Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs and cats treatment options, recommended remedies and helpful information has been provided by certified Master Herbalist Philip Reich and certified Canine Nutritionist Maria Reich. Philip and Maria specialize in medical herbalism and nutrition for animals with conditions like degenerative myelopathy. They approach this situation in a holistic manner with the main priority being the health and safety of your animal.
Myelopathy is a disease of the spinal cord. It is often referred to as Degenerative Myelopathy because the condition is slowly progressive. It is an adult onset spinal cord disorder that affects dogs and is similar to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans.
This condition is believed to be caused by changes in the spinal cord, including damage to the surrounding myelin sheath, that is important to nerve transmission from the brain down the spinal cord. Damage to this nerve communication results in messages from the brain not traveling down the spinal cord to the rest of the body as they should.
When Does it Typically Occur?
Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease that comes on slowly. The disease typically begins to display between 5 and 14 years of age. It does not come on suddenly, so if there is a sudden onset of symptoms that mimic those of Degenerative Myelopathy then other disorders such as disk disease, disk herniation, spinal cord tumors, and FCE (a “stroke” in the spinal cord) should be investigated by a competent veterinary practitioner.
What are the Symptoms?
Initial symptoms include loss of coordination in rear limbs, wobbling when walking, rear feet knuckling under and/or dragging. Very often a clear sign is when the rear nails start to become very worn. A quick test you can perform at home is to gently bend a rear paw under so the knuckles are on the ground and see if your dog quickly readjusts his foot so the pad is back on the ground. Dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy will often not realize the paw is knuckled under or be very slow to set the paw properly on the ground.As the disease progresses, the limbs become weak and the dog begins to buckle and has difficulty standing. The weakness gets progressively worse until the dog is unable to walk. The clinical course can range from 6 months to 1 year before dogs become paraplegic. If signs progress for a longer period of time, loss of urinary and fecal continence may occur and eventually weakness will develop in the front limbs. Another key feature of Degenerative Myelopathy is that it is not a painful disease because of the loss of nerve transmission.
In What Breeds is Degenerative Myelopathy Most Common?
The disease is most common in several breeds including German Shepherds, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Boxers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Wire Fox Terriers and Standard Poodles. Other breeds predisposed to Degenerative Myelopathy include American Eskimos, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Borzois, Golden Retrievers, Great Pyrenees, Kerry Blue Terriers, Pugs, Shetland Sheepdogs and Wheaten Terriers. Even mixed breed dogs can be susceptible with both sexes of all breeds being equally affected by this condition.
DNA Testing for Degenerative Myelopathy
A DNA test exists, available through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) that can clearly identify dogs that are clear of Degenerative Myelopathy; those who are carriers; and those who are at much higher risk for developing Degenerative Myelopathy. However, even those dogs whose results show that they are at higher risk for developing Degenerative Myelopathy may not develop the disease. The test does does not diagnose Degenerative Myelopathy, it only identifies the presence of normal or mutated genes. One version, for dogs who are suspected of having Degenerative Myelopathy, requires a blood sample be submitted by your veterinarian, while the other requires a simple cheek swab and can be performed at home. Nevertheless, it is recommend having the test performed and submitted in consultation with your veterinarian.
While the majority of medical practitioners feel this degenerative condition is primarily related to genetic predisposition and write it off as having no known cure, others feel very differently. Knowledgeable holistic veterinarians suspect that Degenerative Myelopathy is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's own defenses (antibodies) attack the body's own proteins (spinal cord protein). Even though there may be a genetic predisposition in some animals, a primary suspected cause is vaccinations. This is because vaccinated animals have higher levels of autoantibodies, the antibodies responsible for autoimmune conditions, circulating in their blood stream. Over-exposure to toxins from repeated vaccinations, food or the environment can also be contributing factors.
Other possible causes of myelopathy symptoms include damage to disks, spinal misalignment, spinal tumor or even hypothyroidism. These other possible causes should be investigated by a competent holistic veterinarian or, better yet, a canine chiropractor. A typical allopathic veterinarian may just write these symptoms off as Degenerative Myelopathy and tell you there is nothing you can do.
In standard western veterinarian medicine the procedure would be to attempt to reduce the immune response by using corticosteroids or NSAIDs, neither of which are an effective stand-alone treatment for this condition. Antioxidants may be recommended and this is a good idea. However, synthetic, isolated vitamins and minerals are typically used. The body treats synthetic chemicals typically found in most multivitamin supplements more like drugs, causing the liver and kidneys more work only to have the majority end up being eliminated in the urine. We feel that the best way to feed a body is with whole foods that are easily recognized and metabolized by the body often resulting in dramatic healing results.
