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When To Put Down A Dog With Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a genetic disease that can affect multiple dog breeds.

It’s slow-acting, typically only exhibiting symptoms after a pup is four years old.

The hallmark of this condition is a lack of movement in the hindquarters, including the hind legs.

A positive diagnosis for this genetic disorder is anything but a death sentence.

Many dogs can live happy, relatively healthy lives long after the initial symptoms of degenerative myelopathy appear.

Still, dogs with DM don’t recover from their illness, leading some pet parents to consider euthanasia.

But with canine degenerative myelopathy when to euthanize?

What is Canine Degenerative Myelopathy?

Before you can address the question of whether to euthanize a dog with degenerative myelopathy, it’s crucial to understand what this disease is and how it affects animals.

Firstly, it’s vital to note that environmental factors don’t cause DM.

Your dog’s diet and exercise level won’t affect whether or not they develop degenerative myelopathy.

Instead, a pup’s genetics will determine whether or not it ends up showing signs of DM.

Typically, pet owners are unaware that their dog has this condition until the first symptoms begin to appear.

Symptoms of Canine Degenerative Myelopathy

Identifying degenerative myelopathy isn’t a straightforward affair.

A veterinarian or veterinary technician must withdraw cells from a dog’s spine and analyze them before confirming or denying this disease’s presence.

Still, pet parents can keep an eye out for some of the most common symptoms of DM, which include:

  • Walking on the knuckles of the toes (hindquarters only)
  • Difficulty moving from a reclined position to a standing position
  • Falling over while sitting or walking
  • Hindquarters that seem unstable
  • A lack of motion control in the hind legs

At first, it may be tricky to notice these signs.

But the symptoms of DM tend to become more intense as the disease progresses, which can be frustrating for both pets and owners.

Pet parents may need to help their aging dog relieve themselves, move around the house and yard, and navigate to food and water dishes.

As we mentioned earlier, this disease isn’t caused by poor diet or lifestyle habits.

It’s purely genetic, which can make it difficult to detect or trace early-on.

Adopting a dog from a reputable breeder is an excellent way to avoid owning a dog with degenerative myelopathy, although it’s no guarantee.

What Causes Degenerative Myelopathy?

As far as we know, degenerative myelopathy is caused by a genetic mutation. Some dog breeds may be at a higher risk of carrying this mutation.

German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs) and Siberian Huskies are two breeds that may be the most prone to developing this disease, though nearly any breed is susceptible.

The mutation that causes degenerative myelopathy is passed down from parent to offspring.

Mixed-breed dogs with unknown parentage may carry the mutation for many years before exhibiting symptoms.

The at-fault mutations occur within a specific gene called canine superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1). While there are more than a hundred currently-identified mutations, two might be directly responsible for this debilitating condition.

Geneticists refer to these mutations as E40K and T18S.

The SOD1 gene is recessive, and some dogs with mutations won’t develop degenerative myelopathy.

Still, pure-bred pups that receive the same dangerous mutations from both parents are more likely to develop signs of degenerative myelopathy than dogs with mixed parentage.

While it may not be possible to prevent degenerative myelopathy, there is a way to test for it.

If you’re concerned that your tiny pup might develop this condition later in life, you can purchase a genetic testing kit.

After swabbing the inside of your dog’s mouth, you’ll seal the sample up and mail it off for testing.

If you do receive a positive test, you may begin to search for treatment options and wonder how to make your pup’s life as comfortable as possible.

There may not be a cure for this genetic disease (yet), but there are ways to manage it.

Is Degenerative Myelopathy Treatable?

Answering this question is tricky. Seeking treatment isn’t the same as being cured.

Dogs that develop degenerative myelopathy typically experience a worsening quality of life.

Regular physical therapy and specialized care can help keep muscles healthy, but this genetic disorder doesn’t disappear or get better with time.

Consequently, it’s a disease that takes a heavy toll on both the affected animal and its owner.

