Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a rare fatal neurological disease that affects older dogs. It initially results in paralysis of the pelvic limbs but progresses to affect all limbs. SCWTCA recommends that all breeding stock be tested for the DM markers.  It is important to remember that the majority of dogs that have two DM markers do not develop the disease.  This is why it is very important that if you have a Wheaten that is diagnosed with DM we ask that you submit the information to our database. SCWTCA recommends that breeding stock have the DM DNA test.


Since first described in 1973 by Damon Averill, DVM, DM has stood for a degeneration of the spinal cord due to an unknown cause. In 2009, a mutation in the gene superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) was described to underlie the cause of DM. Dogs that have two copies (homozygous) of the mutant allele have been shown to be at risk for developing DM. In other words, not all dogs that have the mutation will develop DM so the mutation test is currently a test for risk. Mutations in SOD1 are associated with some forms of human amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is adult in onset, causing muscle weakness and eventually respiratory paralysis.

The average age of onset is 12 years old in Wheaten Terriers.

  • Loss of coordination in the rear legs, dragging toenails as they walk.
  • If a Wheaten is suspect for DM the owner should have genetic test for DM. See DNA Testing Page for more information.
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence in later stages.
  • DM is a fatal disease.

How to keep a dog comfortable with DM:

  • Dogs with DM will need to be kept on a clean, padded bed
  • Rotate them from side to side every four to six hours if they are not able to do it on their own.
  • As the disease progresses they will lose the ability to urinate on their own. Bladder management consisting of urinary catheterization or manual expression will be necessary three times daily. Proper hygiene and monitoring will be important as these dogs are more likely to develop urinary tract infections.
  • As they lose the ability to move their legs, they may develop sores on their feet from scuffing their toes.
  • Wound management and prevention (using wraps or booties on the feet) may be necessary.

What you should do if you suspect your Wheaten has DM:

  • Bring your dog to the veterinarian for a diagnosis
  • Purchase DM DNA test from either a commercial or university lab.
  • Send the veterinary diagnosis records to the SCWT Health Database
  • Have your veterinarian contact Liz Hansen at 573-884-3712 or
  • If you would like Necropsy Protocol contact Liz Hansen at the address or phone above.


Read Doogan’s story

Video of Finn, a Wheaten Terrier with DM

Article on DM – Dr Jerrod Bell – please note Wheatens have been diagnosed with this disease.

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