While there is no standard treatment for degenerative myelopathy (DM), a neurologic disorder that causes muscle weakness and paralysis, there are valuable alternative or holistic therapies available.
Inheritance Pattern: Canine DM is an inherited progressive disease of the spinal cord that begins with weakness in the rear legs and, ultimately, paralysis of all four legs. To be affected, a dog must inherit 2 copies of the gene. Dogs with one copy are not affected but can pass the gene onto offspring. If two carriers are mated, the odds of producing an affected offspring is 25%. Genetic testing is available to determine if a dog is at risk of being affected (carries 2 mutant genes), is a carrier (carries one mutant gene), or is clear of the gene (carries no mutant genes). The age at onset of DM is 8 to 13 years, but some dogs develop symptoms at a younger age and others at an older age.
Breeds Affected: Approximately 43 different breeds have been found to be at risk. The highest risk is in German Shepherd Dogs. Other affected breeds are the Belgian Sheepdog, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Great Pyrenees, Labrador Retriever, Old English Sheepdog, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Weimaraner, Welsh Corgi (Pembroke and Cardigan), Poodle, Boxer, Kerry Blue Terrier, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, and Wire Fox Terrier, among others.
Disease progression: In dogs with DM, symptoms are typically seen in one back limb, then the other. The first indication of a problem may be dragging of a foot, lack of coordination, or wobbliness. Then the thigh muscles begin to shrink, the tail may be limp, and the dog may have difficulty standing. Within 6 to 12 months of initial symptoms, the disease progresses and the dog is unable to walk (paraplegic). As DM progresses, the dog may become incontinent of urine and stool and develop weakness in the front legs. The disease itself is not thought to cause pain, but biomechanical stress, resulting from attempts to compensate for the paralysis, can be a cause of discomfort.
Pathology: DM is an inflammatory immune-mediated disease, in which the dog’s immune system attacks his nervous system causing damage to the insulation (myelin sheath) that surrounds the nerves of the spinal column and then loss of the actual nerve fibers. It typically begins in the thoracic (chest) portion of the spinal column and then progresses. As a result, movement commands from the brain to the limbs and sensory (feeling or touch) information from the limbs to the brain are blocked. DM has many similarities to multiple sclerosis (MS) seen in humans.
Diagnosis: There are no tests to confirm a clinical diagnosis of DM. It is typically diagnosed when other possibilities are ruled out (i.e., it is a diagnosis of exclusion). Conditions that may present with similar symptoms are disc diseases of the spine (e.g., herniated disc), infection, injury, tumors, cysts, and stroke. An x-ray, CAT scan, MRI or myelogram can be used to rule out most of these other conditions. If DM is suspected, a blood sample can be tested for the mutant gene.
Treatment: There is no conventional veterinary treatment for DM. Supportive care and management of disease-related complications (e.g., urinary conditions, weight gain, loss of muscle mass, pressure sores) are key to maintaining quality of life. The most commonly cited management recommendations are aimed at maintaining muscle mass and strength and include regular exercise (e.g., walking to maintain muscle mass, various forms of physical therapy), hydrotherapy, cold laser therapy, and massage. Acupuncture may also be helpful. There are also a variety of devices (slings, harnesses, carts, etc) to assist with mobility as the disease progresses.
Feeding a species appropriate raw food diet is the foundation of support for a dog with DM, as diet can help control inflammation and strengthen the immune system. Two supplements may be of help in slowing disease progression. Aminocaproic acid and N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Other potentially helpful supplements include vitamin E (with selenium), Vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, ubiquinol, bromelain, lecithin, super oxide dismutase, ginseng, gingko, omega-3 fatty acids, and gamma linolenic acid. Many of these supplements can be obtained naturally from fresh foods in a raw food diet.
Treatment Horizon: Bioenergetic therapies offer an interesting potential for new DM treatments. These therapies identify and address the source cause of disease and guide the body’s innate healing potential. The NES Health Total WellNES System probes the human body field to identify the bio energetic and bio informational distortions that may underlie physical issues. While theoretically helpful, there are no data demonstrating the efficacy of the NES system in DM. Another technology, Bemer, uses electromagnetic energy to enhance general blood flow; the body’s nutrient and oxygen supply and waste disposal; and physical fitness, endurance, strength and energy. Thus, Bemer has the potential to support the body to counter muscular atrophy and neurodegenerative diseases. Studies show that Bemer improves symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis, with bears important similarities with DM.
The following links have information on DM and related topics discussed above.