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What is Degenerative Myelopathy?

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 resulting in messages from the brain not traveling down the spinal cord to the rest of the body as they should.

Causes of Degenerative Myelopathy

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.

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

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.

Degenerative Myelopathy Treatment

There are a couple of different treatment options for Degenerative Myelopathy that are recommended, with the western medicine, veterinary community recommending a range of synthetic antioxidant supplements and pharmaceutical drugs, while at the same time espousing that there is really no cure. We feel very differently and our clients have experienced the successful results of using a natural protocol consisting of whole foods and organic herbal preparations that are formulated to assisit the body in healing and repair. Follow the link to view our Natural Degenerative Myelopathy Protocol.


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