Dear Daisy Dog
Max, our 9-year-old German shepherd, has trouble walking. His veterinarian diagnosed degenerative myelopathy and said there’s nothing we can do. Can you suggest any treatments?
German shepherds are the second most popular purebred dog in the United States, based on American Kennel Club registrations.
Unfortunately, 21 percent of them have degenerative myelopathy, a slowly progressive degeneration of the spinal cord.
Compare this statistic to hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia, each of which afflicts 19 percent of German shepherds, according to the Canine Health Information Center.
Degenerative myelopathy (DM) may be inherited. For information on genetic testing, see www.offa.org/dnatesting/dm.html.
The initial signs, often mistaken for hip dysplasia, include swaying, hind leg weakness, dragging the back feet and crossing the rear legs. Eventually, hind leg paralysis develops, and the front legs weaken as well. Fortunately, DM does not cause pain.
The only treatment that shows promise in slowing progression of the disease is physical therapy. In one study, dogs with DM that received intensive physical therapy survived longer (255 days, on average) than dogs that received moderate (130-day survival) or no physical therapy (55-day survival.)
If you don’t have a canine physical rehabilitation facility near you, walk or swim Max as often as possible.