What is Degenerative Myelopathy?
Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. The breeds most commonly affected include German Shepherds, Welsh Corgis, Irish Setters, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. The disease has an insidious onset typically between 8 and 14 years of age. It begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs. The affected dog will wobble when walking, knuckle over or drag the feet. This can first occur in one hind limb and then affect the other. As the disease progresses, the limbs become weak and the dog begins to buckle and has difficulty standing. The weakness gets progressively worse until the dog is unable to walk. The clinical course can range from 6 months to 1 year before dogs become paraplegic. If signs progress for a longer period of time, loss of urinary and fecal continence may occur and eventually weakness will develop in the front limbs. Another key feature of DM is that it is not a painful disease.
Degenerative myelopathy is a devastating and heartbreaking disease causing progressive paralysis in a large number of dog breeds. New research has identified a gene that is associated with a major increase in risk of the disease.
Pembroke Corgis are generally between 8 and 14 years of age when the disease starts but it can progress rapidly – leaving your Corgi unable to walk in 6 to 12 months. The one plus to this disease is that the nerves that control pain disappear along with the nerves to control movement, so your Corgi is not in physical pain with this.
In Cardigans, the onset of DM seems to be slightly later, typically at around age 12 to as late as age 15 or so.
However, most Corgis are not old at 10, 11 and 12 and so it is very distressing when DM is diagnosed and many Corgis seem very upset by the fact that they can no longer get around well.