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Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs and Cats

Pet supplements for multiples sclerosis for dogs and cats.

Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs and Cats

Herbal treatments to help support symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs and cats. 

Animals can experience a disruption in their body systems, including the Central and Autonomic Nervous systems, requiring a nutritional correction to help support healthy cellular response, to help promote relaxation and reduce nervousness, to help restore emotional balance, to help balance mood and to help promote feelings of comfort and security.

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a progressive degenerative disease of the spinal nerves and spinal cord that causes loss of coordination, weakness and paralysis of the hind limbs. With time, DM can also affect the front limbs of dogs and cats. DM disrupts the neuro communication pathways between the brain and spinal cord and primarily affects purebred dogs. Cats can develop Degenerative Myelopathy but it is rare.

Degenerative myelopathy involves degeneration of the white matter found in the spinal cord. White matter are fibers which transmit movement and sensory messages from the brain to the limbs. The progressive degeneration of DM destroys the protective area that shields white matter. Lesions in the white matter pathways can also destroy the protective myelin tissue that covers the nerves.

The symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (DM) start gradually, usually affecting senior dogs, but can begin in adult dogs over 5 years of age. When the disease first presents, dogs will start to lose muscle coordination and balance in their hind legs, called ataxia. The dog will develop slight or incomplete hind end paralysis, called paraparesis, which will progress to total rear end paralysis, called paraplegia. The condition is usually characterized by urinary and/or fecal incontinence. With these conditions, there has been some success in combining acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy and hydrotherapy.

A number of other disorders mimic the signs and symptoms of MS, including intervertebral disk disease, myelitis, degenerative lumbosacral stenosis, spinal cord neoplasia (cancer) and hip dysplasia, among others.

Some owners mistakenly assume that their older pets are developing arthritis, when the actual problem is presentation of DM. Affected animals usually become incontinent in the later stages of the disease, although it does not seem to be accompanied by pain. One of the key clinical features of canine degenerative myelopathy is the absence of any localizable spinal pain.

As the dog loses its ability to stand and use its hind legs, it may develop bed sores (ulcers) and wounds from urine scalding, which can be extremely painful. If your dog suffers from these conditions, please see the products Seal 'Em & Heal 'Em for relief. The time frame for full pelvic paralysis to present is approximately between 6 and 12 months for full pelvic paralysis to develop in dogs with DM.

The ability to chew and swallow may also be affected. When all 4 legs are paralyzed, the condition is called “tetraplegia.” Tetraplegia usually occurs within several years of the diagnosis. The dog’s sensory perception abilities are unaffected by this disease, and most affected dogs do not suffer from pain.

Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy:

Dragging rear paws

Knuckling-over on rear toes

Sores on top rear paws

Abnormal wear of the rear toenails



Spastic, long-strided rear movement

Difficulty jumping, running, rising or walking

Balance abnormalities 

Coordination abnormalities

Muscle wasting of the hindquarters from lack of use

Incomplete paralysis of the hind legs (paraparesis)

Complete paralysis of the hind legs (paraplegia)

Inability to stand or walk

Incontinence (urinary and/or fecal)

Urine scalding

Bed sores

Incomplete paralysis of all legs (tetraparesis)

Complete paralysis of all four legs (tetraplegia)

Difficulty chewing swallowing

Difficulty swallowing

Difficulty breathing

More information:

Researchers have discovered that Degenerative myelopathy is caused by a specific mutation of the genes; specifically in the superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) gene. Mutations in the SOD1 gene have been shown to cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Because degenerative myelopathy shows up most commonly in certain purebred dog breeds, there probably is a strong hereditary component to the condition. Dogs with MS should not likely be bred to prevent passing on of the mutated SOD1 gene

Degenerative myelopathy is most often diagnosed in aging German Shepherds. Other breeds that have been reported with DM include the American Eskimo, Belgian Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog, Boxer, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Collie, Giant Schnauzer, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Irish Setter, Irish Terrier, Kerry Blue Terrier, Kuvasz, Labrador Retriever, Miniature Poodle, Old English Sheepdog, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Pug, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Siberian Husky, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, Standard Poodle, Weimaraner and Wirehaired Fox Terrier. Mixed breed dogs have also been diagnosed with this disease.

The mean age of disease presentation is 9 years, with males and females being equally affected. It is extremely uncommon for young dogs to develop Degenerative myelopathy.

Once a dog is diagnosed with DM, a pet owner can do a number of things to manage the consequences of the disease, which include urine retention (owners can manually express their dog’s bladder), urinary tract infection, weight gain from inability to ambulate and skin lesions from urine scalding.

It is critically important that dogs affected by degenerative myelopathy receive meticulous supportive care and good hygiene, especially in their “rear end” area, to prevent accumulation of waste products, bed sores, urine scalding and secondary bacterial infection.

There is no cure or effective treatment for Degenerative myelopathy, and the long-term prognosis is poor. Most dogs will lose the ability to walk normally within 6 months of being diagnosed. With early detection, diagnosis and supportive care may be helpful. Owners must provide continual supportive care to maintain their pet’s quality of life, especially once it loses the ability to stand and move independently. Smaller dogs may survive longer than larger dogs, likely because it is easier for their owners to provide supportive care.

Once an affected dog starts losing its ability to stand and walk, its owner must do a number of things to maintain its quality of life. Moderate exercise and other forms of physical therapy are encouraged, to delay muscle deterioration and atrophy and help maintain mobility and strength in the pelvic limbs.

Range of motion exercises are helpful for the pet where the owner stretches, extends and flexes the dog’s rear legs. This sort of activity seems to slow the progression of MS and helps the dog to maintain strength, balance and the ability to walk for a longer period of time. Swimming exercises, underwater treadmill use and other water-based techniques (hydrotherapy) also can benefit dogs with DM.

The dog will need well-padded bedding, such as an air mattress, waterbed, lounge chair pad, human bed mattress, fleece, sleeping bags, blankets, straw or other lofty, soft and comfortable things to lie on. The outer layers of bedding will need to be changed frequently, and the dog will need to be cleaned and dried regularly to prevent bed sores, urine scalding, skin ulceration and other lesions caused by urinary and/or fecal incontinence. The hair under the tail and around the anus should be trimmed in long-haired breeds.

Owners should manage their pets diet to prevent excessive weight gain. Dogs should be turned frequently to prevent pressure sores and possible lung collapse (atelectasis). A wheel cart, which is basically a wheelchair for dogs, can be used for dogs that have lost mobility in their hind legs. As long as the dog is able to use its front legs normally, a wheel cart will keep it comfortable and mobile.

Organic Remedies - (listed in order of relevance recommendation by holistic vets)

Herbal remedies provide plant and marine based pain relief and may help to limit symptomatic progression of Degenerative Myelopathy; to help limit pain and inflammatory response; to help provide relief for joint pain, muscle weakness and degenerative conditions; to help support the cartilage matrix and renew synovial fluid to help correct degeneration of cartilage and bone; support bones, blood vessels, joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves and tendons; to help support joints and connective tissue and relieve stiff and aching joints.

Joint Ease Super Dog & Cat – (learn more) contains a synergistic blend of plant and marine extract adaptogens that help promote preventative and reparative support to rebuild tissue, joints, bones and muscles; supports balanced immunity and limits whole body inflammatory response while promoting systemic healing and balanced immunity; as a holistic, natural treatment for rheumatism; for arthritis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, rheumatism, Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), Intervertebral Disk Disease (IDD), Degenerative Myelopathy, arthrosis and related inflammation and pain; for muscle pains, strains, injuries and other degenerative joint related diseases; as a pain reliever for swelling and lack of mobility; for overall optimal health and function and as a natural alternative for tumors and cysts. Contains herbs and marine extracts recognized by the World Health Organization as some of the most important ingredients in the natural treatment of all forms of arthritis.

I Feel Good –  (learn more) contains antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics, digestives enzymes, fiber, inulin, fatty acids and adaptogens and is a potent plant-based anti-viral, which may help nutritionally tone the animal body, may help boost or balance immunity as needed, including soothing an over-stimulated immune system or boosting an under- performing immune system, may help build white blood count to help fight infection,may help reduce all forms of system-wise metabolic and oxidative stress that undermine immunity; may help support water regulation and fluid balance in the body;may help reduce all types of inflammation, may help provide dermal support and growth of healthy cells and tissues in the body’s defense mechanism, may help reduce the histamine trigger for contact allergies, seasonal and chronic allergens, pathogens, skin rashes, infections, hot spots, inflammation, swelling, hair loss, itching and geriatria (dull coat, lethargy) and fever; may be an important anti-viral adjunctive in cases of Herpes virus; may help alleviate symptoms for all types of arthritis, including Degenerative Joint Disease, Osteoarthritis, Osteoporosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and symptoms associated with rheumatism, including pain, strains, injuries, muscle pain, swelling and lack of mobilityreduces all types of inflammation, particularly from the heart to brain; as a gastrotonic to support stomach health; contains prebiotics and probiotics useful in balancing digestive health and function plus much more. Recognized as one of the most important medicinal plants in the world, particularly related to supporting balanced immunity and limiting inflammation and inflammatory conditions.

