Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a spinal cord disorder that affects adult dogs and that is similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease in people. DM degrades the “white matter” surrounding the spinal cord and affects the peripheral nervous system.
This “white matter” forms the nervous system superhighway that transmits movement commands from the brain to the body while sending sensory information to the brain. The disease most commonly affects the Rhodesian Ridgeback, German Shepherds, Boxers, Corgis, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, and Poodles. However, other breeds and mixed-breed dogs are also at risk of developing the disorder.
The onset of DM typically begins in the late adult to early senior years in dogs, with both male and females equally affected by the condition. DM is a genetic disorder inherited from the parents of the breeding stock. If both parents suffer from DM, then there’s an 85-percent chance that all puppies in their litters will experience the onset of DM in later life.
DM is not a painful disease and does not affect the pain centers in the brain. However, movements that compensate for weakness in the rear legs may induce pain in the shoulders and elbows of the affected dog.