Degenerative Myelopathy In Dogs

Updated October 16, 2023

How can I talk about one of the most hopeless diseases of dogs without sounding hopeless? Like this:

Many cases of degenerative myelopathy are probably misdiagnosed

It starts with Google. Put in either weak back legs or dragging back legs and you might only get the wikipedia page on degenerative myelopathy (DM).

You will see in a minute how wrong this is. Of course, vets don’t use Google, but they face their own major hurdles in getting an accurate diagnosis, as you’ll also see.

What Is Degenerative Myelopathy?

DM is a neurodegenerative disease causing slowly progressive loss of neural tissue in the spinal cord. It starts with weakness or wobbliness (paresis or ataxia) in the back legs, eventually leading to complete paralysis. At this point the dog drags the back legs and cannot stand up on their own.

Further progression causes the same to occur in the forelimbs, plus urinary and faecal incontinence, and still further to respiratory failure. DM is now believed to be very similar to the human disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or motor neurone disease.

The age of onset is late, with an average of 9 in large breed dogs and 11 in Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Large breed dogs diagnosed with DM go from mild signs to being unable to walk in 6 to 9 months. The same figure for smaller breeds might be slightly over 12 months.

Breeds Affected With DM

Degenerative myelopathy is now known to be a genetic disease. It was first described in the German Shepherd, and this remains the key dog breed we see with it. However, it can occur in almost any breed of dog, and especially these:

  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  • Finnish Lapphund
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Boxer

Dogs usually only show the signs of DM after already breeding and passing it on. Therefore, although I am very critical of some breeding decisions, DM was nearly impossible to eradicate until the development of genetic testing.

Diagnosis Of Degenerative Myelopathy

dog knuckling paw

Traditional diagnosis of DM has relied on identifying the signs in a dog of the right breed and age.

All affected dogs show at least some knuckling of the hind limbs (pictured here in a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel). This is demonstrated by turning over the paw while supporting the body. An affected dog is unaware of the position of their paw and so does not return it, or does so slowly.

They will also often stumble and drag the hind legs. All these signs are typical of any spinal disease, such as:

It is often said that DM can be identified by a lack of pain, but this is very misleading. DM may be painless, but most dogs with severe chronic pain will display no signs. Therefore, I have also seen cases of severe hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament rupture or arthritis get mistaken for DM.

Degenerative myelopathy is described as a diagnosis by exclusion. The only way to prove it is to rule out all the other possibilities, which almost inevitably requires advanced imaging such as MRI. Sadly, this is unrealistic for most dog owners.

Does Misdiagnosis Matter?

My best clue that a dog doesn’t have degenerative myelopathy is when:

  • the disease progresses more slowly than expected
  • the dog is older than expected
  • the dog is an unlikely breed

Getting the diagnosis wrong only matters if the other disease was treatable. This is certainly true for any painful condition. Therefore, all dogs suspected of having DM should at least go on a trial of pain medication. Even if they truly have DM, ageing dogs commonly have a mix of conditions including arthritis, and often improve on treatment.

The other neurological conditions are much harder to treat, but have possible positive outcomes with specialist surgery. The problem most dog owners face is that the investment in reaching the diagnosis is considerable, for such an uncertain outcome. That’s why, although I will offer referral as a best case, I won’t expect everyone to take it.

Genetic Testing For Degenerative Myelopathy

Most veterinary neurologists now routinely test for the SOD1 mutation in dogs with signs of DM. Not all dogs with the mutation will get the disease, but a positive test is further evidence towards the diagnosis.

If on the other hand, the test is negative, or a dog has improved on a medication trial, then maybe the signs are being caused by something else. Something that could be managed better if we treated it correctly.

The genetic test is widely available around the world and is an excellent idea in any dog suspected to have the disease. Owners can even do it themselves. Here in Australia an SOD1 swab costs under $100.

The test is also a great tool for choosing which dogs to breed. That’s why I have hope for the future.

Treatment Of Degenerative Myelopathy

Even if your dog has DM, the outlook isn’t hopeless as long as you’re careful and know when to stop. They aren’t in pain so your big focus should be on maintaining quality of life.

I cannot stress this too many times: there is no treatment available for degenerative myelopathy. Not prednisolone or other corticosteroids, not vitamin E, not CBD oil. If you get a response to treatment, you should re-evaluate the diagnosis.

