Spinal cord injuries in your dog are frightening. And in some sad circumstances, severe spinal cord injuries can develop into a devastating condition called myelomalacia.
Hopefully your dog will never develop myelomalacia, but it’s important to be familiar with it so you know what to expect, and how to move forward—just in case.
- Myelomalacia is a rare and fatal injury in dogs that occurs after a traumatic spinal cord injury, causing the spinal cord to die.
- Breeds of dogs that are most likely to develop myelomalacia are Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Beagles, and Cocker Spaniels.
- Myelomalacia is typically diagnosed with an MRI.
- If a dog develops Myelomalacia, your vet will likely recommend euthanasia in order to prevent any further suffering.
What is myelomalacia in dogs?
Myelomalacia is a condition that results from a severe spinal cord injury. It causes the spinal cord to die and soften, and it’s usually fatal. In dogs, this condition most commonly affects Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Beagles, and Cocker Spaniels, although all breeds are at risk.
With Myelomalacia, the spinal cord begins to die at the site of the injury—this is also known as necrosis of the spinal cord—and then the damage gradually spreads to the rest of the spinal cord.
Dogs with myelomalacia become paralyzed. When the damage reaches the area of the spinal cord that connects nerves to the diaphragm, dogs lose the ability to breathe.
How is myelomalacia diagnosed?
Myelomalacia is a concern anytime a dog sustains a grade 5 spinal cord injury, which is an injury that means a dog cannot move or feel its legs, making them paraplegic.
We know this is scary, but the odds are in your dog’s favor when it comes to these injuries. Only about 10–15% of dogs who experience an acute spinal cord injury will develop myelomalacia.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) can also lead to that spinal cord trauma. If a dog has IVDD, one of the discs that function as a shock absorber between the dog’s vertebrae is damaged, so that the gel-like filling ruptures and compresses the spinal cord. This type of injury is often called a herniated disc. About 2% of the dogs experience IVDD in their lifetimes.
If your dog experiences such an injury, your vet will recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to get a detailed look at the spinal cord. MRIs can sometimes help to identify myelomalacia, but sometimes MRIs show no sign of the condition and dogs still go on to develop myelomalacia.
Promptly performing surgery may help to avoid myelomalacia, but even with surgery, some dogs develop the condition within a week of injury.
How is myelomalacia treated?
Myelomalacia is a tragic condition, and there is no way to reliably predict or treat it. Often, it’s kindest to put a dog with myelomalacia to sleep to help prevent further suffering.
Myelomalacia often will progress above the injury on the spinal cord, and cause worsening function, compromising the quality of life of a dog further and further.
If your dog has been diagnosed with a grade 5 spinal cord injury, aggressive medical and surgical treatments may help to prevent the condition from progressing to myelomalacia, but that isn’t guaranteed.
Your vet will work to stabilize your dog and may perform diagnostic testing including x-rays, a CT scan, or ultrasound, or refer your dog to a neurologist to perform an MRI to get a thorough look at your dog’s spinal cord and overall health. Your vet will work to stabilize your dog and may perform blood work, a urinalysis, and possibly take a sample of your dog’s spinal fluid.
From there, it’s likely that your vet will refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist or a surgeon for additional evaluation and treatment. The specialist will work to diagnose your dog’s injury, evaluate your dog’s stability, and determine an appropriate treatment, if one is available. A vet might prescribe anti-inflammatories and pain medication, and some dogs may be able to heal with cage rest and physical therapy. Other dogs may benefit from surgery.
What other health complications can happen as a result of myelomalacia?
As myelomalacia progresses, your dog may experience a loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the hind limbs. The front legs may become weak or paralyzed, and your dog’s body temperature may be higher than normal.
Dogs whose front legs become paralyzed may lose the ability to breathe within hours or days.
How much does it cost to treat myelomalacia?
There is no treatment for myelomalacia, but there are ways to diagnose the condition and treat intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), hopefully before it progresses further.
Because treatments can vary so much depending on your dog’s injury and overall condition, the cost of treating your dog’s spinal injury in order to prevent myelomalacia varies widely.
The diagnostic tests used to evaluate your dog’s injury can quickly add up:
- Laboratory testing, like blood work: $200 – $300
- X-rays: $400 and up
- Ultrasounds: $300-$600
- Urine tests: $25 – $100
- MRI: $2,500 – $5,500
Spinal cord injuries are an emergency and need to be quickly evaluated. Having these tests performed in an ER will be more expensive, and you can expect to pay $75 to $200 for the exam.
Diagnostic testing in an ER setting can cost $200 to $4,000, and overnight hospitalization can cost $600 to $4,000 per night.
If your dog needs surgery for IVDD, it can cost $4,000–10,000, depending on the location of your vet.
Can pet insurance help cover myelomalacia?
Treating a spinal cord injury can be prohibitively expensive, but if your pup is covered with pet insurance, it can helpwith some expensive vet bills.
For example, if your dog sustains a spinal cord injury and they have a Lemonade Pet policy, treatments like ER visits and medications will likely be covered (keeping in mind things like your deductible and co-insurance). Your policy can also help pay for diagnostics, so your vet can get the detailed look at your dog’s spinal cord that they need to recommend the best treatment.
But remember, if your dog is injured or needs vet care before you sign up for pet insurance (or during the 14-day waiting period for illnesses), your pet’s diagnostics and treatments won’t be covered, because it would be considered a pre-existing condition. This is why it’s so important to get pet insurance before you notice anything wrong—if you wait, it may be too late to get coverage for these conditions.
What is the prognosis of myelomalacia?
Sadly, myelomalacia has a very poor prognosis.
The condition progresses and usually becomes fatal. While very few dogs develop myelomalacia that doesn’t progress to the point of being fatal, that typically isn’t the outcome. Even in those comparatively lucky cases, dogs will remain paralyzed.
Before we go…
Myelomalacia is a devastating condition. If your dog ever sustains a spinal cord injury, it’s important to evaluate the issue so you and your vet can decide on the right next steps for your dog.
Quickly taking action may help keep your dog comfortable and safe if they are at risk for myelomalacia, but there’s no guarantee that your pup won’t develop the condition. But once again, this condition is rare, even for pups that are unfortunate enough to sustain spinal cord injuries.
Fortunately, signing up your pup for pet insurance for your dog can give you the confidence to handle whatever life has in store for your pup, without concern about the costs.
A few quick words, because we <3 our lawyers: This post is general in nature, and any statement in it doesn’t alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. You’re encouraged to discuss your specific circumstances with your own professional advisors. The purpose of this post is merely to provide you with info and insights you can use to make such discussions more productive! Naturally, all comments by, or references to, third parties represent their own views, and Lemonade assumes no responsibility for them. Coverage may not be available in all states.