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Monday, April 7, 2014
Does Your Dog Have Canine Degenerative Myelopathy?
My doggie Sebastian was diagnosed with this disease just a couple of weeks ago, however, I knew something was wrong for a while.
He was scuffling his back feet when we walked, he had a hard time standing back up after sitting down, and he was starting to poop in his sleep.
My doggie is 13-1/2 years old so I decided to start trying to figure out what this was long before the vet diagnosed him. My doggie is a Yellow Lab so it can affect a lot of different breeds.
There are things that I have done that will help him. I recently purchased a "Help Em Up" harness (seen in picture). This harness can stay on your doggie so you can help him up or down when he needs it. I have also purchased "doggie diapers" to help with his incontinence. These are just a few things that I did to help my doggie with this disease but each dog is different so doing some research and asking questions is always a good idea.
There is also a group on Facebook that you can join that you can talk to other dog owners who are going through CDRM also. They have great suggestions and ideas that might be helpful to you.
So, let's discuss what this disease is so we can understand it.
What is this disease?
Canine Degenerative Myleopathy, also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy, is an incurable, progressive disease of the canine spinal cord. Onset is typically after the age of 7 years and it is seen most frequently in the German Shepherd, Pembroke Welsch Corgi, and Boxer, though the disorder is strongly associated with a gene mutation that has been found in 43 breeds as of 2008. Progressive weakness and incoordination of the rear limbs are often the first signs seen in affected dogs, with progression over time to complete paralysis. Myelin is an insulating sheath around the neurons in the spinal cord. One proposed cause of degenerative myelopathy is that the immune system attacks this sheath, breaking it down. This results in a loss of communication between nerves in lower body of the animal and the brain.
Can we test for this?
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals has a DNA saliva test to screen for the mutated gene that has been seen in dogs with degenerative myelopathy. Now that a test is available the disease can be bred out of breeds with a high preponderance. The test is only recommended for predisposed breeds, but can be performed on DNA from any dog on samples collected through swabbing the inside of the animal's cheek with a sterile cotton swab or through venipuncture. The test determines whether the mutated copy of SOD1 is present in the DNA sample submitted. It must be interpreted with caution by a veterinary clinician in combination with the animal's clinical signs and other lab test results.
What are the Symptoms?
Degenerative myelopathy initially affects the back legs and causes muscle weakness and loss, and lack of coordination. These cause a staggering affect that may appear to be arthritis. The dog may drag one or both rear paws when it walks. This dragging can cause the nails of one foot to be worn down. The condition may lead to extensive paralysis of the back legs. As the disease progresses, the animal may display symptoms such as incontinence and has considerable difficulties with both balance and walking. If allowed to progress, the animal will show front limb involvement and extensive muscle atrophy and paralysis. Eventually cranial nerve or respiratory muscle involvement necessitates euthanasia or long term palliative care. Progression of the disease is generally slow but highly variable. The animal could be crippled within a few months, or may survive as long as 3 years of more.
Is there Treatment?
Degenerative myelopathy is an irreversible, progressive disease that cannot be cured. There are no treatments that have been clearly shown to stop or slow progression of DM.
What Can I Do?
Exercise has been recommended to maintain the dog's ability to walk. Physiotherapy may prolong the length of time that the dog remains mobile and increase survival time. Canine Hydrotherapy (swimming) may be more useful than walking. Use of a belly sling or hand-held harness allows the handler the ability to support the dog's hind legs for exercising or going up and down stairs. A 2-wheel dog cart, or "dog wheelchair" can allow the dog to remain active and maintain its quality of life once signs of weakness or paralysis of the hind limbs is detected.
This disease is progressive so it is important that you take the steps needed to keep your doggie comfortable until the end. As pet parents, we promised to love them their whole lives, so take care of your pups any way you can during this time.