Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a potentially debilitating neurological condition that can eventually paralyze its victims. The cause of DM is unknown, although there is some suggestion that it is not dissimilar to multiple sclerosis in humans. While DM is described as a degenerative neurological condition, there is no screening test for the disease. A definitive identification of it can therefore be made only in autopsy.
There is some suggestion among those vets and researchers interested in alternative approaches to veterinary care that over vaccination may be a contributor to degenerative myelopathy. The suggestion is that vaccination protocols should change so that young animals are not vaccinated as frequently or as early.
Signs of DM usually appear between ages of five and nine years of age. It begins with loss of coordination in the hind legs. The boxer may wobble or drag its feet, wearing the hair off the tops of its toes on his hind legs. The condition progresses to paralysis in approximately three to six months, although a focused effort at rebuilding the rear leg muscles early in the diagnosis may forestall the paralysis somewhat. Swimming has been found to be a good way to build muscles in a failing rear end of a boxer.
No pain appears to be associated with the paralysis. The dog, which may be perfectly healthy in every other way, wants to continue its life as usual. Many boxers with this condition do very well on a cart that supports their rear end and allows them at least some mobility. Most veterinary care is aimed at slowing the progression of the disease and doing as much rehabilitation as possible. In early-identified cases, the effective rate of early intervention has been as high as 80 percent.
Future research on this debilitating illness will look at a combination of genetic, environmental, and toxic factors likely to lead to DM. Other research suggests that there is overwhelming evidence that DM is an autoimmune disease attacking the nervous system leading to progressive damage of the nervous system involved.