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Vet Talks: Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Posted 2020-01-27


I often work with dogs who have degenerative myelopathy, a disease that is difficult to treat and very sad to see. However, acupuncture, spinal manipulation, rehabilitative therapies, as well as herbal supplements and diet can slow the progression of the disease.

Degenerative myelopathy in dogs is a slow progressive, non-inflammatory degeneration of the white matter of the spinal chord. I frequently see this in boxers and german shepherds, but other breeds can be affected as well. The cause is unknown, but it is thought to be inherited.

Most dogs affected with this disease are older than 5 years old, and present with a non painful weakness in the hind quarter. Diagnostics for weakness include x-rays, and blood work ruling out other causes of lameness such as orthopedic, metabolic or endocrine disease. A CT scan or MRI may also be done to rule out other causes of spinal dysfunction including a spinal chord tumor or ruptured intervertebral disc. There is a blood test that tells me if the patient has the gene for the disease, and if the clinical signs fit, then it is likely that my patient has degenerative myelopathy.

German shepherd degenerative myelopathy

Clinical signs of the disease vary depending on the stage of the disease. Early stages include weakness in the rear, progressing to urinary and fecal incontinence, then complete paralysis of the hind end. Depression and anxiety are also seen in this disease in the later stages.

A personalized treatment plan is important to slow the progression of DM and maintain a good quality of life. My protocol for degenerative myelopathy treatment includes physical therapy with an underwater treadmill to keep the hind muscles intact. Acupuncture is used to stimulate the nerves and relieves any discomfort. Spinal manipulation is also used to relieve any discomfort. I prescribe supplements including Antioxidants, vitamin E, B and D, as well as N- Acetylcysteine to help. Immune therapy with NHV is also recommended; 3 NHV supplements I would recommend are Natures Immuno, Turmeric, and Milk Thistle. A balanced home cook diet high in protein is also recommended.

Unfortunately, most patients with DM end up in wheel carts for mobility but the goal is to give them a good quality of life.

If your dog or cat is suffering from degenerative myelopathy, please feel free to book an on-line consultation with me and together we can come up a holistic treatment plan.

Dr. Hillary Cook is a graduate of Virginia Maryland Regional Veterinary Medical school. She has been practicing holistic and integrative veterinary medicine for fifteen years. She certified in Veterinary acupuncture and is fully qualified in Western and Chinese herbalism. She is the owner of Animal Wellness Center, an integrative veterinary clinic in Crozet, VA. She enjoys spending time with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets including dogs, cats and chickens. When time allows, you can find her in the garden or on the tennis court!

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