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What Dog Breeds Get Degenerative Myelopathy? (17 Examples)

What Dog Breeds Get Degenerative Myelopathy? (17 Examples)

In my daily activities at the pet store, I get asked about various diseases that affect dogs. Clients who are looking into buying dogs as their first pets seem to be the ones with most of these questions.

Recently, we have been getting questions about which breeds of dogs are highly prone to Degenerative Myelopathy.  To be able to provide the right answers I did some research. Here is what I found.

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM) can be a life-threatening disease to dogs that contract it.

What dog breeds are most commonly affected by Degenerative Myelopathy?  Dogs that have a genetic mutation specifically two copies of the mutated gene have a higher risk of suffering from DM. Dogs breeds that are at a higher risk of suffering from DM include German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, German shepherd Crosses, and Collies. Other breeds that can potentially contact the disease include Boxers, Miniature Poodles, Welsh Corgi Pembrokes, Welsh Corgi Cardigans, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dog, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Kerry Blue Terriers, Standard Poodles, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Pugs, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

 DM is defined as a disease that normally affects the spinal cord of the dog, consequently resulting in paralysis and weakness of the dog’s hind limb, a condition that progresses slowly. Symptoms are triggered by the degeneration of the spinal cord white matter.

The exact cause of DM is actually unknown; however, DM can easily be confused with osteoarthritis as the two diseases have the same symptoms.

However, as DM progresses, signs such as stumbling and wobbling as a result of ataxia and weakness clearly distinguish it from osteoarthritis.

What are the Clinical Signs of Degenerative Myelopathy?

The early clinical signs of DM include

  • Dog struggle to get up after lying down
  • The dog’s hind feet appear to be swaying especially when it’s standing still
  • Knuckling of the hind paws, making the dog walk on its knuckles more so when turning
  • When pushed from the side the dog falls easily
  • When walking the dog’s hind feet appear as if it is scraping the ground and as the condition progresses the feet becomes hairless due to repetition of the trauma

With the progression of the disease, the deterioration of the spinal cord follows eventually leading to paralysis of the hind part of the dog.

At What age does Degenerative Myelopathy occur?

In most dogs, Degenerative Myelopathy normally sets in between the age of 4-14 years, although there have been rare cases where the disease have been reported to have set in, in young dogs.

What causes Degenerative Myelopathy?

As mentioned earlier the exact cause of this disease is currently unknown, Source most specialists however suggest that it is caused by a genetic mutation.

DNA testing from any reputable dog DNA testing facility can help identify dogs that are at a higher risk of contracting the disease and those that are “safe”.

Dogs that have two normal copies of the gene responsible for DM are marked as safe from the disease, while dogs that have one normal copy of the gene and one abnormal copy of the gene are marked as carriers. This means that if they are bred with another dog that has the same genetic mark up their offspring will suffer from DM. On the other hand, dogs that have two copies of the gene are marked as being at a higher risk of contracting the disease.

Dogs that have two copies also known as homogenous of the mutated gene [SOD-1] contract the DM disease. Nonetheless, there have been reports having the two copies of the mutated genes that have not suffered from DM disease.

If you wish to acquire or already have a dog marked as being at risk of contracting DM, you should have its DNA sample analyzed in a reputable facility for dog DNA testing.

How is Degenerative Myelopathy Diagnosed

The first step when diagnosing myelopathy is determining the following factors, medical history, breed of dog, then examination and diagnostic tests.

X-rays and other techniques of spinal imaging help to rule out other complications such as chronic arthritis and dysplasia, which when present can lead to loss of function of the dog’s hindquarters especially during the early stages of DM.

Apart from X-rays other tests that can help identify or diagnose DM include, cerebrospinal fluid analysis, neuromuscular tests, and tissue biopsies. Additionally, for a definitive diagnosis of the DM histopathology must be conducted.

Engage the services of reputable DNA dog testing facilities as diagnosing DM is time-consuming and requires state-of-the-art DNA testing equipment and experienced specialists.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do dogs suffer from DM experience bladder and bowel problems? Dogs suffering from DM do not have bowel and bladder issues in the initial stages of the disease. However, as the disease progresses to the paralysis stage these dogs may develop fecal and urinary incontinence.

Is DM painful? Most dog breeds suffering from DM do not appear to be going through pain. However, they appear to be weak, if you observe your dog behaving like it is in pain, the most probable cause is another underlying cause such as arthritis.

Is there are a treatment for DM? Unfortunately, currently, there is no known treatment for degenerative myelopathy.  This condition can only be maintained as a way of making the dog’s life comfortable. You should make sure you watch your dog’s feeding closely once it is diagnosed with DM since obesity should be avoided at all costs with this condition. You should also ensure that your dog gets enough exercise. Physical therapy has been suggested as a way to preserve muscle mass and prolong the quality of life.


While degenerative myelopathy is deadly and life-threatening, knowing whether you’re the breed of dog that you have is predisposed to contracting it can help you prepare for the onset of the condition early enough. Always seek the services of a renowned vet when dealing with or diagnosing this condition.

If for any reason you feel you are not equipped with dealing with such a condition, make sure to keep of dog breeds that are predisposed to suffering from this disease altogether.