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Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) in Dogs

Myoclonus in Dogs

Myoclonus in canines refers to a condition where a section of a muscle, an entire muscle, or a set of muscles contracts involuntarily, repetitively, and rhythmically, often occurring up to 60 times per minute, including during sleep. These irregular contractions stem from nervous system dysfunction and typically impact muscle groups related to chewing and/or the skeletal muscles of the limbs. While myoclonus is also observed in felines, it is infrequent.

Symptoms and Types

The most prevalent sign to watch for is the involuntary, continuous, coarse, and rhythmic contractions of a muscle, portion of a muscle, or group of muscles. However, there are additional symptoms exhibited by your dog that are linked to the underlying disease responsible for myoclonus.


The primary cause of myoclonus in dogs is typically canine distemper, although it can also result from drug-induced reactions or lead poisoning. Additionally, myoclonus can be a congenital condition, frequently observed in Labrador retrievers and Dalmatians.


To diagnose your dog, provide a detailed history of its health, including recent illnesses and observed symptoms. The veterinarian will then conduct a comprehensive physical examination, along with tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. These tests may reveal abnormalities linked to the underlying cause, such as inflammation of the brain and spinal cord (encephalomyelitis). Additionally, the veterinarian may collect a sample of your dog’s cerebrospinal fluid or perform an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to further evaluate the condition.


The treatment approach for myoclonus varies depending on the underlying cause of the disorder. Dogs with inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, for instance, may receive medication aimed at reducing swelling. Regrettably, dogs experiencing severe and chronic myoclonus endure significant suffering. In such cases, your veterinarian may suggest euthanasia as a compassionate option.

Living and Management

Myoclonus typically persists indefinitely, although periods of remission are possible. Dogs affected by myoclonus following infection with the canine distemper virus often have a poor prognosis. Monitor closely for any symptoms related to the treatment of brain and spinal cord inflammation, and promptly contact your veterinarian if they worsen. Depending on the severity of the disease, your dog may require dietary adjustments or restrictions on movement.

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