Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is an autosomal nerve disease that affects the motor neurons of cats and dogs. These motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord are responsible for the movement of just about every part of the body including breathing, speaking, and swallowing.

This genetic disease causes the motor neurons in your pet’s spinal cord to die. Because the muscles stop receiving signals, over time the muscle slowly begin to degenerate. The signal loss and the muscle loss will cause your pet to have a weak and abnormal walk. 

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetically inherited disease caused by the presence of two carrier genes. To be born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy the animal needs to be born with two of the carrier genes.

The presence of one carrier gene and one non carrier gene (Normal gene) will not cause your pet to have Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Having only one carrier gene, your pet will only be a carrier of the gene that may be passed down to their offspring. By passing the gene to their offspring, their offspring will have a chance of inheriting the disease. Carriers have a 50% chance to pass along the carrier gene to their offspring. If two carriers mate there is a 25% chance that each pet in the litter will be born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Pets typically do not experience pain due to the disease, even at the more advanced stages.

Symptoms of Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Animals with spinal muscular atrophy usually start to show symptoms between 3 to 4 months and these signs are mostly:

  • Their back legs will usually be touching while standing.
  • A swinging, uneven walk in their back legs.

Even if the affected pet doesn’t show any changes in the beginning, the disease will gradually get worse and reduce their ability to walk, run and jump. This occurs a few months after it starts to show its first signs, usually at about 5 to 6 months. Muscle loss in their legs will be able to be noticed.

Other common symptoms animals with spinal muscular atrophy show after the first signs are:

  • Unusual posture
  • Muscle mass loss
  • Leg weakness, especially in the rear legs
  • Not wanting to play or exercise

Treatment for Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Because spinal muscular atrophy is a genetically inherited disease, there is no way to cure it. Treatments can still be done to help your pet live a happy and longer life. 

There are only a few treatments for this disease, but none worth mentioning because they don’t slow or reverse progression of the disease.

Prevention of Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Spinal muscular atrophy is a genetically inherited disease, and the only way to prevent the disease is to prevent carriers of the disease from breeding. 

If your pet shows any signs of spinal muscular disease, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian and get your pet checked. If they do have spinal muscular atrophy, not breeding them will be the best way to stop the spread of this disease.

Related Questions

Is There a Test for Spinal Muscular Atrophy?

Yes, there is a test for the disease and it will cost about $40. The test will identify if your pet has the disease or is a carrier of it. It has about a two week turnaround time for the results.

How Long can Animals with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Live?

Most cats and dogs with spinal muscular atrophy can live a relatively long life. The disease will still get worse and eventually lead to their death. The life expectancy of pets with spinal muscular atrophy is 8 to 9 years.

Can Spinal Muscular Atrophy be Cured?

Medications to cure spinal muscular atrophy in animals have not been discovered, even if treatments for humans are being discovered. Treatments that work for humans don’t work for pets.