Degenerative Myelopathy in Senior Golden Retrievers

Golden Retriever DogThe Golden Retriever is generally a healthy breed that lives for ten to twelve years, on average. As your dog gets older, however, his risk for developing serious health problems gets higher. One of the more common conditions seen in senior Golden Retrievers is a progressive spinal cord disease called degenerative myelopathy. This disease progresses rapidly and it can lead to some very severe symptoms so take the time to learn about this disease so you can seek treatment for your dog at the very first sign of trouble.

What is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs?

Degenerative myelopathy is a type of progressive spinal cord disorder that leads to weakness in the hind limbs and, in many cases, lameness or paralysis. This condition typically manifests in dogs that are middle-aged or older (between 8 and 14 years) and it begins slowly but progresses over time. The type of degeneration that occurs with this disease consists of the demyelination of the nerve fibers that transmit signals from the brain to the limbs and back (demyelination involves stripping away the insulation that protects these nerve fibers). In some cases, these fibers are actually damaged or destroyed which cuts off communication between the dog’s brain and his limbs, affecting his ability to walk normally.

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

In Golden Retrievers, degenerative myelopathy is a non-inflammatory and non-painful condition that affects the white matter in the dog’s spinal cord. The disease usually begins with weakness in the hind limbs that contributes to an altered, often unsteady gait. In the early stages of the disease, it is easy to confuse the symptoms of degenerative myelopathy with an orthopedic injury, but as the condition progresses over the next 6 to 12 months it becomes increasingly clear that this is not the case. Unfortunately, this disease can lead to complete paraplegia in some Golden Retrievers which means that the dog may need to be euthanized. As the dog loses its ability to walk, it has a high risk for developing bed sores which, if left untreated, can lead to dangerous secondary infections.

For Golden Retrievers and other dogs, a diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy comes with a poor prognosis – most dogs are euthanized within six months to three years of when symptoms develop. Symptoms of the disease include progressive weakness of the hind limbs, difficulty rising, dragging the feet, tremors or seizures, sudden collapse, and discernible pain. Unfortunately, there are no treatments available to slow the progression of degenerative myelopathy – most treatments are aimed at reducing pain and maintaining quality of life. The cause for this condition is unknown, though there does seem to be a genetic link. Some breeds like the Golden Retriever, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, German Shepherd, and Irish Setter seem to have a higher risk for developing degenerative myelopathy.

Because degenerative myelopathy can be very severe if left untreated, you should take your Golden Retriever to the vet at the very first sign of trouble. Keep in mind that this is generally not a painful disease so you may have to keep an eye out for changes in your dog’s behavior and gait in order to identify the problem.

Photo credit: Bigandt_Photography/Bigstock


The article, Degenerative Myelopathy in Senior Golden Retrievers was originally posted on August 17, 2016 and was last updated on August 17, 2016. It was posted in the category, Health with the Tags: , , ,

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