Degenerative neuropathy involves a dysfunction of the peripheral nervous system that gets progressively worse over time. This encompasses the central nervous system, which is the region outside the brain. The disorder is predominately motor in character. A wide range of causes are associated with degenerative neuropathy, such as inflammation, trauma and, on occasion, toxicosis.
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The symptoms often progress so slowly that the pet owner hardly notices a difference until the situation becomes severe. The dog may exhibit difficulty getting up from a sitting or lying position. It may show slowness and stiffness when walking. Many times the owner simply thinks the dog is getting older and suffering from arthritis. As the neuropathy progresses, the dog will be unable to get up at all or even move its hind legs.
A veterinarian will perform a physical and evaluate the dog's symptoms. Degenerative neuropathy often results from an underlying cause such as diabetes and Cushing's disease. Bloodwork will be done to determine if an treatable cause may be leading to the situation. Underlying conditions caught early are highly treatable.
If there is no apparent underlying cause to the neuropathy, the veterinarian may perform a spinal fluid analysis to take a closer look at the cerebrospinal fluid, according to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. A peripheral nerve biopsy may also be taken.
Many dogs appear to have a genetic predisposition to degenerative neuropathy. The most common causes of the disorder are canine giant axonal neuropathy, sensory neuropathies and Boxer neuropathy. Certain breeds exhibit breed-specific neuropathy such as the disorder known as "dancing Doberman." Seen in the Doberman breed, the dog begins to exhibit unusual flexing of the hind legs but gradually the disorder advances to complete hindquarter paralysis. The affliction may begin when a dog is 6 months old or not until advanced age. Giant axonal neuropathy is seen in German shepherds. The degenerative disorder begins in the hind legs but can progress until all four legs are affected and the dog is incontinent.
Congenital disorders have no cure. The dog will continue to degenerate over time until the dog either dies or must be euthanized. A veterinarian can prescribe medications to help make the animal comfortable.
Dogs that suffer from degenerative neuropathies should never be bred, according to the University of Prince Edward Island. The breeder should be promptly notified so the sire, dam and siblings are never bred to pass down the disorder to another generation.
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- University of Prince Edward Island: What are peripheral neuropathies?
- University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine: Diseases of the Peripheral Neuromuscular System
- My Other Vet: Why Can't My Dog Get Up?
- Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference: Neuromuscular Disorders
- Vet Connect: Peripheral Neuropathies (Polyneuropathies)