In the early phase of DM, much improvement in walking can be had just by adding more grip to slippery floors by the use of carpet runners etc. Then, as the back feet start to scuff on the ground, you need to prevent open sores from forming. There are plenty of people selling dog booties, or your vet can show you how to use products like ‘Vet Wrap’.

Negotiating stairs gets challenging so baby gates are a good idea. Special harnesses with back handles (such as the Rogz Explore®) are even available to help them go up and down or into cars. Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy have been shown to slightly prolong life.

As for the use of carts, my advice is to remember three important things:

  1. DM progresses quickly
  2. The front legs are affected not long after the back legs
  3. What you see on social media may not be the whole story

If you get a cart, you probably only have a short time before the front legs aren’t strong enough any more. I also worry a lot that the dogs aren’t always comfortable, so I ask owners to be very realistic and self-critical in using them.

Talking about euthanasia is a terrible place to finish, but it doesn’t have to be feared. Most dog owners who reach this point do so with their dogs retaining dignity and quality of life. They know they’re doing the right thing, and the actual event is much, much better than they ever expected or feared.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

57 Replies to “Degenerative Myelopathy In Dogs”

  1. This discussion is the best I have seen so far exploring the internet. Thank you very much! I wonder if you could be of help. I rescued Bella, a lab X sherperd but uncertain, when she was 5 months old. She is now 11.5. She had quite a few problems over the years: TPLO in both knees, pancreatitis, severe arthritis for years, splenectomy and so much more. But she is the greatest dog. She has been on gabapentin and deramaxx for years and started librela a few months ago. At the end of August her back legs collapsed for about 1 day, then she could stand up again but had severe ataxia (wobbling all over the place). She seemed to be doing better (at least she could walk to the corner of the street) and suddenly 2 days ago her back legs collapsed again and she is totally paralyzed (she will not pee or poop with the harness and cannot stand long enough to do it on her own). But she does not seem to be in pain and her appetite is as strong as ever. The front of her is doing well and the back is not working at all. The vet saw that her lymph nodes are a bit swollen but she does not have any temperature or apparent infection. She did an X-ray but could not see anything obvious. She will start corticosteroids on Friday. Is there any hope or is it just therapeutic relentlessness? Thank you for your advice.

    1. Hi Gwenola. There is a small amount of hope only. In this breed I have seen corticosteroids be quite effective for German shepherds have undergone sudden collapse like you describe. However, if they don’t work and immediate referral is not an option, there probably isn’t much else that could be done.

  2. I’m curious as to what you think. My 11 year old pug was running in the yard and his back end went down. He started limping on his back hind leg. Now he no longer limping but his gait is definitely off. Little more criss crossed. He still lifts his one hind leg up when standing some times. The vet thinks it could be a ccl injury or DM. After our last checkup she did a lot of stretching on him and he went home looking a lot worse. Would barely put pressure on his leg. That makes me think it’s more of an injury than DM? He makes no sounds of pain though.

    1. Hi Dani. Before DM, I would be thinking of either what your vet suggests or pressure on the spinal-cord due to a disk or vertebral abnormality, which is common in pugs. Both will get worse after manipulation, which, as you say, is not typical for DM.

  3. Almost 11 year old Bernese Mountain Dog in the last few months started dragging her legs when getting up and they seem to do a wobbly thing when she walks as if she’s drunk. She’s also losing control of her bowels and often leaves surprises in the house. She still eats however not as big of an appetite as she had before. I suspect it may be DM but my significant “other” refuses to go to the vet says its from old age and there’s nothing left to do but try to keep her comfortable. Any suggestions? My fear is that if she’s in pain then she’s not showing it and I hate the thought of the possibility to help and not having done it.

    1. Hi Biana. There’s so much to say here. Firstly, what is ‘keeping her comfortable’ if not going to the vet for a checkup? Especially since the most likely cause of these signs is arthritic pain (not DM), which is usually easily treated with many options at different price points. Secondly, by saying this, is your significant other expressing their wish for how their own ‘old age’ should be treated? I suspect not. Old age is not a disease itself, instead it is a collection of major and minor age-related dysfunctions, most of which have effective remedies.

    2. Go to the vet, 100%. Even if it is DM, there are other things that can be put in place to make their life a bit better.
      Like anxiety medication has been helpful for my German shepherd. As she loses mobility, she’s been getting more anxious.
      There’s also lots of devices to make life more comfortable. Like the help em up harness is great. We tried a wheelchair, but my dog has such low energy that the extra weight just makes it impractical (and it’s a very light weight chair).
      I tried all the booties. In the end, a cohesive bandage was the best option. I bought in bulk off ebay so I could change them multiple times a day if needed.

