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FAQ’s about Dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy

German shepard with degenerative myelopathy in dog wheelchair

Enjoying the outdoors in a dog wheelchair adds quality of life to a dog with Degenerative Myelopathy.

What is Degenerative Myelopathy?

    •   DM is an auto-immune disease similar to ALS in humans.    The DM gene has been identified in over 100 breeds of dogs, but is most common in German Shepards, boxers,  and corgis.  We  have seen it in pugs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Bernese Mt. dogs, airedales, wheaten terriers,  wire haired fox terriers,  even a coyote.
    • What are the symptoms of DM? 
    • The first sign is the sound of your dog’s toenails scraping the sidewalk, and then an increased lameness, usually on one side, with no signs of pain.  Growing ataxia, wobbliness and instability of gait with rear legs scissoring, and the toes knuckling over within six months.  As DM progresses, the rear legs become unusable, the bark changes and becomes increasingly hoarse.  Some dogs become incontinent.  Eventually, the front legs grow weaker and the core muscles grow lax.  Even as dogs become increasingly weak, they remain engaged with their families.
    • What is the treatment for DM? 
    • Unfortunately, there is no medical treatment to halt this disease.  However, massage and regular exercise using assistive devices, such as a manual harness and a dog wheelchair can provide these dogs with a reasonably good quality of life.
    • How is DM diagnosed? 
    • There is a simple genetic test available through the University of Missouri Vet School, www.caninegeneticdiseases.net  – visit this website for the latest up-to-date information about the current research on DM.
    • When is it time to get my dog a wheelchair?
    •   Most dogs will not accept assistance as long as they can get themselves around on their own, but once they start dragging their legs, it’s time.   Most of the dogs we see here will continue to uses their rear legs for awhile when they first get their carts, as they still have a sense of weight-bearing and can move their legs from the hip, even if they are unable to properly place their feet.  We encourage people to allow their dogs to use the cart as a walker for as long as possible.  Once the rear legs no longer can aid in propulsion, it’s time to use the stirrups prevent foot dragging and wounds.
    • What kind of cart should I get for dog with DM?
    • We recommend our variable axle cart for dogs with DM.  This axle allows caregivers the ability to change the balance of the cart to compensate for increasing weakness as the disease progresses forward.    All the owner has to do is move the wheels forward on the axle assembly and adjust the support strap.  Any standard cart can be upgraded to a variable axle cart.  When ordering a cart, always ask us to check our stock of used carts to see if we have one that will fit your dog.

      An airedale with DM in an Eddie's Wheels variable axle dog wheelchair

      Notice the position of the wheels on the axle assembly. As Elliott’s front legs weaken, additional weight can be taken off his front end by moving the wheels forward on the axle assembly.

The following video shows all the stages of Degenerative Myelopathy and what we have to offer to assist dogs and

and their caregivers throughout the progression of the disease.