Myasthenia Gravis in Dogs

icon May 18, 2024

Understanding MG in dogs is essential for early diagnosis and effective management. This article delves into the symptoms, life expectancy, treatment options, causes, diagnostic procedures, feeding strategies, and the potential for reversal of myasthenia gravis in dogs.

What Is Myasthenia Gravis in Dogs?

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a complex and chronic neuromuscular disorder that affects both humans and animals. In dogs, this condition is characterized by weakness and rapid fatigue of voluntary muscles. Myasthenia gravis in dogs is a chronic neuromuscular disorder causing muscle weakness and fatigue due to impaired communication between nerves and muscles. This is often due to an autoimmune attack on acetylcholine receptors, leading to common symptoms like weakness, difficulty walking, and megaesophagus. It requires ongoing medical management and supportive care.

What Causes Myasthenia Gravis in Dogs?

Myasthenia gravis can be either congenital or acquired:

1. Congenital MG:
This form is inherited and typically presents in puppies. It is caused by a genetic defect that affects the neuromuscular junction.

2. Acquired MG:
This form is more common and occurs due to an autoimmune response where the dog's immune system attacks the acetylcholine receptors on the muscle surface, impairing communication between nerves and muscles. The exact cause of this autoimmune response is not always known but may involve genetic predisposition, infections, or other underlying autoimmune disorders.

Myasthenia Gravis in Dogs: Symptoms

The symptoms of myasthenia gravis in dogs can vary widely, but the most common signs include:

Muscle Weakness:
A hallmark of MG, this weakness often worsens with exercise and improves with rest. Affected dogs may exhibit a droopy head, difficulty walking, and an inability to climb stairs or jump.

This condition, where the esophagus enlarges and loses its ability to move food into the stomach, is prevalent in dogs with MG. It often leads to regurgitation and aspiration pneumonia.

Dogs with MG may tire quickly from physical activity, displaying a notable drop in stamina.

Facial Muscle Weakness:
Symptoms can include drooping eyelids (ptosis), difficulty swallowing, and changes in voice due to laryngeal weakness.

Respiratory Distress:
In severe cases, respiratory muscles can be affected, leading to breathing difficulties which require immediate veterinary attention.

Myasthenia Gravis in Dogs: Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of dogs diagnosed with myasthenia gravis varies and depends largely on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of the management strategies employed. With proper treatment and care, many dogs can lead relatively normal lives. However, complications like aspiration pneumonia due to megaesophagus can be life-threatening. Early diagnosis and consistent management are crucial in extending a dog’s life expectancy.

Myasthenia Gravis in Dogs: Treatment

Treating myasthenia gravis in dogs involves a multifaceted approach:

The mainstay of treatment is the use of anticholinesterase drugs, such as pyridostigmine, which help improve muscle strength by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine.

In cases where there is an immune-mediated component, corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs may be prescribed to reduce the immune system's attack on the neuromuscular junction.

Managing Megaesophagus:
Elevating the dog’s feeding position and providing small, frequent meals can help manage megaesophagus. Some dogs may require a feeding tube.

Physical Therapy:
Gentle exercise and physical therapy can help maintain muscle strength and function without overexerting the dog.

Monitoring for Complications:
Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to monitor for complications like aspiration pneumonia, which requires prompt treatment.

How to Test for Myasthenia Gravis in Dogs?

Diagnosing myasthenia gravis involves several steps:

1. Clinical Signs and History:
Veterinarians will first look at the dog's clinical signs and medical history.

2. Tensilon Test:
This involves the administration of edrophonium chloride (Tensilon), which temporarily increases muscle strength in dogs with MG.

3. Electrodiagnostic Testing:
Electromyography (EMG) can detect abnormalities in muscle electrical activity.

4. Acetylcholine Receptor Antibody Test:
Measuring the level of antibodies against acetylcholine receptors in the blood is a definitive test for acquired MG.

5. Radiography and Fluoroscopy:
These imaging techniques can assess the presence and severity of megaesophagus and check for aspiration pneumonia.

How to Feed A Dog with Myasthenia Gravis?

Feeding a dog with myasthenia gravis, especially those with megaesophagus, requires special care to prevent regurgitation and aspiration:

1. Elevated Feeding:
Feeding the dog in an upright position, such as using a Bailey chair, helps gravity move food down the esophagus.

2. Small, Frequent Meals:
Offering smaller, more frequent meals can reduce the workload on the esophagus and decrease the risk of regurgitation.

3. Consistency and Texture:
Some dogs do better with wet food or a slurry of blended food, while others may manage kibble better. The consistency that works best can vary.

4. Monitoring for Aspiration:
Careful observation during and after feeding is crucial to detect and address any signs of aspiration promptly.

Is There Any Pain with Myasthenia Gravis?

Myasthenia gravis itself is not typically painful, but the associated complications, such as muscle fatigue, weakness, and respiratory distress, can cause discomfort. Megaesophagus can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which is painful and requires urgent veterinary intervention. Proper management and treatment can minimize these discomforts and improve the dog’s quality of life.

Can Myasthenia Gravis Be Reversed?

Myasthenia gravis in dogs is generally considered a lifelong condition. While there is no cure, the symptoms can often be managed effectively with medication and supportive care. Some dogs with acquired MG may experience spontaneous remission, where the immune system's attack on acetylcholine receptors diminishes, leading to improved muscle function. However, this is not guaranteed, and ongoing treatment is typically required.


Myasthenia gravis in dogs is a challenging condition that requires a comprehensive approach for diagnosis and management. Early detection and consistent treatment can significantly improve the quality of life for affected dogs. By understanding the symptoms, implementing appropriate treatment and feeding strategies, and being vigilant about potential complications, dog owners can help their pets lead healthier and more comfortable lives despite the challenges posed by this condition. Regular veterinary care and a supportive home environment are key to successfully managing myasthenia gravis in dogs.

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