How to Identify and Treat Early Stage Degenerative Myelopathy in German Shepherds?

April 8, 2024

Degenerative myelopathy is a grave disease that can affect your beloved pet, particularly among breeds like German Shepherds. Given the progressive nature of this spinal cord illness, early detection is pivotal. In this article, we’ll guide you on how to recognize the signs of degenerative myelopathy in its early stages and the steps you can take to help your dog cope with this condition.

Understanding Degenerative Myelopathy

Before delving into the symptoms and treatments, it’s critical to grasp what degenerative myelopathy is. This disease is a progressive degenerative disorder of the spinal cord that can affect all breeds, but German Shepherds seem to have a predisposition. The disease typically affects dogs in their middle to late years, and over time, it can lead to paralysis of the hind limbs.

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Degenerative myelopathy begins with the slow deterioration of the white matter in the spinal cord, leading to a loss of communication between the brain and the hind legs. This disrupts the dog’s motor functions, causing difficulty in moving their hind legs.

While the cause of the disease is still under research, it is believed to be linked to a mutation in the SOD1 gene. Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for degenerative myelopathy. However, with early detection and a well-planned care strategy, you can significantly improve your pet’s quality of life.

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Identifying Early Stage Degenerative Myelopathy

Recognizing degenerative myelopathy in its early stages is paramount, as it allows you to intervene and slow down the disease’s progression. The first signs can easily be mistaken for the normal aging process or other conditions, making vigilance an absolute necessity.

Initial symptoms typically include a slight drag of the hind legs, difficulty in rising from a seated position, or slight wobbling in the hindquarters. Your dog might also exhibit altered gait patterns, such as scraping their feet on the ground or crossing their legs while walking.

A key pointer of degenerative myelopathy is that the disease is not painful for your pet. If your dog appears to be in pain, they might be suffering from a different condition such as hip dysplasia or a spinal disc disease.

If you notice any of these signs, take your pet to see the vet immediately. A thorough examination, including a spinal tap or MRI, may be necessary to diagnose the condition definitively.

The Role of Diet and Exercise

While there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy, there are ways to help slow the disease’s progression and maintain your dog’s quality of life. One such way is through diet and regular low-impact exercise.

A diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can help protect the nerve cells in your dog’s spinal cord. There’s some evidence to suggest that these nutrients can slow down the degenerative process, though more research is needed to confirm this fully.

Exercise plays a crucial role in managing degenerative myelopathy. Regular, low-impact exercise helps maintain muscle mass and mobility in the limbs, which can be beneficial in the early stages of the disease. Activities such as swimming, walking, and balance exercises, under the supervision of a professional canine rehabilitation therapist, can be incredibly beneficial.

Physical Therapy and Assistive Devices

In addition to diet and exercise, physical therapy can significantly help manage degenerative myelopathy symptoms. It not only helps maintain mobility but also improves overall body strength and condition.

A canine physical therapist will guide you through a series of exercises tailored to your pet’s specific needs. These might include massages, stretches, and range-of-motion exercises that can help keep your dog’s joints flexible.

As the disease progresses, your pet may need supportive devices such as harnesses, wheelchairs, or orthopedic braces to help maintain mobility. These devices can significantly improve the quality of life for a dog with degenerative myelopathy, allowing them to remain active and engaged for a longer period.

Regular Vet Check-ups

Regular vet visits are crucial in managing degenerative myelopathy. Your vet will monitor your dog’s condition, adjusting their care plan as necessary. They can also provide advice and guidance on managing your dog’s symptoms and maintaining their quality of life.

Remember, early detection is key in managing degenerative myelopathy. While it may not be possible to halt the progression of the disease, with early intervention, a proper diet, regular low-impact exercise, and physical therapy, your pet can continue to lead a happy, fulfilling life.

The experience of having a pet with degenerative myelopathy can be challenging, but remember, your pet looks to you for love, care, and support. With the right guidance and resources, you can provide your furry friend with the best care possible.

Medications and Supplements

Aside from taking care of your dog’s diet and exercise, you can also consider some medications and supplements, upon the consultation with your vet, to manage degenerative myelopathy. Many vets may recommend vitamins and supplements that can help in nerve support and regeneration, though these are not cures for the disease.

Certain supplements such as Vitamin E, Vitamin B complex, and Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect your dog’s nerve cells. Acetyl-L-carnitine, a type of amino acid, is also considered beneficial for dogs with degenerative myelopathy. It can help in the energy production of nerve cells and delay the damage caused by the disease.

Another supplement often recommended is Aminocaproic Acid or N-acetylcysteine. They work as antioxidants, providing protection against the damage caused by the disease. Antioxidants help by neutralizing free radicals, harmful compounds that can hasten the progression of the disease.

It’s important to remember that while these supplements may help, they should never replace a balanced diet and regular exercise. Always consult your vet before starting any new supplement regimen.


Degenerative myelopathy, while progressive and incurable, can be managed effectively if detected early enough. The key to providing your German Shepherd with the highest quality of life possible lies in the early recognition of symptoms and immediate intervention. Regular vet check-ups, a nutrient-rich diet, low-impact exercise, physical therapy, and potentially beneficial supplements should all be part of your dog’s care plan.

While the journey can be challenging, remember that you are not alone. Many resources, including vet professionals and canine rehabilitation therapists, are available to help guide you through this process. Your dog’s strength, comfort, and happiness are the ultimate goals. With patience, love, and understanding, your bond with your pet can only grow stronger, even in the face of degenerative myelopathy.

In conclusion, it is important to understand that while degenerative myelopathy is a serious disease, it does not mean an immediate end to quality life for your German Shepherd. With the right strategies and support, your beloved pet can still enjoy a fulfilling, happy life. Regular vet visits, a balanced diet, adequate physical therapy, and the use of assistive devices when necessary are all critical components in managing this condition. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and your pet will have the best care possible.