Caring for a DM Dog - Unconditional Love
In the beginning
Degenerative Myelopathy is disease that is much like MS in people except that it attacks the nervous system of dogs, primarily German Shepherd Dogs.
Kendall was just 8 when we noticed an occasional stumble. She was otherwise in great shape, very athletic, nimble and 'sweet' was often the word that was used to describe her.
Kendall was diagnosed in 2002. At that time, there was very little written or known about the disease. There was really only one expert on the subject. To date, there is still not much new written. My hope is that this will help guide others to care for their dogs who come down with this horrible disease. Kendall lived with this disease for 3.5 years that we know of.
In the beginning, it was an occasional trip or stumble. Then we noticed Kendall was dragging her toe when she ran. Then there was the sore on her ankle that we thought was due to banging it. It was later that we discovered the wound was self inflicted. Kendall was biting at her ankles because of the tingling and numbness in her feet. Kendall was showing moderate signs of the disease for about 9 months before the signs were severe enough to take her to the vet. First we x-rayed. Then we took her for an MRI to rule out a correctible disc problem. Unforturnately, there was no correctible disc problem. So, by process of elimination, she was diagnosed with DM.
Caring for your DM dog
A practical guide
Every dog is different and their response to the disease and treatment is different. It isn't cheap and it isn't easy, but if your dog(s)like mine are your children, then you will do whatever you can to make them well, or keep the disease at bay as long as there is quality of life.
Exercise and nutrition are key. I firmly believe that the reason Kendall lived as long as she did is because she was in excellent physical shape before she got sick and was able to exercise up until 2 days before she passed away 3.5 years later. Some dogs will go into remission with treatment. Kendall never did. There was a slow, steady progression to her disease from the day of that first stumble. She had good days and bad but the progression of the disease never stopped, as with some dogs. Unlike most DM dogs, other then a few foot infections, Kendall was otherwise healthly throughout her illness. We were told, DM won't kill her, something else will. It is an auto immune disease and her organs will fail or some other disease will attack her and her system won't be able to fight it. Well, no other diseases attacked or took hold. When Kendall had lost the use of both her back and front legs and could barely prop her head up without assistance, we knew it was time and we had her euthanized.
Exercise is the key and starting your dog on supplements as soon as you suspect DM may be the difference in the quality of life in your dog and for you as the caretaker.
We were lucky, Kendall was only about 60 pounds and we were able to pick her up and carry her around. I don't know what I would have done if she were 100 lbs. You will need to have physical strength to help your dog walk with a sling, lift them into a cart, or in our case, carry her up and down the stairs.
Following will be a list of things to do for your dog (and for you) and links to places where you can purchase special items to help. I will also provide links to places where you can purchase items at a discount. There are some places where you can skimp and others where you shouldn't. I will attempt to provide guidance so that you can provide the best possible care at the lowest cost.
I am not a veterinarian (although I wanted to be for many years). I cannot give medical advise...but, I learned a lot in the 3+ years of caring for Kendall and want to be able to share my experience with others. Your vet may not agree with some of my statements. It is up to you and your vet to decide the best course for your dog.
Words of Advise and things to remember - A brain dump from 3 years of dealing with this disease every day.
Here is a list of things you should do, items you should buy, supplements you should give your dog, things to remember. It will evolve over time as I try to remember. I will also add tips I hear from others on what worked for them.
- Every dog is unique and their response to love, care, medications, exercise are different. As hard as it is, you need to remain positive and happy and like Kendall, there is a good chance your dog will remain positive and happy.
- Exercise and keeping/getting your dog in shape is the number 1 best thing you can do for them.
- Diet is very important. It may not be practical for you to make your dogs food as recommended in the Clemmons article. If not practical, as in my case, I recommend a high quality lamb and rice food (Nutro is the brand I used)
- Immunizations are important, but they could kill a DM dog. Before immunizing a dog with DM, have the vet check their titer levels. Since this disease usually strikes dogs that are a little older, chances are their titer levels are high and risk of catching rabies or distemper are low. Again, each situation is different. Check with your veternarian.
- Heartworm - protecting your dog from Heartworm is extremely important. Because a DM dogs' system is in a compromised state, the monthly heartworm medications are not recommended. A lighter daily medication is preferred.
