Degenerative Myelopathy is an inherited neurologic disorder caused by a Mutation of the SOD1 gene known to be carried by American bulldogs. This mutation is found in many breeds of dog, though it is not clear for American bulldogs whether all dogs carrying two copies of the mutation will develop the disease. The variable presentation between breeds suggests that there are environmental or other genetic factors responsible for modifying disease expression. The average age of onset for dogs with degenerative myelopathy is approximately nine years of age. The disease affects the White Matter tissue of the spinal cord and is considered the canine equivalent to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) found in humans. Affected dogs usually present in adulthood with gradual muscle Atrophy and loss of coordination typically beginning in the hind limbs due to degeneration of the nerves. The condition is not typically painful for the dog, but will progress until the dog is no longer able to walk. The gait of dogs affected with degenerative myelopathy can be difficult to distinguish from the gait of dogs with hip dysplasia, arthritis of other joints of the hind limbs, or intervertebral disc disease. Late in the progression of disease, dogs may lose fecal and urinary continence and the forelimbs may be affected. Affected dogs may fully lose the ability to walk 6 months to 2 years after the onset of symptoms. Affected medium to large breed dogs, such as the American bulldog, can be difficult to manage and owners often elect euthanasia when their dog can no longer support weight in the hind limbs.
Breed-Specific Information for the American Bulldog
The Mutation of the SOD1 gene associated with degenerative myelopathy has been identified in American bulldogs. The overall frequency of this disease in the breed and approximate age of disease onset are unreported for American bulldogs. However, in one study of 39 American bulldogs tested, 5% were carriers of the mutation and 2.6% were at-risk.
Genetic testing of the SOD1 gene in American bulldogs will reliably determine whether a dog is a genetic Carrier of degenerative myelopathy. Degenerative Myelopathy is inherited in an Autosomal Recessive manner in dogs meaning that they must receive two copies of the mutated gene (one from each parent) to develop the disease. In general, carrier dogs do not have features of the disease but when bred with another carrier of the same Mutation, there is a risk of having affected pups. Each pup that is born to this pairing has a 25% chance of inheriting the disease and a 50% chance of inheriting one copy and being a carrier of the SOD1 gene mutation. Reliable genetic testing is important for determining breeding practices. Because symptoms may not appear until adulthood and some at-risk/affected dogs do not develop the disease, genetic testing should be performed before breeding. Until the exact modifying environmental or genetic factor is determined, genetic testing remains the only reliable way to detect neurological disease associated with this mutation prior to death. In order to eliminate this mutation from breeding lines and to avoid the potential of producing affected pups, breeding of known carriers to each other is not recommended. American bulldogs that are not carriers of the mutation have no increased risk of having affected pups.
There may be other causes of this condition in dogs and a normal result does not exclude a different mutation in this gene or any other gene that may result in a similar genetic disease or trait.
Awano T, Johnson GS, Wade CM, Katz ML, Johnson GC, Taylor JF, Perloski M, Biagi T, Baranowska I, Long S, March PA, Olby NJ, Shelton GD, Khan S, O'Brien DP, Lindblad-Toh K, Coates JR. Genome-wide association analysis reveals a SOD1 mutation in canine degenerative myelopathy that resembles amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Feb 24; 106(8):2794-9.
Coates JR, March PA, Oglesbee M, Ruaux CG, Olby NJ, Berghaus RD, O'Brien DP, Keating JH, Johnson GS, Williams DA. Clinical characterization of a familial degenerative myelopathy in Pembroke Welsh Corgi dogs. J Vet Intern Med. 2007 Nov-Dec; 21(6):1323-31.
Coates JR, Wininger FA. Canine degenerative myelopathy. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2010 Sep; 40(5):929-50.
Miller AD, Barber R, Porter BF, Peters RM, Kent M, Platt SR, Schatzberg SJ. Degenerative myelopathy in two Boxer dogs. Vet Pathol. 2009 Jul; 46(4):684-7.
Shaffer LG, Ramirez CJ, Sundin K, Carl C, Ballif BC (2015) Genetic screening and mutation identification in a rare canine breed, the Drentsche patrijshond. Vet Rec Case Rep. 3:e000185.
Shaffer LG, Ramirez CJ, Sundin K, Connell LB, Ballif BC (2016) Genetic screening and mutation identification in a rare canine breed, the Cesky fousek. Vet Rec Case Rep. 4:e000346.
Shelton GD, Johnson GC, O’Brien DP, Katz ML, Pesayco JP, Chang BJ, Mizisin AP, Coates JR. Degenerative myelopathy associated with a missense mutation in the superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) gene progresses to peripheral neuropathy in Pembroke Welsh Corgis and Boxers. J Neurol Sci. 2012 Jul 15;318(1-2):55-64.
Zeng R, Coates JR, Johnson GC, Hansen L, Awano T, Kolicheski A, Ivansson E, Perloski M, Lindblad-Toh K, O'Brien DP, Guo J, Katz ML, Johnson GS. Breed Distribution of SOD1 Alleles Previously Associated with Canine Degenerative Myelopathy. J Vet Intern Med. 2014 Feb 13. doi: 10.1111/jvim.12317.