Degenerative Myelopathy in Golden Retrievers

A progressive spinal cord disease, degenerative myelopathy in Golden Retrievers could have devastating effects. It starts with weakness in hind limbs and gradually leads to the loss of motor coordination and complete paralysis. Owners aware of the signs of degenerative myelopathy are better placed to slow down its progression, minimize its impact, and ensure a better quality of life for their Golden Retrievers.

Degenerative Myelopathy in Golden Retrievers

What is Degenerative Myelopathy in Golden Retrievers

Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disorder that damages the spinal cord tissues. Golden Retrievers above 7-8 years of age are at a risk of developing the disease. Canine medical research shows that it is an inflammatory autoimmune disease similar to multiple sclerosis in humans.

Degenerative myelopathy in Golden Retrievers occurs when their immune system starts attacking the spinal cord sheath or myelin, a protective layer around nerve fibers in the spinal cord. As a result, the spinal sheath suffers from chronic inflammation and damage, which in turn obstructs the transmission of nerve impulses. In the absence of proper functioning of the nervous system, the dog loses both voluntary and involuntary motor control.

The disease is marked by weakness in the rear legs. However, it is not painful.

The initial sign of degenerative myelopathy in Golden Retrievers is the loss of coordination in rear legs, forcing a dog to knuckle or drag feet while walking. It worsens as the disease progresses. As their legs tend to become weak, these dogs experience problems in standing. Unfortunately, this may result in paralysis within six months to 1 year.

What Are Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy in Golden Retrievers?

  • Early Degenerative Myelopathy

When degenerative myelopathy develops, your Golden Retriever starts to feel weakness in his hind legs. As a result, the loss of coordination in rear legs becomes discernible.  The dog may limp or drag his feet while walking. He may be unable to climb stairs or walk normally. He may not be able to jump into the car or onto the couch.

  • Second-Stage Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy in Golden Retrievers results in progressive weakness in their rear legs without any pain. They knuckle or drag their feet while walking, as back legs tend to become too weak to bear the body weight. There may be balancing problems and urinary incontinence.

  • Advanced Degenerative Myelopathy

The dog is unable to get up, and their tail rarely remains active. He is crippled with paralysis in the rear legs. He may also experience weakness in his front legs. Advanced symptoms take anywhere from 6 to 36 months to appear.

What Causes Degenerative Myelopathy in Golden Retrievers?

Vets trace degenerative myelopathy to immune-mediated disorder, toxicity, hereditary factors, and vitamin deficiency. In 2008, a group of Texas University researchers found that the most common cause of this degenerative disorder is the mutation in the superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) gene in dogs. The disease passes from parent dogs to their puppies when either of the parent dogs has this gene mutation.

Degenerative myelopathy in Golden Retrievers appears first in the thoracolumbar region – the junction between thoracic and lumbar spine. It obstructs nervous signals to the hind part of the dog and also spreads to the frontal areas.

How Is Degenerative Myelopathy in Golden Retrievers Diagnosed?

The diagnosis is a “rule out” procedure. As the symptoms of degenerative myelopathy mimic that of hip dysplasia, herniated disk problem, tumor, spinal stenosis, and similar disorders, vets check each and every sign to diagnose the disease. They compare symptoms to rule out any other possible causes before diagnosing the dog as having degenerative myelopathy.

The diagnosis process may include:

  • Physical evaluation of symptoms
  • Blood and urine test
  • Comprehensive neurological examination
  • Microscopic examination of the spinal cord
  • X-rays of the chest and back
  • Test of cerebrospinal fluid for inflammation
  • Imaging studies, such as electromyography, CT scan, or MRI
  • Genetic mutation test

What Are Treatment Options for Degenerative Myelopathy in Golden Retrievers?

There is no successful treatment method for degenerative myelopathy. The life condition worsens with the progression of the disease, which gradually leaves the dogs completely paralyzed.  Many owners prefer to euthanize their dogs when the quality of life deteriorates considerably.

However, with meticulous supportive care and diligent nursing, you can slow down the progression of degenerative myelopathy and give a better quality of life to your Golden Retriever.

Rehabilitation therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, physiotherapy, swimming, and stretching exercises, may help maintain mobility and strengthen your dog’s pelvic limbs. Slings, harnesses, and wheelchairs may be used to assist in mobility. An adequate amount of care is necessary to avoid pressure ulcers and infections in your dog.

Make sure the dog does not gain weight, as it may cause further stress on his weakening legs. Stretching exercises can help your dog preserve his flexes in the hind legs. This helps the dog achieve balance, and motion in his rear legs. As a result, the progression of degenerative myelopathy slows down.

Nutrition To Counter Degenerative Myelopathy in Golden Retrievers

By providing your pet with proper and adequate nutrition, you can help reduce the effects of this disease.

  • A balanced diet makes sure your dog does not become overweight. It also helps in fighting inflammation in the body and regularizes the immune system.
  • Intake of Omega-3 fatty acids results in the production of prostaglandins in the body, which reduces inflammation of the myelin sheath.
  • Vitamin E, Vitamin B complex, and Vitamin C help manage the degeneration of the spinal sheath.
  • Antioxidants, such as ascorbic acid, carotenoids, glutathione peroxidase, and N-Acetylcysteine, found in food and vegetables help check the progression of degenerative diseases.
  • Supplements, such as methylsulfonylmethane and lecithin, also reduce inflammation and help in the regeneration of the myelin sheath surrounding the spinal nerves. Lecithin is also found in unprocessed nuts, whole grains, and eggs.

How To Prevent Degenerative Myelopathy in Golden Retrievers?

Test the DNA of your dog. Avoid breeding dogs that have mutated SOD1 gene, as their puppies are at a risk of developing degenerative myelopathy.

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