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Muscular Dystrophy in Labrador Retrievers

Let’s  Discuss Muscular Dystrophy In Labrador Retrievers

Our furry friends are more than just pets, they’re our family. We truly love them, and we care for their health and wellbeing the same way we would for our human relatives. Unfortunately, our dogs are just as vulnerable to certain diseases as we are, and dealing with a sick pet can be a hard thing. One such disease that can afflict our furry friends is Muscular dystrophy (MD), a disease you may have heard about in humans but didn’t necessarily realize can afflict our furry companions as well.

What is Muscular Dystrophy?

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a group of diseases that causes dogs to experience progressive weakness and loss of muscle tissue. In Labradors, this weakness is a result of abnormally low levels of dystrophyin, a protein that is necessary for the proper functioning of the muscles. Labradors with MD show symptoms such as an abnormal gait, strange posture, inability to exercise and/or sudden collapse. MD is inherited genetically, and the condition typically becomes apparent in younger Labs between the ages of three and four months, although it can take up to a year to fully present itself. There is no known cure for muscular dystrophy; however, with proper diagnosis and treatment, the progression of the disease can be slowed, allowing the Lab to have a somewhat normal life.

What Causes Muscular Dystrophy in Labrador Retrievers?

Muscular dystrophy is a congenital disease, or a disease that occurs at or before birth. The deficiency of the dystrophyin protein results from an inherited defect and is not the direct cause of any type of behavioral or environmental factor.

Muscular dystrophy is passed down through the x-chromosome only, which results in a much higher rate of occurrence and severity in males. Male dogs may inherit the disease if either one of their parents carries the defective x-chromosome; however, female dogs will only show symptoms of the disease if they inherit the gene from both parents. If female dogs inherit the defective gene from only one of their parents, they may not show signs of the disease but may still be able to pass the disease on to their offspring.

Responsible breeders will remove Labs with the defective gene from the breeding pool as soon as it becomes apparent; however, it can still be passed down due to female carriers of the breed that do not show symptoms as well as irresponsible breeders. Unfortunately, the disease has not yet been eliminated from the breed as a whole and continues to afflict new Labs each and every year.

What are the Symptoms of Muscular Dystrophy in Labradors?

As MD is a congenital disease, symptoms typically occur quite early in life. Most Labradors will shows signs of the disease between three and four months of age, although it can take up to a year for the condition to fully develop.

Symptoms include lethargy, depression, the inability to exercise and abnormal posture such as a severely swayed back or drooping head and neck. You may also notice an abnormal gait or the inability to walk, run or jump altogether in the dog. A Lab with MD may experience excessive drooling due to an increased mass of muscles on the tongue, which can also make it difficult for the dog to swallow. In extreme cases, dogs will experience muscle spasms, tremors and even heart failure.

How Do You Diagnose Muscular Dystrophy in Labradors?

Before an official diagnosis is given, the history of the dog’s health will be examined, including the timeframe for the onset of symptoms. The dog will also undergo a rigorous physical examination to determine the underlying cause of the symptoms he/she is experiencing. The Veterinarian will also order a urinalysis and complete blood profile to check for increased levels of the creatine kinase enzyme and/or liver enzymes, which can indicate the deficiency in dystrophyin while simultaneously ruling out other causes for muscular weakness.

If there is still some question as to the diagnosis of the Lab, a biopsy of the weakened muscle tissue may be taken for analysis. This is the most effective test for coming up with the right diagnosis as it allows the pathologist to detect abnormal levels of dystrophyin in the dog; however, it is an invasive procedure that only should be completed if other tests are not producing a sufficient diagnosis.

How Do You Treat Muscular Dystrophy in Labradors ?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for MD in Labs. The only way to deal with muscular dystrophy at present is to manage the symptoms and attempt to slow and lessen the progression of the disease. For instance, supplements such as L-carnitine are given to dogs with MD to improve muscle strength and function. Steroid hormones are also commonly used to attempt to slow the degeneration of the muscles; however, the effectiveness of these treatments is still questionable and only serve to slow the progression of the disease in an attempt to give the dog a normal life.

There is hope on the horizon, however. Recent stem cell research has made some progress towards treating the disease and may be the beginnings of a cure. In the study by an Italian research team, dogs with MD who were implanted with healthy stem cells showed signs of increased levels of the dystrophyin protein. The research is still very young and the prognosis for dogs with the disorder is still poor, but this study and others like it are bringing hope that a cure is possible.

The best course of action to combat muscular dystrophy in Labs right now is prevention. Labradors with the defective gene or a history of muscular dystrophy in the family must not be allowed to breed any further. Dog breeders must take responsibility so that this terrible disease can be eliminated from the gene pool once and for all.

What Is The Prognosis For a Labrador With Muscular Dystrophy ?

Unfortunately, Labs with muscular dystrophy do not face the best prognosis. Some will die within days of birth due to their inability to suckle and/or become mobile. Others will be able to have somewhat normal lives, although they may have to have special accommodations made for them to live comfortably. Labradors with muscular dystrophy face a shorter life expectancy than the breed standard as they are prone to experiencing other diseases such as pneumonia and cardiac disease. As a responsible and loving pet owner, you should be highly aware of these secondary diseases and contact the vet immediately if your dog shows signs of being ill. However, with a loving home that is willing to make accommodations for a dog with muscular dystrophy, Labs with the condition can live happy and fulfilling lives.


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