Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)


This debilitating disorder causes the gradual degeneration and loss of the myelin sheathing coating the nerves of the spinal cord, eventually leading to destruction of the nerves. Paralysis follows and ultimately the shut down of vital functions. 

DancerC-Myste Fancy Dancer 04/01/98 - 10/01/10

C-Myste Fancy Dancer
04/01/98 – 10/01/10


Submit a CWCHF Poster Dog.

Symptoms: Weakness and/or foot dragging in one or both hind limbs with increasing loss of coordination and slow progression to complete paralysis over a period of months to years.  Incontinence and paralysis of the bladder can occur in the later stages of the disease, requiring assistance to express the bladder.  Eventually disease progression will fatally affect the function of the heart and lungs.

Image showing stages of DM

The complete thesis (Quantitative Assessment of HSP70, IL-1ß and TNF-a in Spinal Fluid and Spinal Cord Sections of Dogs with Histopathologically Confirmed Degenerative Myelopathy and Control Dogs) PDF can be found here.

Treatment Options:  A complete evaluation should be done to rule out any other causes, such as osteoarthritis, disc rupture or injury.  There is no cure for DM and it is ultimately fatal.  Physical therapy has helped to slow disease progress and the use of carts and other therapeutic devices has helped to maintain quality of life even for dogs in advanced stages of DM.

Known Mode of Inheritance: Dominant, with Age-Related Incomplete Penetrance.  What this means is that individuals with two copies of the genetic marker are ‘At Risk’ for DM, but typically will not exhibit any clinical signs until much later in life.  Individuals with one copy of the genetic marker may remain completely normal or only show some slight signs in advanced age, but will not typically develop the disorder.  This disease shares the same genetic marker (SOD1) associated with a known form of human ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Age of onset: >10 is typical, but earlier onset has been reported.

Breeds affected

  • Cardigan: yes
  • Pembroke: yes, many testing At Risk.
  • Other Breeds: yes, many breeds and mixed breeds.

Incidence in Cardigans: OFA DM Statistics. Scroll down the list to find Cardigans.


  • Cardigans: yes, one study is limited to a previous study involving several other breeds and it is no longer active.  The CWCCA is also reported to be participating in further research and more information on this should be available eventually.
  • Other breeds: yes, Pembroke, Boxer, GSD and several other breeds.
  • Active?: yes, but currently only for Boxers and Pembrokes with the CHF grant closing March 31, 2012

Enroll in a study to donate tissue samples from individuals suspected to be affected by DM. PDF File listing protocols for submission.

Registry: yes, the OFA registers DNA test results for DM and can post results in their on-line database. Links to register:  DM Test ordering, registration and information on the OFA site.

Tests Available: yes, see the above OFA link.  Other testing sources are listed below.

Alternate Sources for DM Testing. Contact the OFA for database submission information on these testing sources.

Research links:

Published papers and Articles:

Discussion Groups:


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