    3. My 11 year old border collie has epilepsy and has been on Libromide and Epiphen for most of her life to control seizures. Libromide has always made her a bit wobbly in her hind legs. Recently she started falling down sometimes when standing up which is new (usually it’s only when she’s running round corners).

      For as long as I can remember she has always scuffed her back paws slightly when walking on lead which leads to her back nails being worn down. She has also always some strange things with her back legs when standing still.

      I took her to the vets recently due to her falling down and suspected it was due to the libromide and maybe arthritis. The vet suspects she has degenerative myelopathy as when they curled her back paws she didn’t fix them. Although when I do this at home she fixes it instantly.

      She also jerks sometimes but again she has always done this for as long as I can remember. She also walks a bit squinty when ‘trotting’ but again she has done this as long as I can remember. The vet says these are all signs of a degenerative nerve disease.

      I guess my question is do you think this could be DM or could it be more linked to her epilepsy and arthritis? I want to be realistic about her prognosis but I also feel like her epilepsy is just ignored and mixed with DM symptoms and the possibility of her symptoms being caused by libromide ignored.

      1. Hi Hannah. It’s very hard to say, and without stopping essential medications we may never know. Border Collies are not one of the high-risk breeds for DM, so like I say in the article, I would do the SOD1 test and start a treatment trial for arthritis in the meantime. Another alternative is to swap the bromide for a drug like levetiracetam but there’s a risk here that it won’t be as effective in controlling seizures.

  4. I rescued a white boxer on March 5th
    He was heartworm positive so we finished his last few weeks of no activity
    He had really bad skin infection
    His ears are really bad and so are his teeth
    Since we got him 5 months ago he had always dragged his back left foot and is kinda clumsy
    I did the test he has the DM gene
    And we did an MRI too
    But I feel he feels pain and is uncomfortable
    Could it be something else???
    Please help

    1. Hi Nicole. Just because a dog has the DM gene does not make it the only reason for a problem with the back legs. Beyond that you would need a vet check up to look for the other causes. Good luck.

  5. Hello Andrew,
    I really appreciate the explanation of DM. This has really helped me and given me some hope that my 9 yr old English Bulldog doesn’t have DM. Long story short, Brick was diagnosed with a partial cruciate liagament tear in his right back leg. We took him to his first PT appointment and then noticed he started limping, lameness and knuckling in the back, right leg. We scheduled an appointment with a neurologist but told to rest him until then. There has been some improvement, but he is still knuckling and I don’t think he has feeling in that leg now. Any advice or guidance would help with appointment in 10 days.

    1. Hi Tony. You’re doing everything just right. I would love it if you could post back the outcome of your visit.

      1. Hi Andrew,
        We took Brick to the neurologist and they ruled out DM because this issue is only in his right hing leg. They think it may be an infection in the sciatic nerve, or a herniated disc. He’s being treated for the infection with antibiotics now, but suspicion of neuritis is low. Therefore, it looks like a herniated disc. Unfortunately, we can’t get him an MRI because of an arrhythmia in his heart. I’m still not convinced this doesn’t have something to do with his ligament in that leg. Also, do you have any recommendations for the herniated disc. They mentioned a round of steroids for it. He seems to be hopping a lot more, rather than knuckling. Thanks, for your time.

        Hi Tony. Steroids like prednisolone can assist with herniated discs but could make an infection worsen. However, if started cautiously there shouldn’t be a great risk if your vets agree.

  6. Hi Andrew,
    We noticed about a year ago that my 11 year old lab mix was having trouble walking on floors without carpet and couldn’t keep his legs under him. Then about 6 months ago he starting to knuckle on his right hind leg. It was getting progressively worse and now he is knuckling on both legs and doesn’t correct, and often has them crossing over one another. He has trouble standing up and we have to help him often with getting up and going up and down stairs. He has had some incontinence but for the most part has maintained control for now. The vet had done an X-ray, gave us an anti-inflammatory and suggested that it could possibly be DM. We stopped the anti-inflammatory as it didn’t seem to make a difference. His condition has progressively worsened rather quickly. He can still wag his tail and he still scratched with his back legs, but he also jerks his legs a lot when he’s laying down or sleeping. I hate not knowing for certain if it’s DM or not, but diagnosis by exclusion is not really an option for us. I think my next step is to get the genetic test to find out if he has the genes. If he’s positive for the markers, then maybe I might feel less guilty about not being able to do all of the other tests. And if he doesn’t then maybe I can make a better choice on what tests to do next. It just feels like such a helpless situation.

