlying diseases, including a culture and thyroid function test. Imaging is often performed to view potential spinal cord damage. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) can be used to look at various compressions and diseases that are possible within the spinal cord, such as a herniated disk, which can be treated. Also, spinal cord fluid can be examined for an inflammatory disease in the spinal cord. There are several different diagnoses that are possible, including:

  • Type II intervertebral (between the vertebrae) disk disease
  • Hip dysplasia (abnormal tissue or bone growth)
  • Orthopedic disease (disorder of the skeletal and associated muscles and joints)
  • Degenerative lumbosacral stenosis (abnormal narrowing of the lower back part of the spine or pelvic bone)

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