Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Proven Home Care Tips
Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs appears to be similar to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in humans and affects your dog’s brain and spinal cord nerves which results in your dog’s progressive disease… that means you’ll need to be prepared for expenses like physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, or a wheelchair and even worse you’ll be faced with challenges that include the physical and emotional burden to care for your handicapped dog.
This article gives you firsthand proven ways to successfully care for your dog with degenerative myelopathy (DM).
I hope Paul’s tips which are based his and his wife Sharon’s personal experience with Justice, their beloved Boxer, will answer your questions about how to care for your dog with this incurable disease.
What is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs?
According to Paul Konowicz, not much is known about the mechanism of DM. Paul says, like ALS, your dog’s muscles begin to lose nourishment and start to waste away or atrophy. Whether that means it’s an autoimmune disease or a generic one nobody’s sure just yet.
Something appears to attack the sheath around the nerves in your dog’s spine that prevents his nerves from working. It may also be inflammation that occurs because of a malfunctioning protein.
Surgery won’t help your dog with DM unless he has another condition like a tumor that could be removed at the same time.
This is Paul’s wish: “Hopefully scrupulous breeders will not breed dogs with DM genes.”
Symptoms and Types
Degenerative myelopathy affects your dog’s back legs and will start to cause muscle weakness and loss of coordination that could look like arthritis. Your dog may drag one or both of his rear paws when he walks.
Here are the symptoms and types of degenerative myelopathy:
- Paraplegia – Your dog can’t move his rear legs.
- Tetraplegia – Your dog can’t move all 4 of his legs.
- Dragging rear legs – Your dog walks with his front feet and drags his rear legs.
- Pain – Your dog shows stiffness and discomfort in his neck, spine or legs.
- Urination – Your dog may not be able to urinate or doesn’t have any control and dribbles his urine.
- Bowels – Your dog may not be able to control his bowel movements or may be constipated.
5 Common Causes of DM in Dogs
Canine degenerative myelopathy, a progressive and incurable disease, affects your dog’s spinal cord. You may notice symptoms in your dog after age 7. Dog breeds most prone to DM include German Shepherd, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and Boxer. A gene mutation associated with DM has also been found in over 40 breeds like the Rhodesian Ridgeback and Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
Among the dozens of causes of degenerative myelopathy, the result appears as a disconnect between your dog’s brain and his nerves in his lower body. Your dog may also experience blocked blood flow to his spine, inflammation of his nerves and muscles which leads to severe muscle weakness.
Here are 5 of the most common causes of DM in dogs:
- Slipped discs – Your dog could suffer a spinal injury in his back or develop an intervertebral disc disease that can result in paralysis.
- Infections – Your dog could get a bacterial or viral infection in his spine or brain that results in a miscommunication of nerves impulses.
- Tumors – Your dog can develop tumors or cancer in his spine or brain.
- Ticks – Paralysis can result from tick bites and lyme disease.
- Blockage – Fluid from your dog’s injured disc may settle in his spinal cord which creates a permanent embolism, or blockage.
Treatment for Degenerative Myelopathy to Effectively Manage Your Dog’s Health
Your specific treatment for DM in dogs will depend on the cause of your dog’s paralysis.
- If your dog is unable to walk, urinate, or defecate on its own, he will require extra daily management from you and your family.
- If your dog with DM has pain, your veterinarian can prescribe medication to help reduce his discomfort.
- If your dog can’t control his bladder, your vet may be able to fit him with a catheter that you’ll need to empty several times a day.
- To avoid bed sores, you’ll need to move your dog 3 or 4 times during the day so he’s not lying on one part of his body all day.
- DM in dogs can cause paralysis from an infection or slipped disc. If your dog is paralyzed, he can be diagnosed by your vet who can recommend solutions like medicine, physical therapy, aqua therapy or surgery to help manage your dog’s health.