  7. Hi Andrew we have a 15 & 1/2 yr old cavoodle who earlier this year was presenting with stumbling and loss of strength in his hind legs. Vet diagnosed arthritis. This week he has urinated and defacated inside and today one of his hind legs was dragging behind him. Vet diagnosed spinal cord issues; tumor, trauma, slipped disc but no mention of DM but from what I read above the progression has been quick and I’m suspecting dm and as such euthanasia has been suggested. Advise would be helpful please

    1. Hi Jane. Unfortunately, Google returns DM for almost any dog with these symptoms. Your vet is more likely to be correct. Regarding euthanasia, it’s always worth a treatment trial first if time allows, but the people to best make the decision are those in direct contact with your old boy.

  8. Hi,
    Our just 7 year old German shepherd has been diagnosed with DM as he is crossing his back legs as he walks. We have sent off a dna test but haven’t had the result. He doesn’t drag his back legs,knuckle or have any trouble getting up. We found a video of him 2 years ago taken from the back and he was obviously doing the same thing then. We have shown the vet but other than say he couldn’t have hadDM 2 years ago and it not progress he hasn’t changed his diagnosis. I could post the videos for you to see.

    1. Hi Susan. Thanks, but the videos won’t help much. Some German shepherds have very abnormal gaits which make us think of joint disorders or DM, when, in fact it’s just developmental or genetic. You are doing the right thing.

      1. Hi. We have had the results of the DNA test back showing 2 clear genes for DM. The vet has now done an X-ray and found bridging spondylosis which he says could possibly cause Cody to cross his back leg as as he walks but is still not ruling out DM. We’d hoped the DNA test would put that to rest but obviously not. He’s now on gabapentin and paracetamol to see how that goes but are stopping the librela.

  9. Rescue female dog, approx 13 years of age. Maybe GSD/Chow/Collie mix. Started dragging back paws sometimes when walking. Slowing down and stiffness in joints, esp rear legs, which we attributed to old age. Occasionally stumble on front legs when walking. This has been going on for a few months. Last night, sudden loss of strength and co-ordination. Difficulty standing up, walking with ataxia and loss of balance and even falling over. Vet said not neurological probably old dog vestibular syndrome. I know about this because our previous dog had it. But I’m worried it could be DM. She doesn’t seem to be in pain. Slight head tilt (ergo idiopathic vestibular syndrome?) Also kidneys not in great shape and hypothyroidism. Any thoughts please?

    1. Hi Nick. Yours is another example of how Google tends to point people towards DM in most cases of hindlimb problems. In this case, your vets are almost certainly right about idiopathic vestibular syndrome, and there is likely to be a second underlying and much more down-to-earth problem like arthritis causing the dragging of the hind legs. That’s important, because unlike DM, it is treatable.

    2. Hi Nick,
      This past June 27th I had my 9 1/2 yr old white male GSD with DM euthanized. I am still recovering from it! Several years ago he had TPLO surgery on his right stifle and a year later on the left. He seemed to fully recover from those well enough to chase coyotes off our rural property. Anyway, this past year has been hell for me. He started showing gait issues that progressed to all the DM rear end symptoms but because his X-rays showed arthritis the vet prescribed carprofen and gabapentin. The gabapentin made his wobbly symptoms dramatically worse. Legs crossed, swaying, and falling without a sling to help him. Long winded story to tell you that my experience with gabapentin was horrific. Read up on all the side effects.

      1. Hi Lee. Vets use gabapentin a lot because they actually believe that it has very few side-effects. However, you are correct that it has a sedative property which is quite unwelcome. I suspect that anti-inflammatories are being avoided due to their potential effects on the liver and kidneys, but I find that in practice these are easily avoided by blood testing. I don’t think they did anything wrong by trying treatment, but it could’ve been done a lot better.

  10. Hi there. I have a 6 year old Pitt mix. A few months ago we noticed her difficulty jumping on the bed, she couldn’t make it up all the way sometimes. She had some other issues going on and through testing we ruled out Cushing’s Disease, thankfully. In May the vet noted her proprioception in her hind legs is delayed. She knuckled my dogs feet to see how quickly she’d correct them. It was delayed but she did correct each foot. I test this daily and she still corrects her feet. I noted her difficulty with the bed/couch and slowing down on walks. The vet said that she’s developed arthritis. She’s been on joint supplements since then. I have noticed her weakness progressing and sometimes her back legs get tangled up, specifically on stairs. I am worried about DM but then sometimes I’m not because she does cry out in pain at times if you touch her back when she’s been energetic. She scuffs her toes on walks but the vet told me it’s due to her arthritis/poor proprioception. They gave me a script for Galliprant for inflammation and pain. I know I need to see how she does with that first, but I’m not sure if I should ask my vet about DM with her being only 6. Does this sound like DM or at least neurological rather than just arthritis? Thank you!

    1. Hi Samantha.It does sound more like a painful condition than DM and so I would follow your vet’s advice and see how she responds.

  11. Hello Andrew, I have 14 year old maltese and one month ago when we touch his back he cry alittle bit and after that his hind leg start limping. We took him to regular vet and they prescribed him with gabapentin and melxicom for 2 weeks. He felt better after 2 weeks and still limping hind leg. We did follow up appointment see by different Dr at same vet hosputal and he said my dog has DM. I see little improvement in him every day. He was not able to go upstairs before and now he can. Also he can jump on cough, but still limping hind leg. He is also responding to when I touch his back paws. Also, he does stretch on back leg. I m not really sure he really have DM. We have not done any test or x-ray either. Any suggestions what I should do?

    1. Hi Mail. It’s very unlikely your dog has DM, judging by the presence of pain, and signs of improvement, both of which do not happen with DM. It’s probably a more run-of-the-mill degenerative condition associated with his age and x-rays would be a good idea. If that’s not possible, talk to your vet about keeping him on the Meloxicam if it continues to help.

  12. Hi, we have a 6yr old pug that is booked for X-rays on Wednesday to see if she has DM, that’s the vets thought. She has all the signs within what we have now read after the vet mentioned DM.
    We just said goodbye to our nearly 17yr old jack x pug 10 days ago and now this.
    She has always been what we called clumsy or too quick for her own back legs and has always sat in positions that I now see match DM.
    Her feet are now scuffing on walks causing redness (the reason we got her checked).
    I guess my main question if she has DM is time frame (guesstimate) to paralysis. My aunt had MND and if it’s the dog version as such is it varied time depending on the person or dog in this case?

    1. Hi Jac. Pugs also get spinal issues due to their breed so these will need to be ruled out. Don’t forget that there is a genetic test for DM, and that it’s unusual in this breed and in any dog at this age. Xrays are a good first step.

      1. Thanks Andrew, X-ray has ruled out any thing abnormal, waiting on DNA results. Vet is pretty sure it’s DM but can’t be sure (of course). We have started hydro therapy because hey it can’t hurt and our pug is over weight (on a strict diet now)

  13. 11.5 year old Lab shepherd. Started when he was about 8, I would notice a slight toe drag in one back leg once per every 30 min walk, nobody but me would notice it, but I always watch. Skip ahead to age 11, and past 6 months it’s gotten worse, he definitely drags one more than the other, and the outside nail is worn right down on the bad leg (back left). When I do the knuckle test on left back leg he doesn’t correct it (maybe a second goes by, but he definitely puts it down in a knuckle stance), other leg he corrects it before hitting ground. Almost has a hitch in back leg where the whole leg slightly wants holds back, especially after longer walks. Occasionally still runs and occasionally his back legs kind of give out a bit, still jumps in truck, can get on bed and couch if he is excited, can swim for 25 mins straight (once a week) but is kind of wobbly after that (but so would I be). Eats, drinks, pees, poops normally, can slowly walk up stairs, doesn’t show any pain, but has slowed lots, sleeps really good.

  14. My Gsd is 8 years old, one day he started having trouble standing up from a laying position, particularly in his hind legs. I immediately took him to the vet where they did x-ray’s and blood work. They said that everything looked normal, no signs of arthritis or anything. Vet also recommended that I get him checked out by a neurologist or orthodontist but I honestly can not afford that at the moment. I am very worried about him and feel hopeless. Once he manages to stand up, he struggles to walk for a bit but once he gets going he walks perfectly normal.

