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Other Conditions that can present similarly to Degenerative Myelopathy

Often a diagnosis of DM can be made when in fact other conditions can present similarly. What is known as 'Rule Out Testing' is needed to either rule in or rule out the many other diseases that can look like DM and if nothing else is found, you eventually arrive at a 'Presumptive Diagnosis of DM'.  Of course, not all owners are able to have all testing carried out due to financial costs, the age of the dog and peoples own personal circumstances. If, however, you are unsure about it being DM, and the possibility of it being another issue, it is worth discussing this with your vet in more detail.  Professional vets are more than happy to work with you and consider other possible options and give details of the tests recommended. 

Peripheral nerve disease, Lumbral Sacral Stenosis, IVDD, "Discospondylitis, Spondylosis, Tick Diseases, Thyroid Problems, Cushings Disease, Wobblers, Polyradiculoneuropathy, Polymyositis, Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis (GME) and spinal tumors are just a few that can initially present similarly to DM. Below are more details of just a few conditions that are often mistaken for DM. One important rule to remember is if signs appear suddenly that you think are DM, then it is almost not DM. DM is a gradual onset, progressive disease.

IVDD, or Intervertabral Disc Disease is one of the most common diseases that can present like DM. In severe cases, demyelinization of the nerves can occur and the dogs can lose sensation.

Discospondylitis : Discospondylitis is infection of the intervertebral disc space.

Lumbrosacral Stenosis (Cauda Equina): Degenerative lumbosacral stenosis is a common cause of cauda equina syndrome and a relatively frequent neurologic disorder in older dogs. If this condition is recognized early, treatment may help alleviate significant morbidity.

Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis (GME):

Peripheral Neuropathy (Polyneuropathies): Polyneuropathy is a nerve disorder that affects multiple peripheral nerves. Unlike the central nervous system, which has the vertebrae of the spine, and the bone of the skull to protect it, the peripheral nerves are more exposed to the elements that enter into the body and come into contact with the body, so they are more susceptible to physical injury and toxic damage.

Fibrotic Myopathy: Fibrotic Myopathy is thought to be an uncommon acquired, disorder which probably occurs to some degree after any muscle contusion that heals primarily by scar tissue. The whole muscle or part of the muscle is replaced with fibrous connective tissue within the semitendinosus and, occasionally, the quadriceps muscles of the hindleg. When most or all of the traumatized muscle is replaced by fibrous scar tissue that contracts to an inelastic band, it is termed fibrotic myopathy or muscle contracture.

A diagnosis of DM cannot be based on a single test alone for any of the following  - the way a dog is walking, flipping of the paw (also known as knuckling) an X-ray, blood work or DNA test. To arrive at a 'Presumptive DM diagnosis', an examination by a board certified neurologist and an MRI is also needed.  It is worth noting there is a difference between an Xray and MRI.  Xrays produce flat images of the inside organs and bones of the body, is cheaper and quicker, but an MRI, although more costly, is able to take much more high resolution, clearer and detailed images than an Xray, particularly of soft tissue, tumors and most spinal issues. It is understandable, many people are not able to do all the testing outlined here for many different reasons, some mentioned above.  At this time DM sadly cannot be a confirmed diagnosis in a living dog, but many other conditions can have the same or similar symptoms and some of these other conditions can be treated successfully, or require different therapy to a dog with DM, to avoid further damage.  It is therefore recommended if at all possible, taking into consideration your own personal and dogs circumstances, to pursue as much testing as you can to 'Rule in or out' these other diseases and conditions.