- Ask your veterinarian about anti-inflammatory drugs and herbal remedies like aloe vera, arnica, grape seed extract and turmeric to relieve inflamed nerves.
- Surgery may be the best strategy to remove your dog’s tumors or open up your dog’s blocked veins. Your dog may recover quickly from surgery, however you should be prepared if your dog needs to stay in the hospital until he’s able to walk.
- Your veterinarian can help you with tips for home care and recovery for DM in dogs.
- Your dog can also be fitted with a custom wheelchair or cart for mobility so he can have a better quality of life.
Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: 9 Tips from Paul Konowicz to Help Care for Your Dog with DM
Paul says the best thing you can do is make sure your dog gets lots of exercise and physical therapy.
You can also choose from these 9 tips that worked for Paul and Sharon to care for their dog Justice:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs and supplements – Try N-acetylcysteine as an anti-inflammatory drug to help prevent oxidative damage to your dog’s spinal cord. First check with your vet before you use any medications for your dog.
- Assisi loop – This non-invasive, FDA cleared, evidence based therapy can be used for treatment of your dog’s pain and swelling with no side-effects.
- Genetic test – Ask for a genetic test to detect degenerative myelopathy in dogs from your breeder to see if your dog is prone to DM. The cost is about $200.
- Harness – Some of the most important things owners can do for their dog’s health and their own physical safety is to get a good harness for your dog. It will help your dog tremendously and help you prevent back pain or injuries when you lift your dog.
- Feet – Particular care about your dog’s feet is important to prevent sores. Your dog with DM will start curling his toes and eventually won’t be able to put his paws down flat. Your dog will also get cuts on the tops of his feet if you don’t protect them or use special shoes. Another symptom of degenerative myelopathy in dogs affects your dog’s ability to walk on slippery surfaces like wooden or tile floors. Early on, try “balloon” shoes to help your dog from slipping. Later on, special dog shoes are necessary to prevent your dog from dragging his feet and scraping them on pavement which will cause sores. Dog shoes need to be ordered and fitted by your veterinarian or physical therapist.
- Incontinence – Learn how to express your dog when he has incontinence issues. Fecal incontinence for Paul’s dog Justice didn’t seem to be an issue because his bowel movements just came out.
- Mattress – Paul recommends you get a cot with a mattress to cushion your dog and keep him off the ground. The cot will raise your dog 18 to 20 inches off your floor which is an enormous relief for your back especially if your dog is over 50 pounds. Paul bought a mattress with 2 inch memory foam for about $125. Degenerative myelopathy in dogs can take a toll on your dog’s body so you want to keep him as comfortable as possible.
- Urine, diapers and puppy pads – It’s important to keep your dog dry and free of urine scalds. This means you need to change your dog’s diapers at least 3 to 4 times daily and use baby wipes and cornstarch powder afterwards. Paul and Sharon used regular Degenerative diapers and a special dog waist wrap to secure Justice’s diaper. They placed Justice on puppy pads for him to poop. It is easier and less messy to just let the poop fall out. This is probably the most difficult task and it takes some getting used to. “However, your dog is like your child and you will do almost anything.”
- Dog Health Insurance – Finally, getting good dog health insurance is critical. You will have unexpected dog health expenses with your dog because of the progressive nature of degenerative myelopathy in dogs. The best strategy will be to get dog health insurance for your puppy before he develops any pre-existing conditions.
Now you have 9 proven tips to use to help care for your dog with DM thanks to Paul Konowicz, his wife Sharon and Justice. I hope you got value from this article so you can take better care of your dog with DM.
Share this article on degenerative myelopathy with your friends and family so they have these 9 helpful tips from Paul and Sharon to care for their dog
Our featured dog is Justice, a handsome Boxer who developed DM and lived in New England with his owners. Justice was able to use a custom designed wheelchair to help him walk and run around. I was sad to hear that Justice lost his battle with DM. Thankfully, Justice had loving owners who took care of him through every challenge.