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a tough spot: petplan pet insurance examines dalmatian leukodystrophy

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


If you have a Dalmatian, you’ll want to pay close attention today as we discuss hereditary cavitating leukodystrophy, otherwise known as Dalmatian leukodystrophy.  Though it’s extremely rare, knowing a little bit about the disease may help you recognize it or similar conditions.

Leukodystrophies are diffuse central nervous system diseases that affect the myelin sheaths.  Myelin is a fatty substance that forms around nerves in a sheath. It acts primarily as an electrical insulator as it speeds the conduction of nerve impulses along the nerve to the intended target. 

Leukodystrophies result in a gradual loss of myelin in the brain and spinal cord. As the amount of myelin decreases, the conduction of signals along the nerve is impaired and eventually lost. Eventually, the nerve itself begins to wither away. This is detrimental because without nerves telling our muscles how to behave, they will be unable to function.

Clinical signs of Dalmatian leukodystrophy are seen in puppies between the ages of three and six months old. What may look like clumsiness or incoordination will turn into weakness in the limbs and progress to paralysis. Sometimes vision changes will also occur. Diagnosis can be made through muscle and nerve biopsies.

Another type of leukodystrophy, called globoid cell leukodystrophy, is inherited rarely in Cairn Terriers and West Highland White Terriers, and even more rarely in Irish setters, Australian Kelpies, and domestic shorthair cats.  Much like Dalmatian leukodystrophy, globoid cell leukodystrophy eventually results in paralysis, and dementia can also accompany this condition.

Luckily, these diseases are rare. Unluckily, there is no treatment for either. Supportive care should be pursued until quality of life is poor. Your veterinarian will help you decide when your pet’s condition has deteriorated to the point where humane euthanasia is the best choice, and Petplan pet insurance can help take the worry out of paying to keep your pet comfortable until that day comes. 

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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