  15. My GSP had a DM scare, he is 10 and started to struggle to stand up. After doing my own research on Google I became terrified and convinced that SAM had all the signs for DM. Every article I searched was DM related. I figured it was a common diseases. My dog SAM doesn’t have DM he is just old.. You do not find to many article that gives a person hope and joy when it comes to DM

    1. Hi Eduardo. Google often tells you that a dog has DM when they have hind leg problems. Remember that it’s a diagnosis based on excluding the other often more common and treatable causes first.

  16. Hello, we have a 14 year old schnoodle (15 pounds). A year ago he stopped being able to get onto couch on his own. A few months ago he stopped being able to go upstairs. Over the last week he lost use of hind legs. First right leg now it is both. He can’t stand. He eats treats but hasn’t touched his regular food in 24 hours. We went to the vet 4 days ago & were told it was neurological based on tests/observation, but that she couldn’t determine what issue was & based on current condition it was extremely unlikely that any meaningful recovery was possible.
    Is there hope? should advanced imaging be considered? I want to make sure we have considered every option before deciding our next step. Thank you so much for providing this webpage.

    1. Hi Jeremy. I’m sure your vet is correct, as their opinion is based on many other similar experiences. However, I do wonder if a better understanding might open up some options, albeit unlikely. For example, a tumour external to the spine causing pressure may be removable. Alternatively, an inflammatory condition may respond to corticosteroid treatment. MRI is expensive but widely available these days. DM is of course not a likely diagnosis with this history and signalment.

  17. I have a 9 1/2 year old pembroke corgi. He had the DNA test for DM about a year ago, resutling in two positive markers. His rear legs are weak, particularly his rear left leg. His rear legs get twisted up, he sometimes falls over, and he has difficulty going up even one step and has to drag his rear legs up. He as started to poo while sitting down. He appears to be in pain; agitated, whimpering, unable to settle down, up at night, Sometime he’ll be lying down and bolt upright for no apparent reason. When he has gas he reacts with a sudden twitch. My impression is that he is in pain which makes me think it’s not DM, and may have a spinal issue He has had a tremors in his rear legs since about 1 yr old. The tremors have continued to worsen.
    Are walks ok for a dog with DM, or with a neuro spinal issue? Could his behaviors be due to pain, or something else?
    I don’t want to over-medicate him but want him to be comfortable. We are not able to afford an MRI as suggested by his neurologist.
    Thank you for your insight, and for your article.

    1. Hi Barbara. The twitching and agitation you describe could well be pain, but it may just be effects of the poor innervation to the hind legs secondary to DM. Pain is the hardest thing to judge in dogs and generally when in doubt we will at least do a treatment trial to see if anything improves. You can ask your vet for this. As for walks, they are only good if the dog is clearly happy, otherwise I would avoid them. It really depends on their personality. My impression from what you say is that the most likely diagnosis is indeed DM with the age, breed and the work that has already been done.

  18. My almost 9 year old Golden Retriever had an incident in December where she couldn’t stand on her own and when she did finally get up she would walk tenderly on her back left leg. Once she got going she was okay but this went on for several days. Vet did x rays and said no hip dysplasia noted and some arthritis. Gave her a steroid shot and she has been doing great since then. Running and playing, climbing stairs without problems, swimming, getting up on the couch, etc. Yesterday morning she couldn’t stand. Both back legs seemed paralyzed or “asleep” . Got her to the vet where they kept and monitored her for the day. Gave her a bunch of steroids and she came home yesterday evening. She still needs help to stand but once up she is walking okay, standing to eat and getting her toys to snuggle. Vet says it neurological but I’m just not sure. What are your thoughts? It was bad….then great for 3 months (no signs of any difficulty)….now bad again. Would love your advice.

    1. Hi Melissa. Given the pattern and the response to steroids, your vet is almost certainly right. My guess is that there is pressure on the spinal structures in the lumbosacral space but it could be elsewhere. Only advanced imaging would narrow it down.

  19. Any advice here would be helpful. 11.5 year young female boxer. Numerous trips to the vet, he says it’s “neurological”. Has not mentioned DM but I’ve done my research. Started with right rear leg. Knuckling over and now leg tends to cross under her body. Her thigh is losing muscle. She will not walk on slippery tile. runners are down everywhere. Purchased a cart, she does not like it. Any one check into Walkin’ Hip-EEZ support system? I believe it has a bar to help keep legs from getting tangled. The rest of her is puppy like.

