You're not alone in loving the Pembroke Welsh corgi: The breed's a favorite at Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, Pembroke welsh corgis are prone to degenerative myelopathy, an incurable spinal cord disease. Cardigan Welsh corgis can come down with it, but it's more common in Pembrokes.
A diagnosis of degenerative myleopathy means the white matter in your dog's spinal cord is breaking down, according to the petMD website. It's the canine equivalent of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in people, which you know as Lou Gehrig's disease. That white matter is responsible for sending movement instructions from your dog's brain to his legs, along with information back from the legs to his brain. About 1.5 percent of Pembroke Welsh corgis are affected, according to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare.
In corgis, degenerative myelopathy generally occurs between the ages of 9 and 14. Initial symptoms include coordination loss in the rear legs. Your dog begins wobbling or dragging his feet when walking. Soon, his legs get weaker and he can't stand up. Complete loss of the use of his back legs, paraplegia, takes six months to three years after the first symptoms. Your dog loses control of his bladder and bowels. The only consolation is that degenerative myelopathy isn't painful.
It's not uncommon for a degenerative myelopathy to be misdiagnosed at first, since the early symptoms resemble those of other issues. The only way to definitely diagnose degenerative myelopathy is after the dog's death, by conducting a necropsy and examining the spinal cord. Your vet might suspect that your corgi suffers from degenerative disk disease, since the initial symptoms are similar and it's a common condition. Slipped disks occur frequently in corgis. X-rays or ultrasounds reveal slipped disks. Once other, more easily diagnosed diseases are excluded, your vet might deliver a degenerative myelopathy diagnosis. A DNA test for the disease is also available, which identifies corgis at risk.
While no cure exists for degenerative myelopathy, treatments and methods of making your dog's life and yours easier do exist. As your dog's ability to use his hind legs decreases, you can make use of canine cart, something like a wheelchair. These carts offer some mobility. Physical therapy might offer some benefits, or keep the disease from progressing as quickly. Meanwhile, you'll help by providing water at his feet and helping him get comfortable when he can't use his rear legs to roll over, which will occur as the disease progresses. Watch his expressions throughout his immobility; he'll give cues that hint at his needs.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.