Genetic Spinal Disorders In Dogs

Getting a new puppy can be a mixture of a lot of different emotions, primarily those of excitement and happiness! Learning about the genetics of your puppy can be an important step in this process. There can be a variety of different genetic spinal disorders for owners to know about depending on what breed of puppy you get. These disorders range from those commonly seen to incredibly rare. Things to look out for at home include incoordination, awkward posture, unusual body conformation or urinary and/or fecal incontinence. If you see any of these, you should bring your puppy to the vet. This article will talk about two more well known genetic diseases, Degenerative Myelopathy and Wobblers syndrome and another disease that is fortunately incredibly rare, Spinal Dysraphism in Weimaraners.

Degenerative Myelopathy of Dogs:

This is a slow and progressive degeneration of the nerves that affect the spinal cord. Affected dogs are usually 8 years or older and veterinarians most commonly see this disorder in German Shepherds, Corgis, Boxers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, but other breeds may be affected as well.

Degenerative myelopathy is caused by a mutation in a specific gene and is an inherited genetic disorder, meaning that it gets passed on from generation to generation. The first clinical signs an owner may notice is a lack of coordination when walking and sometimes weakness of the back legs, which is why often times this disorder gets confused with osteoarthritis. As the disorder progresses, owners may start to notice an inability to walk on all 4 legs or wanting to continuously lay down because it is too hard for them to get up.

Diagnosis is made by MRI and by looking at the spinal fluid to rule out other diseases. There is also a DNA test available to test for the specific gene that causes this mutation. There is no specific treatment for this disorder and although dogs can live with this disease for years, because of its progressive nature, most dogs ultimately have to be humanely euthanized.

Caudal Cervical Spondylomyelopathy (Wobblers):

This is a spinal disorder that causes neurological deficits such as an uncoordinated walk or an inability to walk. It is most commonly seen in Dobermans 2 years and older, and affected dogs may hold their neck down in pain from compression of the vertebrae. Diagnosis is by radiographs and an MRI or CT scan. Treatment is medical management or surgery.

Spinal Dysraphism in Weimaraner Dogs:

Spinal dysraphism in Weimaraners is a rare genetic disorder that causes neurological signs and is caused by a mutation in a gene that is present at birth. It is only seen in approximately 1.5% of Weimaraners. Clinical signs include puppies having difficulty beginning to walk and an uncoordinated walk called “bunny hopping”. The disorder is not painful and it does not progress during the life of an affected dog. Diagnosis is made based on examination by your veterinarian, an MRI, and radiographs. There is no treatment for this disorder but most dogs live a completely normal life.

Veterinarians rely on you as an owner to pick up on the more subtle signs of illness at home. It is so important to bring your puppy into your veterinarian to catch early signs of what could be a genetic disorder. It is also important to get your puppies from reliable sources who test for breed specific disorders.