The goal of our Natural DM Protocol is to slow the degenerative process that is occurring, repair damaged myelin sheath and help to promote lean muscle.* At the same time, in a holistic fashion, we want to educate you and help you to remove any contributing factors whether these are in your pet's diet, environment or occur during veterinary visits. We do not necessarily know the root cause(s) of this degenerative condition in your particular animal (outside of genetics), but we do know from our research and experience the primary culprits.
Please note: It is important that Degenerative Myelopathy is recognized and a natural treatment regimen begun as early as possible to give your animal the best chance for a longer quality of life. Treatment begun when the unfortunate canine is unable to stand anymore is most likely a little late in the trajectory of this condition. It doesn't mean you can't try our DM protocol at this later date (see Karma video above!), it just means the chances for a return to higher quality health may be decreased.
In addition, this disease appears to move extremely quickly when it expresses in younger German Shepherds. We suggest, if this is the case, that you contact us to discuss a more aggressive protocol for your animal.
Core Recommendations Suggested products are included in the Core Degenerative Myelopathy Package found below.
Our "Core Recommendations" form the backbone of our Natural Degenerative Myelopathy Protocol. They consist of the supplement recommendations we feel are the most important to provide to your animal companion for this condition. They are displayed individually or as a package at the bottom of this page along with other helpful products from which you may make additional selections. Pet foods can be purchased at your finer, local pet stores. If you desire more individualized attention please feel free to use our Consultation Form to provide detailed information about your dog or cat so we can better help you.
Core Recommendation #1 - Daily Multi PlusOur Daily Multi Plus is formulated with organic, whole foods that are extremely important to an animal's nutritional needs but are often missing from the majority of canine and feline diets. This special formula provides the enzymes, probiotics, prebiotics, glandulars, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that are so beneficial to the body's daily maintenance and repair needs for healthy aging. In this formula you will find the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants recommended by the veterinarian community for this condition - only in an organic, whole food form!
Core Recommendation #2 - Myelin Sheath
During the degenerative process of Degenerative Myelopathy the myelin sheath surrounding the spinal cord is broken down. This occurs in what is suspected to be an autoimmune reaction as the body's own antibodies attack and destroy the proteins in the myelin. As the process continues the animal goes from bad to worse as it becomes more difficult for the neural impulses to travel down the spinal cord to the animal's hindquarters. This Myelin Sheath glandular contains proteins believed to be important in the process of myelination, which is the production of myelin. This is exactly what we are looking for to counter the demyelination, or destruction of myelin, that occurs with Degenerative Myelopathy.
Core Recommendation #3 - Nerve Tonic
Since the damage from Degenerative Myelopathy targets the nervous system, a Nerve Tonic can be very beneficial. This organic, herbal supplement contains St. John's Wort, an herb renowned for its ability to rebuild damaged nerves. This supplement also contains nerve tonics like skullcap, oat straw and gotu kola as well as licorice root, an herb prized in herbal medicine for its ability to reduce inflammation and balance the immune system. This wonderful herbal supplement was formulated by a certified Master Herbalist and is a strong weapon against the debilitation of Degenerative Myelopathy.
Core Recommendation #4 - Immune Balance
Degenerative Myelopathy is an autoimmune condition in which the body's white blood cells attack its own tissue. There is existing research that indicates herbs that are beneficial for this type of condition and newer research that shows a constituent in hydrangea root that can halt the progress of autoimmune conditions. We have provided these herbs that are highly recommended for a condition like Degenerative Myelopathy in this formula.
Whole Food Nutrition
With a degenerative condition like Degenerative Myelopathy, in which the body needs the highest value nutrition possible to provide the body with what it needs for healing, we highly recommend a raw food diet. Raw food is how carnivores, like canines and felines, have evolved to eat and they do best on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. This is, unfortunately, the opposite of how most pets are fed since the majority of commercial diets are low protein with 50% or more carbohydrates.
In addition, kibble diets are harder for an animal to digest and this is the last thing your pet needs at this point. Since proteins are being broken down in the autoimmune process (many believe Degenerative Myelopathy is an autoimmune condition) and there is usually muscle wasting that accompanies this disease process, without the right nutrition that is easily digested, absorbed and metabolized your animal will have a more difficult time getting better. If a raw food diet is not your cup of tea, the next best thing would be a cooked, whole food diet. There are now many quality premixes to choose from to which you can add your own raw or cooked meat. If you decide to make a homemade diet please research the proper way to do this and make sure to add a calcium source like our Seaweed Calcium. For a quick and easy way to add high-quality protein to your dog's diet take a look at our Whey Protein Isolate. For more information read our article How to Feed Your Dog that can be found in our Education section.