The best route for owners of diagnosed dogs is to:

  • Implement smart lifestyle habits
  • Continue with their routine as much as possible
  • Seek veterinary care and guidance whenever needed
  • Show their dog plenty of love, attention, and affection

If you’re wondering what you can do for your dog to help them enjoy their life and their golden years, then you’ll want to check out the following tips and tricks.

What Can You Do to Help?

Managing your dog’s degenerative myelopathy can be a challenge, especially as the disease worsens.

However, owners can do quite a few things to help keep their pup healthy, happy, and comfortable throughout the experience.

Naturally, pet parents should be feeding their dogs healthy, wholesome meals that provide plenty of vital nutrients, protein, and complex carbohydrates.

In addition to this, regular exercise is a must.

Pups that lose control of their hind legs may benefit from a dog wheelchair that allows them to use their front paws to walk and run.

Water aerobics and other forms of gentle physical therapy may also help keep dogs mobile longer.

So long as your dog enjoys a good quality of life, you can relax and enjoy a little peace of mind.

It’s when your dog isn’t able to enjoy themselves anymore that you may want to begin considering euthanization.

Pups that are in constant pain shouldn’t suffer any longer than necessary.

When Should You Euthanize a Dog?

Deciding to euthanize a dog is one of the most challenging decisions pet owners make.

Not only is it a life-and-death decision, but it’s one involving one of the most precious four-legged members of your family.

Choosing the right option when the time comes can be a heartbreaking experience.

Knowing when to pull that trigger can be even trickier. Still, there are a few common reasons that pet parents should be aware of.

You may want to discuss euthanization if your dog:

  • Experiences chronic, untreatable pain that only worsens with time
  • Cannot eat or drink; Needs to use an IV
  • Cannot defecate or urinate without medical assistance
  • Has difficulty breathing or painful breathing
  • Doesn’t respond to affection, treats, or toys

Your veterinarian will help you make the best possible decision concerning your dog’s quality of life, happiness, and comfort.

While it’s a sad thing to think about, our furry friends do grow older, fall ill, and pass away.

Ensuring that we give them the highest quality of life and the most affection while they’re here is a positive way to handle this natural part of life.

When your dog is diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, it’s only too easy to feel depressed and a little helpless.

But in many cases, dogs can still enjoy several years of walking, running, playing, and having a blast before the most severe symptoms take charge.

Be sure to take advantage of every moment with your pup!

That way, when the time to seek euthanization does arrive, you can hold your head high knowing that you’ve done (and that you’re doing) the best thing for your dog.

But how will you know when to put down a dog with progressed degenerative myelopathy?

When Should You Put Down a Dog with Degenerative Myelopathy?

Pet owners should only put down a dog with degenerative myelopathy if their veterinarian recommends it.

Even then, if you feel as though you can provide a stable, loving, and manageable treatment for your pup, you may opt-out of euthanasia.

For example, some veterinarians may recommend putting down a dog that has completely lost control of its hindquarters.

But doggie wheelchairs can help pups stay mobile, improving their quality of life and potentially extending their lifespan.

That said, when a dog’s pain has become unbearable, or they’re no longer capable of relieving themselves without assistance, euthanasia may be the kinder choice.

If you’re unsatisfied with one veterinarian’s assessment, you are always free to receive a second opinion.

Just remember that it’s often kinder to let a pained animal pass on than it is to keep them selfishly by your side.

This truth is hard to swallow, but it’s an important one, especially if your pet’s happiness is essential to you.

Final Thoughts

Euthanizing a beloved family pet is never easy or straightforward.

But if your dog has degenerative myelopathy, the day may come when you’ll need to make that decision.

Generally, dogs with intense chronic pain, poor quality of life, and disinterest in once-loved activities or snacks may be ready to pass on.

Consulting with your veterinarian is the best way to determine whether euthanasia is the appropriate course of action.

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National Canine Research Association of America