What is Leukoencephalomyelopathy?
Leukoencephalomyelopathy is the term for spinal cord degeneration. This disease affects the white matter in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of bodily control, muscle weakness, abnormal body movements, and inability to judge distance or scale.
There’s no definite cause for leukoencephalomyelopathy, though genetics seem to have a hand in determining which dogs are affected. This disease is most common in Rottweilers though other dogs have been known to have similar diseases. While some attempts at treatment have been done, most have been unsuccessful and end in having the dog put down.Leukoencephalomyelopathy is a disease of the white matter in the brain and spinal cord, primarily in Rottweiler dogs. Other dogs known to be affected by similar diseases include Afghan Hounds, West Highland white terriers, miniature Poodles, Dalmatians, Jack Russell terriers, and fox terriers.
Symptoms of Leukoencephalomyelopathy in Dogs
- Loss of control of bodily movements
- Inability to judge distance or scale
- Muscle weakness, typically affecting all four limbs
- Abnormal body positions or movements
- Hypermetria, in which a cerebellar dysfunction allows body parts to move beyond their intended reach
- Exaggerated spinal reflexes
Because leukonecephalomyelopathy is a specific type of spinal cord disease, there aren’t exactly types of the disease itself. However, the way the disease affects the limbs of the dog can be categorized in two ways:
- Spastic, in which the dog’s lack of control over the limbs results in muscles spasms, contributing to other symptoms
- Flaccid, in which the dog’s lack of control over the limbs results in the limb hanging limply, again contributing to some of the other symptoms described
Causes of Leukoencephalomyelopathy in Dogs
While the exact cause of leukoencephalomyelopathy is unknown, there are some indications that the disease is inherited in the genetics of the Rottweiler, one reason the disease is primarily breed-specific. Research suggests that the specific genetic indicator is a mutation of the DARS2 gene, which is used to encode a mitochondrial aspartyl-tRNA synthetase, though there may be other genes involved.
Diagnosis of Leukoencephalomyelopathy in Dogs
- Physical exam
- Electromyography, a technique used to evaluate and record the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles.
- Cerebrospinal fluid analysis, a group of lab tests that measure the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord for certain chemicals.
- X-rays of the vertebral column
- Ultrasounds of the vertebral column
- Myelograms, which use a dye and x-ray or CT scan to identify problems in the spinal canal, including the spinal cord, nerve roots, and tissues.
- In many cases, the diagnosis cannot be completely confirmed until a post-mortem neuropathological exam can be completed.
Treatment of Leukoencephalomyelopathy in Dogs
There really aren’t any known treatments that are effective for recovery. Some of the below treatments have been tried, but most cases end in euthanasia.
- Corticosteroid administration: Corticosteroids are steroid hormones produced in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates.
- Physical therapy may help in maintaining muscle strength, but will not cure the disease
- Hydrotherapy, the use of an exercise pool, may also help with muscle strength, but will not cure the disease
Recovery of Leukoencephalomyelopathy in Dogs
The likelihood of recovery for Rottweilers with leukoencephalomyelopathy is minimal. Some of the treatment options above may assist in making your animal comfortable, but as the disease progresses symptoms will only become worse. In most cases, the dog’s inability to control its body will progress to the point that euthanasia will be recommended.
Leukoencephalomyelopathy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Are there tests or blood work for diagnosing Coon hound paralysis vs Leukoencephalomyelopathy?
Coonhound paralysis and Leukoencephalomyelopathy are different conditions with different etiologies. The progression and timeframe of the condition will indicate if it is Coonhound paralysis, Leukoencephalomyelopathy or another condition. Usually, Coonhound paralysis has a spontaneous recovery after three weeks of first showing clinical signs. A spinal tap may be performed to assist in the diagnosis of Coonhound paralysis which would show an increase in protein with normal cell counts. Leukoencephalomyelopathy in Rottweiler’s usually occurs at three years of age with a definitive diagnosis only being made at necropsy (post-mortem). The age of Zeus would rule him out from having Leukoencephalomyelopathy. Kind Regards, Dr Callum Turner DVM
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