    1. Hi Christine. DM would be unlikely in a Boxer, but the age and breed plus the gradual onset of asymmetric signs are more consistent with a tumour of the central nervous system. Whether I’m right or not, your vets are probably correct in calling it neurological. Further investigation would probably require referral to someone with advanced imaging. Good luck.

  20. Hi, thank you for the article, it’s very informative. I am in the US and have an approx 12 1/2 year old black lab mix (Black lab, Australian Shepherd, Pekinese, hound). Back in Feb, the neurologist vet diagnosed him with DM. He based this on x-rays and observation for a few minutes. My dog can now barely walk long enough to pee, can’t hold himself up long at all, and is lucky if we can walk 20 feet or so. There’s no knuckling that I’ve seen. He was always housebroken but now has accidents (mostly fecal but sometimes urinary). I also did the DM gene test and he is a carrier (1 normal allele/1 DM mutation). He and I could walk approx 3/4 mile each morning up until Nov. 2nd, 2022. He seems to have trouble deficating when he would like; he will poop just a bunch at one time and it’s almost always beyond his control. I give him luctolose and pumpkin to help. He also has what I believe is a swollen and distended anal sac. The severest of the above symptoms in the last almost 2 months. He’s on OTC vitamins, prednisone (I’m weening him off), adequen shot once a month for arthritis. His tail hasn’t wagged in months (I don’t think he can). Symptoms first began about one year ago but have really progressed in the last 6 months or so. Doesn’t seem to be in pain, but I do need to help him up by lifting his hind legs and carry him up and down steps. I had accepted it was DM, but now I wonder. X-rays show T12-T13-L1 disc spaces very worn. He pants a lot and I give him gabapentin for that. I know the above is a lot of information but what would you recommend? I’ve been very close to putting him to sleep.
    He’s just so debilitated from the dog he was all his life and his joy is gone, he was always so full of life. Thank you

    1. Hi Dave. Honestly, this all sounds very consistent with DM. If you have had expert advice, I see no reason to doubt it. As for the decision to euthanise, it’s always hard, but it needs to be made on compassionate grounds.

  21. Hi Andrew, would like to thank you for your reply to my message regarding my English staffy. I so appreciate you replying and your advice. I agree with you and I will be speak with my vet about this.

    Many thanks and kind regards,

    Kerry Brawn

  22. My soon to be 11 yr old golden retriever has weakness in hind legs, wobbly, hesitates to walk on slippery surfaces, steps are a challenge and is very unsteady especially if she bumps against something or someone, also gets tired after she stands for a short period of time and has to lay down. We rescued her at 3 yrs of age and she has always seemed unsure of foot placing and high stepping when she would walk. Over the yrs she has obtained the other symptoms I mentioned earlier but it has worsened. Last 4 to 6 months I have seen more challenges with her. Vet has said feels it is spinal cord related.. she definitely has the knucklely in toes and ataxia.. She is still pretty active and even runs but squats in rear when she takes off . She always bends back legs when standing rather than standing straight up.She puts lots of pressure on front feet to pull herself up from a lying position. She pants a lot and licks her front paws.or floor. Vet mentioned she could have some
    arthritis in feet as well so she is taking Rimadyl. He says her range of motion in hips is good and only slight hip displaysis, I am currently looking for a harness for her that would help to get her on her feet from laying position and in in car to vet trips as well as getting up and down steps. Any suggestions you may have regarding a diagnosis would be most helpful. and also a recommendation for some type of harness. Thanks.

    1. Hi Barbara. Regarding the diagnosis, you’re doing a good job but as you see from the article, getting a definitive diagnosis for DM requires ruling everything else out which is a big job. At the very least I would make sure that x-rays have been done as DM does not normally come on from three years of age whereas the Golden retriever is known to be a breed with one of the highest incidences of hip dysplasia. At the severe end it can easily mimic the signs of DM, even to the point of knuckling.
      That’s a good question regarding harnesses. I have seen several with a nice big handle over the mid or lower back which are excellent for helping dogs in and out of cars and up and down steps. Sorry I don’t have brands to hand but they should be easy to find.

