"Focal Spinal Muscular Atrophy in German Shepherds
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"Focal Spinal Muscular Atrophy in German Shepherds

Dogs
Health & Safety

German Shepherds are known to suffer from several hereditary disorders which is why careful, selective breeding is so essential in the breed with an end goal being to continue to produce healthy puppies. One of the inherited conditions that affects a dog's spine and which is a rare nervous system disorder is known as focal spinal muscular atrophy. This type of disorder is often referred to as being “metabolic” and a lot of research has been carried out to find out why some dogs are prone to inheriting focal spinal muscular atrophy than others.

The condition explained

Metabolic disorders can affect many breeds with German Shepherds being one of them although the condition is known by other names in specific breeds. Fortunately, it is a relatively rare condition and therefore not much is known about its mode of inheritance. With this said, it is a motor neuron disorder which negatively impacts impulses sent to a dog's muscles which they need to move normally. Dogs diagnosed as suffering from focal spinal muscular atrophy may show mild symptoms of there being something wrong, but it is a progressive disorder which often results in an affected dog not being able to support their own weight due to muscle wastage and weakness.

Symptoms associated with focal spinal muscular atrophy

German Shepherds suffering from the condition show quite obvious signs of there being something wrong with them which includes the following:

  • Weakness which gets progressively worse with time
  • Their reflexes are negatively impacted
  • Dogs have an abnormal and strange gait
  • They develop muscle atrophy which is a loss of muscle mass
  • Dogs are unable to support their own weight as their condition worsens

Diagnosing the condition

A vet would need to thoroughly examine a German Shepherd suspected of suffering from focal spinal muscular atrophy and ideally, they would also need to have their full medical history as well as their lineage which all helps when it comes to establishing whether they are suffering from the disorder. The sort of tests a vet would recommend carrying out to come to a definitive diagnosis could include the following:

  • A full neurological examination
  • A muscle biopsy
  • An electromyogram - which is a nerve test

What are the treatment options?

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for German Shepherds when they have been diagnosed as suffering from focal spinal muscle atrophy. Because the disorder is known to be progressive, symptoms worsen over time which could be gradual or more rapid as it varies from dog to dog. If a vet deems a dog's condition to be too severe, all too often it is decided to put them to sleep to avoid any further suffering or hardship. It is also worth noting that should a dog's condition be severe, it can seriously and negatively impact their quality of life.

Good breeding practices are essential

German Shepherds diagnosed as suffering from focal spinal muscle atrophy should not be used for breeding purposes even if their symptoms are mild because as previously mentioned, although the mode of inheritance is yet to be discovered, this type of metabolic disorder is thought to be hereditary. Any dog suffering from a mild form of the condition should be spayed or neutered to prevent any accidental matings which would put any puppies produced at risk of inheriting such a debilitating disorder like focal spinal muscle.

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