- Flea and Tick Treatments - it is important to protect your DM dog from these critters that can make your dog sick, however, some of the treatments can be caustic to a DM dog. Therefore, I recommend natural alternatives like garlic pills and shampoos with melaleuca oil that act as natural repellents.
- Incontinance - over time, the muscles around the bladder/ureter/urethra will lose their strength. Doggie diapers work pretty well. I recommend you buy two pair so you can wash one while your dog is wearing the other. However, don't buy the doggie pads. They don't hold enough. They are fine for a little dribble, but not much more. Plus, they are very expensive panty liners. Instead, I recommend buying the incontinance pads for people that are cupped and hold a lot of volume. You can buy them in bulk at Sam's club or other warehouse stores. It is not good to leave them on your dog all the time though, as they will get urine burn. We used diapers only when visiting someone elses house. We used piddle pads on Kendall's bed and changed them every time she went. I also recommend that you get Baby Wipes or similar product in bulk again at Sam's or other warehouse store to keep your pet clean and disease free.
- Supplements - Supplementation is also very important in keeping your DM dogs immune system strong. Supplements should be introduced gradually so your dog can adjust. Kendall was on a 4 prescription meds and several supplements over the course of her illness. Her bloodwork was remarkable as a result and we feel strongly that is why she lived as long as she did.
Following are the supplements that Kendall took: (see link in links section)
- Vitamin C - Timed released are best. If not, a lower dose twice a day with food is better than a higher dose 250 mg 2 times daily. (the time released didn't upset her system as much).
- Vitamin E - softgels 400 IU, 2 times daily
- Choline - Capsules 350 mg 2 times daily
- Acidolphilus - capsules 300 mg, 2 times daily
- Flax seed oil - soft gel 2 times daily
- Glucosomine HCL - 500 mg 2 times daily
- Lecithin - 1200 mg 2 times daily
- Mega Tabs - 1 tab 2 times daily. (brewers yeast and B vitamins)-see link to Drs. Foster and Smith below.
Resource Links - Product and information links
Following are links to articles, websites, stores, and other resources to help you care for your DM dog.
I found that most times, human vitamins through Drugstore.com were much more affordable than purchasing vitamins through pet outlets. The following supplements we used were available at Drugstore.com: Vitamin C (Nature Made Vitamin C, 500mg, Time Re
- Dr. Clemmons article
Dr. Clemmons is the veterinarian that has studied this disease the longest. His paper served as our guide in treating Kendall. We didn't follow everything (didn't make our own dog food) but we followed as closely as possible. Even though dated, this
- Muttluks Dog Boots
One of the first things to happen with DM is your dog will drag it's back feet. We tried several brands of boots and Muttluks held up the best of all. They have leather bottoms, so we had special boots for swimming that were not leather and muttluks
- Hartman's Harness
This special harness has a handle in the rear for you to support your dog while it continues to walk on it's front legs. This harness was a lifesaver. I would recommend buying two so you have a clean one to use while you wash the other.
- Walkabout Harnesses
The Walkabout harness wasn't invented yet when Kendall had DM. This is another great alternative to help your DM dog, especially in the early stages of disease when only the back end are impaired. This company also sells boots, belly harnesses and ot
- Eddies Wheels - carts for dogs
Providing a wheel cart for your dog will allow your dog to run and play even after they lose the use of their back legs. It took only two or three times for Kendall to get used to her cart. She got really good at chasing down her tennis ball and scoo
- River Meadow Farm | Stewart Equine Clinic
Fitness of your DM dog is probably more important then anything else you can do. Not only does it keep the muscles strong, it is good for a dog's spirit, especially a working dog like a German Shepherd. Kendall swam, and did the underwater treadmill
- West Lab Pharmacy
As outlined in Dr. Clemmons article, two promising medications in the treatment of DM are aminocaproic acid (EACA) and n-acetylcysteine (NAC). This is the only pharmacy I know that makes these. You need to get the prescription from your local vet. We
- Pet Memorials
Pet memorials online, rainbow bridge poem, and other resources to help during this painful loss.
- Drs. Foster and Smiths - Mega Tabs
- Brewers Yeast supplement with biotin and B complex vitamins - Natural source of protein and B vitamins - an ideal source of biotin as well as other B-complex vitamins. - it is a natural source of B-complex vitamins, which support the nervous system
Great Stuff on Amazon
If you have information to supplement what I have listed, let me know and I will update my sources, lists, info etc.