  23. Very interesting and THANK YOU for the great article.
    My Wired Terrie mix 25 LBS started his 3 weeks dragging ONLY RIGHT rear leg and can no longer support his leg on the floor.
    His right rear leg shakes a lot, and slips under the other leg…so sad, as he looks VERY healthy and active otherwise.
    I took him to the Vet las week and was giving two different anti-inflammatory, but I stopped giving him because he is stomach sick now, sad, down, groggy, stopped eating and I think it is not worth it continue with medication. Now 3 days without the medication, he is eating and drinking water again 🙂
    Read a lot about this, and I am still nor sure if this has anything to do with lime disease at all…I remember removing 2 ticks in the past 5 months.
    So sad and do not know what to do…
    Any inputs would be HIGLY APPRECIATED.

    1. Hi Luigi. I have several comments. The first is that that certainly sounds like an adverse reaction to the anti-inflammatory tablets, but my experience tells me that you can always find a tablet that a dog will tolerate if you look hard enough. That’s just in case you need them in the future.
      Secondly, we don’t see Lyme disease here in Australia, but the symptoms do not sound typical. What is likely to be wrong all depends on many factors but can often be narrowed down based on the age of your dog. For example, Lyme disease would be less likely in an old dog, where we might be thinking about arthritis, disc disease or degenerative myelopathy.

  24. I dont know if you can advise on this, but my 15 year old beagle mix has something we thought was DM. It started in 2018 with some wobbly back end when walking. She now has a hard time walking on our hard floors and back legs give out and she cant stand up. Then after a few minutes she gets up and walks but not normal. Her thigh muscles are wasting she favors her left rear leg and licks it all the time. But both back legs are weak, my vet thought DM at first, but now isnt sure. When i massage her back by her tail she stretches her back legs out and i can push against her feet and there is resistance, like she is pushing back, does DM let them have strength to push back?
    We are going to try treatment for arthritis again, but she never cries in pain, and if you rub her back and hips she seems to like it. So they say DM isnt painful, and she dont seem to be in any pain. But her back end is really weak, she can still climb up stairs and on the sofa she pushes up with her better right rear leg. Its 2021 and my vet thought by now she would be paralyzed, so now he is rethinking DM, but he isnt sure. I dont know what to do, he checked her spine for disc problems just normal old dog discomfort no slipped disc. But her back legs are wasting and weak, but she still walks and even trots after my other dog. Of course her back legs go out sometimes when out in the yard with the other dog, and on the hard floors. I guess what im asking is would she have remained mobile for so long with DM?

    1. Hi Dana. It seems very unlikely to be DM, and the best thing you can do is investigate a little further. X-rays would seem most sensible as a first step. Otherwise we are just guessing. And as I say in the article, dogs rarely cry in pain regardless of the cause.

      1. Hello Andrew,
        Thank you for the article on DM, it was so good to find the article as it was simple to follow and explained wonderfully.
        I have a nearly 8yr old female English staffy that is showing signs of DM. For over 12mths I have noticed a decline in her hind legs strength especially after exercising. Over the last six month she has declined more and I stopped
        Intense running exercise, hard ball playing and also long walks. But the weakness reminds.
        She has weakness in her back legs and her hips sway and her legs don’t seem to have good balance but she is still supporting herself. Struggles on hard floors and can no longer hurdle up onto the bed or couch and then is very hesitant to get down. Slow up stairs? She also limps on her front legs one more than the other. I have had her seen by the vet who worked each limb with no obvious pain, reflexes and flexibility okay. Prescribed anti inflammatories but no difference. Also have seen a chiropractor a few times and hydrotherapist twice. Chiro said her spin was tight and her flexibility and muscle strength needed working on.
        Of a night she is hesitant to get up and move around and a definite struggling to get up after sleeping.
        I’m not sure what my next move should be. X-rays? MRI? Medication? Bloods again? Genetic testing to see if she has the gene.?
        I would truly appreciate your views, I know there is no treatment. What do I need to do to eliminate other condition and get a correction diagnosis.

        Most gratefu


      2. Hi Kerry. I wrote this page because I noticed that Google tends to feed back a diagnosis of DM whenever you google weak back legs in a dog. As you’ve now seen, the truth is far, far more complicated. In your case, DM is extremely unlikely in this breed. A much more common diagnosis would be bilateral cruciate ligament disease. Therefore, I would start by getting not just x-rays, but examination of the hind legs under anaesthesia. The genetic test would be a good idea but I would be very surprised if it’s positive.

  25. The most helpful explanation of DM I have found. We think our 12 yo Rhodesian may have DM. She will see the veterinarian next week to rule out other obvious causes of her hind leg weakness.

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