Should dogs with DM be euthanized? What to Know

Late Stage Degenerative Myelopathy

During this stage, Rocky had more bad days than good days. As his spinal cord continues to deteriorate, Rocky became depressed and lay on his bed all day.

Sadly, the condition eventually progressed to paralysis of his rear end. He could barely function.

In the late stage, these are the signs of GM:

  • Weakened front legs and shoulders.
  • Jerky movements.
  • Tail and legs move uncontrollably and randomly.
  • Paralysis of the hind legs or complete paraplegia.
  • Organ failure.
  • Respiratory issues.
  • Near-complete loss of coordination.
  • Near-complete loss of balance.
  • Standing, walking, and squatting becomes almost impossible.
  • Can’t get up or stand unless assisted.
  • Completely unable to support their own body.
  • Once our German Shepherd dog approached the intermediate to late stages, his condition and quality of life deteriorated rapidly. He was experiencing so much pain and discomfort. We knew this was the time to make a decision on euthanizing Rocky.

    Degenerative Myelopathy Dogs Final Stages

    As we were making the decision to euthanize Rocky, we noticed his hind legs and tail started to have spasmodic movement. Poor Rocky! Many times throughout the day, it seems as if Rocky was about to defecate because he would try to kick out of his rear legs and his tail would raise and lower.

    Rocky was definitely living a poor quality of life at this point with this level of discomfort and pain. Our vet warned us that the development of this disease is now more rapid than before. Here are the signs we notice in the final stages of degenerative myelopathy in dogs and these were confirmed by our vet:

  • Loss of muscle and muscle control in the forelimbs and shoulders.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Have no control of the tongue.
  • Gradual loss of movement.
  • All four legs became weak and could no longer move.
  • All four legs were not able to support the dog’s body weight.
  • Heart, lungs, and kidneys were affected.
  • Difficulty breathing due to the disease reaching his neck, cranial nerves, and brain stem.
  • What are the final stages of degenerative myelopathy in dogs?

    Signs of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

  • Swaying in the hind end when standing.
  • Easily falls over if pushed.
  • Wobbling.
  • Knuckling of the paws when trying to walk.
  • Feet scraping on the ground when walking.
  • Abnormally worn toenails.
  • Difficulty walking.
  • Difficulty getting up from a sitting or lying position.
  • When’s the right time to euthanize my dog with degenerative myelopathy? Celebrating their life too..

    Saying goodbye is never easy. The decision of when to euthanize a dog with degenerative myelopathy is another difficult part of this difficult disease. Dogs with DM typically handle the disease well, often times handling it better than their owners who struggle with watching their dogs slowly deteriorate. Deciding when to euthanize is a very individualized process thats based on a lot of factors. Here are a few things to consider.

    Mobility is clearly one of those things that vastly contribute to quality of life. Its not as simple as being able to go for a walk; there are dogs that are content sniffing around the yard, or laying out in the sun, or playing games instead of going for a walk.

    Mobility goes beyond just the ability to walk or play, though; during the later stages of degenerative myelopathy, dogs have a much harder time doing previously easy tasks. For example, he may want to go to the door to indicate he has to take a potty-break; but unable to get up, or get there in time, he might have an accident. This can be very distressing for some dogs. Other previously easy tasks that will become difficult include things like getting up from their beds … changing positions when lying down… even getting a drink of water whenever they want one.

    The disease of degenerative myelopathy in itself is painless. But pain can result from the dog taking compensatory actions to make up for his mobility challenges. For instance:

    Dogs with DM typically still have good appetites. Is your dog still eating and drinking well? Is he maintaining a good body weight? Is he interested in food and enjoys eating? Is he staying adequately hydrated?

    Other issues, such as pain (see above) or unrelated medical conditions may cause a dog to lose his appetite.

    Is your dog still sleeping comfortably and well? It can be hard for dogs with degenerative myelopathy to change positions in order to get comfortable. They do need to change positions regularly in order to avoid pressure sores.

    Does your dog still show interest in his favourite activites, and is he capable of doing them? He doesnt necessarily have to be capable of doing them the same way he previously did, in order to be happy. For example, dogs who used to love to take long, meandering walks may still be content to go on shorter walks, provided there are interesting things for him to sniff or friends to socialize with.

    Its one thing to make the decision to euthanize when your pet seems tired or feels sick. Then, you know that the time is close and the decision is clearer. With degenerative myelopathy, dogs are usually mentally engaged with their families and with life; this can make it feel that much harder to make the decision to let him go.

    You know your dog best. During highly-emotional times, it may be helpful to ask for an opinion from a third-party such as a trusted veterinarian who knows your dog.

    The decision of when to euthanize is a highly personal and individual choice. I know that its often helped me to hear other peoples perspectives, so I hope that reading mine may be helpful in some way. I have always felt it best to let my pets go a little early, rather than even a day too late. I dont want to have to say goodbye during a crisis when theyre feeling pain or fear or confusion. I dont want them to end their lives struggling with an injury or trying to recover from one. I want my pets to go feeling loved, safe, and happy.

    My opinion is that you need to feel physically, mentally, and emotionally well to be able to best care for your dog. Being overwhelmed doesnt help anyone. Your dog doesnt want to feel like he is a burden. Love him well, give him an awesome last day, last week, or last month… and then let him go peacefully, with dignity.

    Degenerative myelopathy is a difficult disease. Its hard on the dog, and hard on the people who love him so much. And yet, even had I known back then everything that I now know about the disease … even had I known back then that my dog already had the disease … I would have still adopted him. His amazing attitude, cheerfulness, acceptance, and grace of spirit was a bright light for me, even during the most difficult of times. It still is.