Due to the lack of standardized medical treatment guidelines for patients diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), treatment is mainly supportive and palliative. Nutrition, exercise, therapy and mobility aides have all been recommended in managing DM dogs.
DM dogs in the early stages of the disease may benefit from diet supplements such as Vitamin E, Omega-3-fatty acids, Gamma linoleic acid and, L-Carnitine. These supplements are free radical scavengers that may help prevent nerve damage from free radical injury. This type of injury can occur due to the nature of the disease. Dogs with DM have a mutation in the gene encoding superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1), which results in overproduction of damaging reactive oxygen species (ROS). These ROS cause oxidative or free radical injury. See the Overview for more information on the genetics of DM.
Keeping the dog active has been shown to slow deterioration, so maintaining a regular walking and other exercise schedule is important. Consulting with a chartered physiotherapist with the aim of learning techniques to maximise remaining ability and neurological function has also been recommended.
If possible, hydrotherapy is also recommended, preferably also under the guidance of a chartered physiotherapist. If the dog has a degenerative joint disease, such as arthritis, or other spinal disease, then this should also be managed so that pain does not limit activity.
Several methods of handling DM dogs are not recommended. Never hold or attempt to hold a DM dog up by its tail. Holding a DM dog up, supporting it, or lifting it by the tail can break the tail and cause great harm to the dog. Towel walking, (placing a towel under a dog's abdomen to help carry a dog's hindquarters) is also not advised, as it can place pressure on the bladder, causing the dog to urinate. In addition, booties on the feet are not a good idea, due to the fact that booties interfere with foot placement and the conduction of nerve impulses. A DM dog with booties is apt to fall more often and suffer consequences such as cruciate ligament tears, knee injuries, disk injuries and further spinal damage.
Methods and aides that are recommended include walking the dog on grassy surfaces and using carts, rear end harnesses or Toe up Siatic slings.
Carts (or dog wheelchairs) are becoming increasingly more common at dog parks. While many people elect to euthanize their pet when the dog is unable to support themselves to stand or walk, some people feel that a quality of life can be maintained by using a canine cart. The dog can enjoy the outdoors, going for a walks and socializing. However depending on the size of the dog and coresponding cart, managing DM using canine carts can be problematic. If the DM dog's forelimbs are weak, then a cart is unlikely to be suitable option.
A canine cart for dogs with DM offers independent exercise and socialization.
Rear end harnesses allow lifting of the hindquarters into a position for correct foot placement. Rear end harnesses were created for the purpose of lifting a DM dog safely. Several different types of rear end harnesses are available:
The Bottoms Up Leash (left) and the Hartman Harness (center) have been recommended by DM dog guardians.
Toe up Siatic slings can improve the walking ability of some dogs. It is developed to assist those dogs who suffer from hind paw knuckling. The sling prevents knuckling by supporting the 2 centre digits, and is attached via an adjustable elastic cord to a strap on the hock.
A Toe up Siatic sling is pictured here (right).
Below is a video of Starine the German Shephard Dog, who suffers from degenerative myelopathy enjoying the outdoors and a bit of fetch in her new wheels.
Please contribute to this article! If you have a dog affected by DM, please send us your photos, videos and feedback so we can include them in our article. Videos and photos are particularly useful for demonstrating symptoms to new owners who may have to face this disease. Send us materials by uploading them to DogHeirs or by sending them directly to us at Team@DogHeirs.com
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