empress of the beach

May 2006

My female 9 year old German Shepherd Dog has Degenerative Myelopathy (or, ‘almost certainly has’ as this is a disease of exclusion and can not be 100% confirmed except by autopsy).

If you have never heard of DM before, there are excellent links that provide a quick overview– the short video at the Canine Health Foundation (American Kennel Club website) is a non-technical, non-breed specific and easy to understand introduction. From there, the other links provide more detailed general information about the DM from veterinary neurologists and neurosurgeons, as well as links to research programs at veterinary colleges, including the only treatment hope offered that may stabilize the disease in some dogs– the U. of Florida Veterinary Neurology Department. This list of links is not intended to be inclusive but will include a few that are not most commonly found without a good search. If anyone knows of links to veterinary colleges or research in other countries, please let me know. Some bibliographic material with abstracts can be found online but few published articles in complete form, are easily available for those outside the veterinary community. Public libraries or university libraries can offer further assistance.

For those with dogs that may have DM, there are support groups online that can be sought for practical assistance and ideas about caring for your dog as well as general support from others who have gone through this devastating disease with a best friend or working companion. Seek out these resources and you will find a wealth of information from the experience of others and you will find links in the Blogroll that provide keys to finding these resources as well as information about databases and blood tests now available to assist in diagnosis. The dog owner needs to keep an open mind and it goes without saying, use basic common sense in evaluating sources of information that is available on the internet. Know who is publishing the information and why– be very skeptical of magical ‘devices’ that actually claim to ‘cure’ everything from hip dysplasia to DM to cancer. Gain practical knowledge and support those doing legitimate research. If you have a dog that is showing problems that ‘could’ be attributed to DM, this may not be DM at all, even if your vet says so on a quick examination– have this checked out and if possible to visit a veterinary neurologist, at least get a basic neurological exam.

Canines add quality to our lives whether it’s a companion in the home, service and assistance dogs in support of our communities, and even discoveries that benefit human health. Perhaps clues from DM research will add another perspective to our understanding of auto-immune or demyelinating diseases such as MS in humans.

My pup girl is a bright, solid temperment, high drive and talented working dog who never needed veterinary care for anything in her life but for routine check ups, OFA certification x-rays, and minimal vaccination protocol including rabies every three years so we could travel between the US and Canada. Her first geriatric blood panel in December of last year was excellent– she was raw fed from 7 months of age. She is progressively losing the use of her rear legs and although she is mobile, things are changing– she can trot and ‘gallop’ quite fast, chase squirrels and birds out of her backyard, but she’s feeling not good about the changes in her body.

Walking is harder, walking after being confined for a time such as a car ride or after a night’s sleep, takes a little more effort. DM itself, is not a painful condition– those seeing a DM dog often do not understand this as the dog wobbles or can’t walk smoothly. But they can twist their backs and legs as they no longer know where they are placing their feet and the onset of the disease occurs when a dog is older and likely has some arthritis, or the DM is combined with injuries from working careers or general sporting wear and tear on joints. The owner has to be aware of this and be aware of days that a dog may experience pain or over exertion of muscles and the feet and lower legs can take a beating as they scrape the ground. There are good days, and not as good days. A little physical support goes a long way. Photos will explain a lot and more will be added– now the rest of the blog will focus mainly on the pup and good days.

And no– she does not have hip dysplasia!!   The common first thought of the general public– if DM could be as widely known, perhaps there could be better support for a cure.