Muscular dystrophy is a type of genetic disease that dogs, cats, humans, and a few other species can get. It is very serious, but you can still be there for your animal.
What Is Muscular Dystrophy?
Muscular dystrophy refers to any of a group of disorders in which low levels of the protein dystrophin causes progressive muscle degeneration. Which muscles are affected, when the disorder manifests, and how quickly the disease progresses depends on which of several possible genetic mutations the patient has.
In both cats and dogs, the most common forms of muscular dystrophy begin at birth or shortly thereafter. While the condition is very serious, animals who survive to adulthood can often live fairly well as indoor companion animals for a number of years.
Muscular Dystrophy in Dogs
In dogs, males are much more at risk than females, although females can be carriers and pass the mutation on to their sons. When females do get the disease, they often get a less severe form. Although muscular dystrophy is always rare, some breeds, particularly Golden Retrievers, are more at risk than others. Japanese Spitz dogs and Labrador Retrievers also have their own, even less common, versions of the disease. Signs and symptoms always involve weakening of the muscles.
Signs can include:
There is no way to prevent muscular dystrophy, other than to prevent dogs who could carry the gene from breeding. What happens to a sick dog depends largely on what form of the disease the pup has and how severe it is. Some puppies die within a few days, and many do not live to grow up. Heart failure and megaesophagus, which is a weakening and enlargement of the throat, are the most dangerous aspects of the disease. However, the progress of muscular dystrophy in dogs usually slows after the first year, so if a puppy has a mild enough form and can make that first birthday, chances are good for another few years at least.
Muscular Dystrophy in Cats
Cats also have several inherited diseases referred to as muscular dystrophy, although they are not necessarily the same as the one dogs get. One form of feline muscular dystrophy seems particularly similar to the most common human form. The Devon Rex and Sphynx cats are most at risk. The most common form in cats of any breed is hypertrophic muscular dystrophy. In this disease, the muscles get weaker but they also get much larger. The tongue might get so large it pokes out of the mouth. There are other forms as well, some of which are most common in males, others in females.
Diagnosing Muscular Dystrophy in Cats and Dogs
Most forms of muscular dystrophy in both cats and dogs appear very young. They may have trouble walking, breathing, or eating. Kittens may develop an odd posture and a hopping gait. Blood tests and a muscle biopsy confirm the diagnosis.
Treating Muscular Dystrophy in Cats and Dogs
Unfortunately, there is no cure, and no established treatment can slow the progression of the disease. Steroids help some animals remain functional longer. There is also some promising research being done with stem cells.
For now, however, treatment focuses on supporting the puppy or kitten’s general health and responding to any complications that arise. For example, both cats and dogs with muscular dystrophy are at very high risk of aspiration pneumonia, the result of inhaling saliva or food. You and your vet can work together to try to keep it from happening, and your vet can treat pneumonia if it does occur. Cats with muscular dystrophy often develop renal failure, and that, too, can be treated.
Muscular dystrophy is a sad and scary thing. The hope is that you can give your cat or dog as good a life as possible, in spite of the disease.
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