If your Dachshund has recently had surgery for back problems or a spinal injury, you may have heard your veterinarian mention a condition called myelomalacia.
However, if you haven’t heard about it, you’re not alone.
Myelomalacia in Dachshunds is not often spoken about because it’s incredibly rare, but it is still possible!
To help raise awareness about this potential complication of spinal injuries, I have gathered the following information about myelomalacia, including what it is, the common symptoms to look out for, the process of diagnosis, and what a positive diagnosis will mean for your dog.
Before we go into detail about myelomalacia, I want to be clear that I am not a veterinarian. I also don’t have any first-hand experience.
The information here is a combination of information gathered from forums and stories from friends as well as from reading through available scientific studies.
If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from any form of spinal injury or condition, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
My goal in sharing this information is to arm you with enough data to watch for any warning signs of a problem in your own dog as well as to help you ask questions of your veterinarian.
Nothing shared here should take the place of a conversation with your vet or the advice that he or she can provide you.
What is Myelomalacia in Dachshunds?
Myelomalacia, the scientific term for necrosis of the spinal cord, is a rare complication of spinal cord trauma caused by conditions like Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD).
Since Dachshunds are at a higher risk of experiencing IVDD and other spinal issues, they are also at a higher risk of myelomalacia, however, it can also affect other dog breeds.
Even with that higher risk factor, myelomalacia is still only experienced by a small number of dogs that are diagnosed with the most advanced stage of IVDD.
The condition occurs when damage to the spine of a dog causes damage to the vascular system.
Without enough blood supply travelling to the spinal cord, it starts to die off.
This will first happen at the location of the original injury before spreading along the spinal cord.
The paralysis can move up the body toward the front legs, known as ascending myelomalacia. This can eventually lead to respiratory distress.
The paralysis can also move down the body toward the tail, known as descending myelomalacia, and can result in paralysis of the hind legs if it didn’t occur with initial injury.
What Common Myelomalacia Symptoms Should I Watch For?
The signs and symptoms of myelomalacia in Dachshunds following a spinal injury include:
- Abnormally high body temperature
- Numbness or pain in areas below the original injury
- Loss of tone and reflexes in the hind legs
- Paralysis in the back legs (if it wasn’t already present)
- Dilated anus
How Will My Veterinarian Diagnose Myelomalacia in My Dog?
Just as we aren’t too familiar with the myelomalacia causes, diagnosing the condition in a Dachshund showing signs can be difficult.
There is no one test that can be relied upon until a necropsy is performed, but there are tests that can be used to give a clearer picture of what may be happening with your dog’s health.
Your veterinarian will do a full physical exam, taking note of the symptoms that you have shared as well as any that can be seen during the appointment.
The more detail that you can provide your veterinarian about the nature of these symptoms and when you first noticed them, the better.
He or she will then carry out a series of tests including a series of blood tests, urinalysis, and a sample of your dog’s cerebrospinal fluid.
Spinal x-rays and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can also help to offer a bigger picture if they are available at the time of your appointment.
By combining the information received from all these tests, your veterinarian will have a good idea of whether your dog is experiencing myelomalacia and the next best steps.
Is There Anything You Can Do to Prevent Myelomalacia?
While we would like to think that we can prevent serious conditions like this with some careful planning and a few lifestyle changes, this sadly isn’t the case.
As there isn’t a lot known about why some dogs will develop this complication and others won’t, there is no prevention that we can rely on.
In some cases, a Dachshund will have what appears to be a successful surgery to treat their IVDD only to have the signs of myelomalacia appear later.
The best thing that you can do is to follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian following surgery to improve your dog’s chances of healing properly, such as strict crate rest.
Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of myelomalacia and contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if you have any cause for concern.
Are There Options for Myelomalacia Treatment Available?
At this time, there is no treatment known that will work to stop the progression of myelomalacia or reverse the damage to the spinal cord.
As the paralysis spreads and reaches the respiratory system, it can be incredibly painful, which is why most veterinarians will recommend euthanasia before it is allowed to reach that point.
While studying the condition, there have been a few rare cases discovered where the dog miraculously recovered with no medical explanation.
“About 10% can have a cessation to the progression of myelomalacia and then go on to get better. Why?
Nobody knows because there is no known treatment for myelomalacia,” Dr. William Bush, VMD, DACVIM (Neurology) from Bush Veterinary Neurology Service explained in a summary of the article ‘Clinical Characteristics of Dogs with Progressive Myelomalacia Following Acute Intervertebral Disc Extrusion’.
If your veterinarian is familiar with this possibility, he or she may choose to manage your dog’s symptoms while monitoring for any sign that they may pull through before it spreads far enough to cause pain and suffering.
For Dachshunds that have been diagnosed with myelomalacia, life expectancy isn’t very long. It will depend on how serious the spinal injury was, where the original injury was, and how quickly the paralysis is spreading.
From the time that the condition first starts to spread, life expectancy can range from 3 days to 2 weeks in most cases.
Can We Expect a Treatment for Myelomalacia in the Future?
The scientific community continues to research myelomalacia, its causes, and what options exist to address it.
There has been some success with the use of the anti-inflammatory methylprednisolone sodium succinate to slow how quickly the paralysis is spreading. However, its effectiveness over time is still unknown.
As studies continue to reveal more about the causes of myelomalacia, the scientific community is also exploring the possibility of ground-breaking surgery that could stop the paralysis in its tracks.
Dachshunds that qualify for myelomalacia surgery could go on to lead a happy life as a paralyzed pet, but it does not reverse the damage.
I hope that these advancements will lead to a future for Dachshunds diagnosed with myelomalacia that will look much brighter.