When faced with a particularly difficult challenge in life, I have always felt the best weapon of combat is knowledge. Along with that is keeping a positive attitude.
As a physical therapist, dealing with canine patients diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy is both rewarding and heart wrenching.
Keeping dog parents informed and equipped with management tools is essential to optimization of the condition.
Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a PAINLESS, chronic, slowly progressive weakening starting in the hind limbs and lumbar region.
There is diffuse muscle atrophy (wasting), the paws begin to “knuckle under”, the legs drag with a loss of coordination, and walking becomes very difficult. It tends to progress over 5-6 months. It is most common in certain breeds of dogs such a German Shepherds, Welsh Corgis, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Boxers, Collies, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Typically appears at 7-14 years of age.
The diagnosis is “by exclusion” in ruling out other causes.
Radiographs (x-rays) will be negative for dysplasia, IVDD, arthritis, tumors. In the near future, the diagnosis may be more definitive through the emergence of a blood test that detects genetic markers for the condition. OFA may be able to provide some DNA testing information for you, your breeder and Veterinarian.
DM is quite similar to multiple sclerosis in human beings
Some dogs experience a form of it similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) that includes loss of function of the cranial nerves which control swallowing, facial movements, etc..
The cause is unknown although recent research has found a possible genetic link through a mutated gene. The mechanism is non-inflammatory and “demyelinating” (stripping) of the nerves in the spinal cord.
DM is thought to be auto-immune in origin whereby the immune system attacks the myelin sheath.
This is the outer covering of nerves, like insulation over electrical wires, so when it is stripped or covered in plaques; the nerve communication is decreased (similar to when your computer slows down because of ‘noise “on your cable).
The bad news is that at the present time there is no cure for DM.
The good news is that the disease is not painful for the dog and is generally harder on the dog parents than the dog.
There are many decisions that have to be made at various stages of the disease regarding the dog’s’ and the family’s maximum quality of life. If the family stays involved in the decision process, and can provide the best possible canine care, the dog will generally stay content and happy.
I can’t stress enough the importance of a commitment from the family.
Because DM is a difficult condition to manage, it is best shared by various family members who form a” care-giving team”. For older members, it can provide a routine and fulfillment. For younger family and kids, it can build responsibility. If everyone pitches in, the workload will be less and the dog will feel like a superstar. The family will also need a reality check as to goals, and be prepared to face regression.
Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program. She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.
She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.
She also provides pro bono services each week to a shelter and sanctuary for neglected and abused animals. Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”. For more information see her website www.joycareonsite.com , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.
Doggie Essentials/Quality Sanitary Products
Scout's House/Non-Slip Pet Socks
Help'Em Up Harness
Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World
Reiki: Is it real?
Dog Lessons: Cooper
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer