Degenerative myelopathy caused by mutation of the SOD1 gene is an inherited neurologic disorder of dogs. This mutation is found in many breeds of dog, though it is not clear whether all dogs carrying two copies of the mutation will develop the disease. The variable presentation between breeds suggests that there are environmental or other genetic factors responsible for modifying disease expression. The average age of onset for dogs with degenerative myelopathy is approximately nine years of age. The disease affects the white matter tissue of the spinal cord and is considered the canine equivalent to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) found in humans. Affected dogs usually present in adulthood with gradual muscle atrophy and loss of coordination typically beginning in the hind limbs due to degeneration of the nerves. The condition is not typically painful for the dog, but will progress until the dog is no longer able to walk. The gait of dogs affected with degenerative myelopathy can be difficult to distinguish from the gait of dogs with hip dysplasia, arthritis of other joints of the hind limbs, or intervertebral disc disease. Late in the progression of disease, dogs may lose fecal and urinary continence and the forelimbs may be affected. Affected dogs may fully lose the ability to walk 6 months to 2 years after the onset of symptoms. Affected medium to large breed dogs can be difficult to manage and owners often elect euthanasia when their dog can no longer support weight in the hind limbs. Affected small breed dogs often progress more slowly than affected large breed dogs and owners may postpone euthanasia until the dog is paraplegic.
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