Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), is a disease that causes progressive deterioration of the spinal cord in older dogs, eventually resulting in total rear end paralysis.


  • Loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs
  • Wobbling when walking, rear feet dragging and ‘knuckling’ of toes, worn nails
  • Hind end weakness (failing back legs), tremors of rear legs
  • Difficulty rising, walking up steps, getting in the car or squatting to defecate
  • Weakness can initially occur in one hind limb but both will become affected
  • Loss of urinary and faecal continence
  • Weakness to front legs

This condition is associated with a number of breeds and Wheatens can also be affected.

It is thought to be genetic in nature, being caused by a gene mutation, and a DNA test is now available to identify this gene following research carried out at the Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine by Dr Gary Johnson and others.

In spring 2009 an article published in “Wheaten Health News” by The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America (SCWTCA), stated that as part of the DM research at Missouri, DNA samples from 29 Wheaten Terriers were tested with none affected, i.e. carrying two copies of the mutated gene.
Of the sample, 5 (17%) had one copy and may be considered to be carriers, while the remaining 24 Wheatens tested as normal, with no mutated copies of the gene present.

Because this test has not been validated for Wheaten Terriers only further genetic testing of affected dogs will help with verification.

The article also indicated that research was continuing in an attempt to determine if environmental or other factors may also be involved in the development of DM.

PennGen Laboratories, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine are, from April 2020, offering genetic testing for Degenerative Myelopathy in Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers. Select this link for further details. (pdf - opens on new page.)

Articles and updates can be found in Health News and Benchmarks at the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America website.

If your dog is diagnosed with DM or ‘Failing Back Legs’, then please inform your Breeder and your Wheaten Club so that records may be kept to monitor this condition.

If you live in the UK, swabs for testing for the DM gene (Laboklin Laboratories) can be obtained from The SCWT Club of GB. Laboklin also offer this test in Europe and Scandinavia.

Please consider recording your Wheaten's results on the SCWTCA Endowment Health and Pedigree database. this will enable owners, breeders and researchers to monitor breed health.

December 2021 - Updates on tests at Missouri and a study at the University of Florida (USA) can be found on SCWTCA Endowment Final Newsletter on this pdf link (appears on Pages 2 and 3)

Further reading:

The Kennel Club (UK Kennel Club)

An owners story

Fitzpatrick Referrals

A report on the lecture presented at the WSAVA World Congress in November 2021 is on this link (pdf opens on a new page)

And an accompanying article by Brenda Bonnett, BSc, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Science Officer, International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD)

Here is a link to an infographic on IPFD DogWellNet facts on DM

Dogs Naturally Magazine