German shepherd dog prone to Degenerative Myelopathy

While I was doing research to update a story about laser therapy for dogs with spine problems, I was surprised to stumble onto the results of a new study that found laser therapy prolongs the lives of Degenerative Myelopathy dogs.

In my book, this is very exciting news, but I don’t remember reading about it in April 2020, when the results were released. Up until now, rehabilitation, such as physical therapy and hydrotherapy were the only clinically proven methods to slow the disease.

If your dog’s been diagnosed with DM, laser therapy is a topic to discuss with your vet.

The 2020 research showed that when laser therapy was combined with intensive physical therapy, the disease progressed at a significantly slower rate and dogs lived longer.

Facts about Degenerative Myelopathy

DM is a progressive neurologic disease that primarily attacks large breed dogs between the ages of 8-14. The condition is terminal. Dogs first show signs of a wobbly gait that gives way to hind end weakness. This progresses to incontinence and complete paralysis of their back legs.

The disease then continues to move to a dog’s front limbs and eventually effects the organs. The life expectancy for a dog with DM is typically 12 months, with some dogs lasting longer. It’s a heartbreaking condition that takes the lives of thousands of loving pets every year.

Click here for a complete explanation about DM: What Pet Owners Should Know

A brief overview of laser therapy for dogs

Boxer dog prone to Degenerative Myelopathy


Laser therapy for dogs is a safe and painless way to treat a variety of ailments and injuries. It works by emitting a low-powered infrared laser light that accelerates the healing process.

The infrared light is transmitted to your dog’s body through a wand that is swept back and forth over the skin of an injured area.

It’s used to treat medical conditions that include: spine problems, arthritis, Intervertebral Disc Disease, fractures, bladder infections and more.

Dogs typically enjoy the treatment.

How the laser therapy study worked

The research was conducted by a team of veterinarians that included: Lisa Miller, DVM, CCRT, and Deb (Gross) Torraca, DPT, MSPT, Diplomat ABPTS, CCRP and Luis De Taboada, MSEE.

Their objective was to determine what kind of impact laser therapy had on dogs who were receiving high intensity physical therapy to treat their Degenerative Myelopathy symptoms.

Investigators conducted the study through a process called “Retrospective Observational Analysis.” That means they analyzed data from dogs through their medical records.

The disease process was analyzed for 20 dogs who had all received physical therapy at a well-known veterinary rehab center in Connecticut.

Researchers divided the dogs into two groups:

  • Dogs who received laser therapy that lasted about 5 minutes.
  • Dogs who received laser treatments of 25 to 26 minutes.

The outcome: Laser therapy prolongs the lives of Degenerative Myelopathy dogs

Golden retriever dog prone to Degenerative Myelopathy


There was a significantly longer survival rate for dogs who received the lengthier laser therapy sessions.

On average these canines became paralyzed after nearly 21 months and lost their battle with Degenerative Myelopathy at about 27 months.

Prior to including laser therapy as part of the treatment plan, dogs who received intensive physical therapy as their sole rehab plan, survived only 8 ½ months.

The research team told Veterinary Practice News they were excited about the results of their first study. Dr. Miller was especially pleased because it gives vets a new treatment option for a heartbreaking condition.

The team plans to continue their work by studying more DM patients who have laser therapy added to their rehab treatments.

You can read the entire study by clicking here.

Dog breeds prone to Degenerative Myelopathy

  • American Eskimo Dogs
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Borzoi
  • Boxers
  • Cardigan Welsh Corgi
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Golden Retriever
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Irish Setters
  • Kerry Blue Terriers
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgis
  • Poodle
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Soft Coated Wheaton Terriers
  • Wire Fox Terrier

If you suspect your dog has DM, an inexpensive DNA test can be ordered online through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).


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