The Differences Between Degenerative Myelopathy & IVDD

Degenerative Myelopathy and IVDD both impact a dog’s mobility, but the two conditions are very different. 

IVDD in Dogs Explained

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a genetic spinal condition that causes a dog’s spinal disc to dry, become calcified, and rupture. Dog breeds with long bodies and short legs are more prone to IVDD. The condition is prevalent among dachshunds, where the disease impacts 1 in 4. 

When a dog’s spinal disc herniates, it can be painful. Some dogs with IVDD will cry out in pain, suddenly unable to move their hind legs. Other dogs will exhibit pain through a hunched back, shaking, or even aggression when touched. 

Understanding Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

DM is a progressive, hereditary condition that impacts a dog’s spinal cord. The condition is similar to ALS in humans. Dogs with DM will experience limb weakness and paralysis. Although DM progresses at different rates in every case, the mobility loss will occur over a few months to a year. Exercise has been shown to slow down the progression of DM, and a wheelchair is the key to keeping dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy active. 

The Similarities Between DM and IVDD

  • IVDD and DM are genetic conditions, meaning that both conditions can be inherited and passed on to future generations if breeders aren’t careful. 
  • Dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy and IVDD can experience mobility loss and loss of strength in their legs.
  • Physical therapy can benefit dogs with either condition.
  • A dog wheelchair is often recommended for dogs diagnosed with IVDD or DM.
Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Walkin’ Wheels Wheelchair
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
drag bag for paralyzed dog
Walkin’ Drag Bag

How DM and IVDD Impact a Dog’s Mobility

walkin' wheels dog wheelchair

Although mobility loss is common in IVDD and DM, the two conditions are very different.  Let’s learn about the differences between Intervertebral Disc Disease and Degenerative Myelopathy and their effects on a dog’s ability to walk. 

Rear leg function loss is common with IVDD and DM, but the experience is very different. Most cases of Intervertebral Disc Disease start with a sudden cry in pain and immediate loss of mobility in the back legs. As the disc rupture heals and the dog begins to recover, leg function can return. Paralysis from IVDD can be permanent, depending on the rupture’s severity and treatment. 

Degenerative Myelopathy is a progressive mobility condition. In its earliest stage, dogs will show signs of losing strength in their back legs and dragging their paws. Dogs with DM will experience worsening mobility loss as the condition progresses. Each stage of Degenerative Myelopathy will continue to weaken the dog’s legs until they become fully paralyzed. 

Incontinence in Dogs with IVDD or Degenerative Myelopathy

Dachshund in her pink Back Brace, Walkin VertebraVe

Loss of bladder control and fecal incontinence can occur in many canine mobility conditions; IVDD and DM are no exceptions. The main difference between the two conditions is when incontinence issues begin. 

IVDD incontinence occurs right away when the dog first becomes paralyzed. Although not every dog will be incontinent, some dogs with IVDD may not be able to pee and poop on their own. As a result, their caregiver must manually express the dog’s bladder many times throughout the day to help their dog pee. Dog diapers and male wraps may be worn inside the house to prevent accidents and keep them dry. 

Incontinence issues in Degenerative Myelopathy develop in the end stages of the disease. Most DM dogs will lose control of their bladder and bowels in end-stage DM, which can start about a year after the initial diagnosis. 

Is there a cure for either condition?

The treatment options and outcome are among the most significant differences between Degenerative Myelopathy and IVDD. 

IVDD: Treatments

A dog’s IVDD treatment depends on where in the spine the herniated and how bad of a rupture occurred. Crate rest is a standard method used to treat IVDD in dogs. Keeping a dog still and calm while crated gives the spine the time it needs to heal. The most severe cases of IVDD may be treated surgically. During IVDD surgery, the excess spinal disc material is removed, which relieves spinal pressure and restores normal blood flow. Other treatment options for IVDD include: 

  • Structured exercise during physical therapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Hydrotherapy

Degenerative Myelopathy: The Prognosis

Although there are many ways to improve a DM dog’s quality of life, there is no cure for Degenerative Myelopathy. All dogs with degenerative myelopathy will become paralyzed. The paralysis moves up the spine to impact the front legs and can progress to a point that it impacts a dog’s ability to breathe. 

Regular, daily exercise and continued activity is the best thing you can dog to improve your dog’s quality of life. Dogs with degenerative myelopathy are not in any pain, but it’s important to know that your dog’s mobility will worsen, they will become paralyzed, and both their hind and front leg strength may be impacted. In addition, every DM dog will require a wheelchair in order to stay active. 


Loss of mobility does not have to be an end-of-life decision. Just because a dog has lost the ability to walk without a wheelchair does not mean they are unhappy. Whether your dog has IVDD or DM, discuss the treatment options with your vet. Then, do your research and work together to create a plan to give your dog a happy and active life.

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