This special blend of four unique algae was developed by a Russian Scientist, Dr. Michael Kiriac after decades of research. It is grown in controlled hydroponic conditions so it is the purest microalgae supplement on the planet. Its thousand of nutrients are so bioavailable they do not have to be digested, they easily pass through the digestive tract and feed cells on a cellular level. BioPreparation can cross the blood brain barrier to feed the brain, support the hypothalamus to help balance the entire endocrine system and even cross the blood retinal barrier to nurture the eyes. We have had outstanding success with this product and it is highly recommended. Select the F3+ Forte for this condition.
Our Elk Velvet Antler contains all the nutrients necessary for joint health and repair in one whole food product. But the most important nutrients for those suffering with a degenerative disease are the IGF and EGF growth factors that help to repair damaged tissue and maintain/increase lean muscle mass. Highly recommended.
Reducing inflammation is important with Degenerative Myelopathy to reduce damage to the nerve cells that occurs during the autoimmune process of demyelination. However, it should be done in a way that will benefit the immune system, not fight it and suppress it as do steroids and NSAIDs. Suppressing the immune system with drugs is unhealthy and dangerous with not only potentially severe side effects but the greater possibility of cancer and other serious disease in the future. Using Systemic Enzymes between meals on an empty stomach allows these enzymes to enter the blood stream where they eliminate waste and harmful proteins to reduce inflammation and balance the immune system.
Omega 3 fatty acids are renowned for their anti-inflammatory benefits. They are particularly important to brain health because lipids, such as omega 3's, comprise a significant portion of this organ. One recent study found that aging humans who consumed more omega-3s had increased gray matter brain tissue volume and development. Omega 3's not only support brain cell structure, but they increase the production of vital neurotransmitters which could benefit those animals suffering with Degenerative Myelopathy.
This unique supplement contains proline-rich polypeptides and other constituents that help to regulate inflammation and the immune system both of which are hyper-excited when an autoimmune condition is present. In addition, colostrum contains growth factors needed to regenerate damaged tissue.
This is a highly bioavailable form of protein. An important supplement to consider to help prevent muscle wasting and improve lean muscle mass. Highly recommended especially when low-protein kibble pet foods are being provided and as an economical protein source when a raw or cooked whole food diet is too expensive for those large breeds.
Vaccinations and Toxins
Vaccinations and/or toxins from topical flea and tick products, household cleaners and lawn chemicals may have caused or contributed to your animal's Degenerative Myelopathy. Vaccinations should be avoided for those with DM and you should be able to get an exemption for the rabies vaccination with a letter from your vet (read our article: Are You Over Vaccinating Your Dog or Cat). Topical pesticide products would be a big 'no' for your animal and you should eliminate their exposure to household and lawn chemicals for the good of their long term health.
Exercise and Other Complimentary Approaches
Weight bearing exercise is very important for dogs suffering with Degenerative Myelopathy. By exercising your dog you will help to maintain or potentially increase lean muscle mass. This will extend the time for which your dog is mobile. Exercise also acts to benefit the lymphatic system helping the body to eliminate metabolic waste.
In a study conducted at the University of Berne in Switzerland, researchers determined that dogs who received intensive physical rehabilitation survived longer than dogs who received moderate or no physiotherapy. Their results also demonstrated that dogs who received physical rehabilitation remained ambulatory longer than dogs who did not receive treatment. It is important not to overdo these exercise sessions. Smaller more frequent sessions may be better than one longer, more demanding one.
Chiropractic and acupuncture treatments can be beneficial in maintaining an animal's spinal alignment and increasing energy flow, blood flow and nutrient supply to tissue in the rear of the body.
If your animal's condition deteriorates there is equipment designed to assist your canine's mobility. There are booties to protect back paws that may drag and become irritated, slings to assist you in helping your dog as well as devices with wheels to more directly help your companion maintain his own mobility.
Degenerative myelopathy testing: A DNA test for DM. Retrieved from http://www.caninegeneticdiseases.net/DM/testDM.htm
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Degenerative myelopathy: Fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.gavetrehab.com/files/GVR-Degenerative-Myelopathy-Fact-Sheet.pdf
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This is a video of Karma one of our Degenerative Myelopathy clients. Her parents are thrilled with her progress and have sent this heart warming video to us. Karma was unable to walk a short time ago. In the video you can hear her mom talking about her medicine. What she is referring to is our Degenerative Myelopathy protocol. We can not promise results like this for every dog but we have experienced tremendous success with the majority of the dogs following our holistic DM protocol.