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Degenerative Myelopathy

By: Dr. Arnold Plotnick

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Degenerative myelopathy is a slowly progressive neurologic disorder mainly affecting German shepherds between the ages of 5 and 14 years. The condition bears many similarities to multiple sclerosis in people. The initial clinical sign is usually an increased difficulty standing up. The rear legs become progressively weaker, and the dog becomes more and more uncoordinated. The rear legs may cross during walking, and the paws may begin to knuckle, causing the nails to be worn from dragging and scuffing. If forced to turn quickly, affected dogs will often fall. The front legs remain normal, as does pain sensation. Late in the course of disease, bowel and bladder incontinence develops.

The diagnostic tests recommended will help differentiate degenerative myelopathy from the following:

  • Hip dysplasia. This is a hereditary orthopedic condition of the hips commonly seen in large breed dogs

  • Intervertebral disc disease. Intervertebral discs are structures located between the vertebrae that act as a cushion against excessive movement or trauma. Damage to a disc can cause neurologic signs that may mimic those seen in degenerative myelopathy.

  • Cancer. Slowly progressive tumors involving the spinal cord may also show signs resembling degenerative myelopathy.

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