Putting down extremely sick dogs isn’t an easy decision. For dog owners who have treated their pets as family members, it’s like deciding whether it’s time to remove life support. Knowing when to put down a dog with degenerative myelopathy is a painful process. But with the help of a veterinarian, you can make the best decision for your beloved canine.
What is degenerative myelopathy in dogs?
Canine degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a progressive paralysis of the hind legs. When we say progressive, it means that the prognosis for dogs with this condition is often downhill. The only consolation to this is that dogs with DM don’t feel any initial pain from the condition.
Degenerative myelopathy occurs mostly in older dogs. It’s a spinal cord disease that can be fatal and will have life-long effects on the canine.
The most common cause of DM is a genetic mutation. What happens is that the superoxide dismutase protein of the body mutates and causes neuron damage to the dog. Take note that this is the same gene mutation that causes degenerative myelopathy in humans.
Dogs with DM will start to walk on their knuckles and the hind legs will appear as if it’s swaying. Also, you will notice that the affected dog falls or trips easily as their rear legs start to weaken. Affected dogs will also find it hard to stand up, especially from a lying position.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for canine degenerative myelopathy. Life-long care is needed to manage the effects of the condition. The thing that causes the gene to mutate isn’t clearly established so experts are still baffled for a possible cure.
Should I put my dog down due to degenerative myelopathy?
Putting a dog down is a big decision. It’s important to discuss all possible options with your dog’s veterinarian before you consider euthanasia. Some dogs can undergo several treatments to improve their quality of life.
I know that the decision is extremely hard to make. But if euthanasia is being discussed, the following aspects must be considered:
1. The stage of the dog’s degenerative myelopathy
DM has three stages: early, middle, and late. Canines with an early stage of degenerative myelopathy can still walk around but they will be dragging their rear legs. You will also notice muscle loss on the hind legs. As time go by, this condition will worsen until it reaches the late stage.
In the late stage of DM, your dog will have a near-complete loss of balance and coordination. The pooch can’t walk or stand without your help. Also, organ failure and respiratory issues will occur.
At this stage, many veterinarians will discuss the possibility of euthanasia. Take note that dogs at the late stage of degenerative myelopathy are suffering more than enjoying life.
2. The dog’s quality of life
Most of the time, dog owners will consider their pets’ quality of life when deciding whether to push through with euthanasia. If your dog with DM is experiencing more suffering and frustration than happiness, it might be time to put them to sleep.
I once talked with a fellow pet owner in the dog park who had to put one of his dogs down. She decided to push through with euthanasia because her dog is having more bad days than good days. I think other pet owners who are in the same position can take a cue from that.
Also, if your dog can’t even get up on its own, it’s surely suffering. Most canines love running, sniffing, and exploring around. Being deprived of that freedom is depressing.
With this, pet owners decide to let their sick furbabies run through the rainbow bridge instead.
3. The dog’s safety
Dogs with degenerative myelopathy are prone to accidents. They can easily fall from elevated surfaces because their hind legs are no longer in good condition. Also, dogs with this condition can’t run fast enough to dodge a speeding car.
This hazard becomes more and more evident as your dog’s degenerative myelopathy progresses.
4. The owner’s ability to sustain the dog’s needs
Although it’s tragic, many pet owners have no choice but to put down their sick dog because they can’t sustain their needs anymore. Frequent vet visits cost a lot, and not all of us have the ability to shell out large amounts of money. Also, pet foundations can only give so much because they are also helping other animals.
Instead of letting your dog suffer, it might be best to put them to sleep. Given the adverse effects of degenerative myelopathy, this is often a practical option. It also saves pet owners from the continuous agony of worrying over their pets.
5. The vet’s advice
Lastly, you should always factor in the advice of the vet. Of all people, the veterinarian is the one with the most knowledge about your dog’s health. He or she will know what stage of DM your dog is in.
Also, vets can give you a prognosis, which will picture the likely course of your dog’s condition. This is a major determinant of whether a dog is a candidate for euthanasia or not.
Aside from that, the vet can help you make the right decision for your pet. It helps lessen the guilt and pain because you’ll know that putting your dog to sleep will end its suffering.
Is there a test for the early detection of degenerative myelopathy in dogs?
A DNA test will easily detect if your dog is a carrier of the mutated gene causing degenerative myelopathy. However, this can either be recessive or dominant. Some dogs with the DM gene grow old and die without manifesting any signs of the condition.
If you’re planning to get a pup, you should only deal with a reputable breeder. You can also ask for DNA testing to ensure that the dog is healthy and that its parents aren’t carriers of the mutated genes.
What are the final stages of degenerative myelopathy in dogs?
The final stages of degenerative myelopathy will cause severe suffering to a dog. Canines at this point will have hind legs that no longer function and front legs that are starting to weaken.
Also, canines with late-stage DM will have an uncontrollable tail and leg movements. The doggo can’t stand, walk, or move properly unless assisted by its owner. Over time, the pooch will not have any strength to support itself and will enter the vegetative state.
How long do dogs live with degenerative myelopathy?
There’s no specific formula here because each dog is different. On average, dogs with degenerative myelopathy can live from six months to three years. It’s always a sliding scale but you should note that there’s no cure to this condition.
Instead of waiting for their dogs to die, many pet owners often prefer putting their canines to sleep. It’s a more humane option so the pooch will be saved from further pain and suffering.
What dog breeds are prone to degenerative myelopathy?
While no dog is immune to degenerative myelopathy, some breeds are more likely to develop the condition. DM is a common concern to these breeds:
- Cardigan Welsh Corgi
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Wire Fox Terriers
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Golden Retriever
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers
Take note that just because these dogs have a higher risk of developing DM, it doesn’t mean that they will automatically have it. Proper testing and responsible breeding can easily prevent this condition from passing on to the next generation of canines.
Knowing when to put down a dog with degenerative myelopathy is probably one of the hardest decision a pet owner has to make. In the end, it’s all about your dog’s quality of life and what the vet recommends. If the pooch is constantly suffering, it might be best to put them down. Your doggo will thank you for saving him from misery.