Hepa Protect – (learn more) may help support proper liver function and metabolism, bile production and flow, ma help rehabilitate the performance, health and repair of the liver, kidneys, bladder and gall bladder, may help rehabilitate and detoxify the kidneys and liver; tones and balances the connective tissue of the liver, kidneys and bladder, normalizes liver enzyme levels, regulates kidney acid/alkaline levels, for all types of stones and gravel of the liver, kidneys, bladder and gallbladder, including oxalate and struvite crystals and stones; reduces uric acid, for gall bladder inflammation, gall stones and gallbladder infections, for renal colic and renal calculi; helps to protect red blood cell formation, useful in diseases such as ehrlichia, ehrlichiosis.

Seal ‘Em & Heal ‘Em – (learn more) capsulestincture,  powder may help promote healing for all types of wounds, including hot spots, abscess, abrasions, bites, cuts, scrapes, skin irritations, infections, viruses, bacteria, fungi and germs; for bleeding & hemorrhaging conditions, ulcers, GERD, esophaghitis & other degenerative conditions of the larynx & throat; adjunctively and holistically to help address conditional needs of DNA and RNA viruses; used holistically to help address conditional needs related to respiratory viruses A and B (RSV) and influenza virus A (FLU-A) and para-influenza (PIV); may help inhibit bacterial and microbial skin fungus infections related to Staphylococcus aurous, S. epidermis and other gram negative bacteria such as enterobacteria, citrobacteria, salmonella; may help provide cellular support of tissue, skin & coat; for gastrointestinal distress; as a neurasthenic that may help block the activation of nerve fibers & tissue response to inflammation, supporting the body's tissue repair mechanism to help stop mutations (important in the treatment of all types of Lyme disease, including Lyme borealis, burgdorferi, borreliosis & Chronic Lyme disease (CLD); and may help remove plague and tartar upon application to help support healthy teeth and gums.; Strongly anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic, antibiotic, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcerous, anti-Candidal and reduces nerve pain associated with wounds and injury.

Serenity Zen Dog & Cat - (learn more) is used for its multi-level nutritional and adaptogen plant botanical support to help identify stress triggers in all body systems and to nutritionally help soothe, relax, calm, balance and provide pain relief to nerves and muscles (related to the Adrenal, Cardiovascular, Digestive, Excretory, Respiratory, Autonomic and Central Nervous Systems); may be useful for separation, stress, anxiety and behavioral disorders; may be helpful in reducing the effects of digestive colic, and stress and anxiety related to storms, fireworks, travel, boarding, vet visits, separation, new home due to adoption, travel, motion sickness, restlessness, irritability, depression, hyper-excitability, aggression, allergies sadness and fear; help address and reduce pain; help maintain normal electrical balance in the brain, to reduce neuro inflammation,  and to help modulate inflammatory response throughout the animal body.

Conventional Treatments:

A veterinarian will examine a dog for hind limb lameness, lack of coordination, muscle wasting and partial paralysis, ruling out other conditions before reaching a presumptive diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy.

Your veterinarian will take a thorough history from the pet owner, focusing on when, where and how the dog’s symptoms first presented. Your vet will also perform a thorough physical examination, including a neurologic examination to try and localize which parts, if any, of the spinal cord have been damaged or are otherwise involved.

The initial evaluation may include routine blood and urine assessment (complete blood count, serum chemistry panel and urinalysis). The results of those tests typically will be unremarkable if DM is the underlying cause of the dog’s condition.

A comprehensive neurological examination is critical to making a tentative diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy. Dogs with this disease are not painful, and a skilled veterinarian can localize their spinal cord lesions to the upper and lower back (thoracic and lumbar) areas. Survey X-rays of the chest and back (thoracolumbar radiographs) can be taken to screen for primary or metastatic cancer.

The veterinarian will review the radiographs carefully, looking for any evidence of tumors along or around the spinal cord that may be contributing to the dog’s symptoms. Samples of cerebrospinal fluid can be analyzed for evidence of inflammation. Advanced imaging procedures, such as electromyography, myelography, nerve conduction studies, computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be performed alone or in combination to rule out other disorders.

A test is now available to detect the presence of the genetic mutation that is responsible for causing degenerative myelopathy in dogs. Normal dogs will have two copies of the non-mutated gene; this is called being “homozygous” for the normal gene. Carriers will have one copy of the normal gene and one copy of the mutated gene, one coming from each parent; this is called being “heterozygous” for that gene. Dogs that have or are at risk for having DM will have two copies of the mutated gene; they will be “homozygous” for the mutated gene. All dogs with DM will have two of the abnormal genes, but not all dogs with two of the abnormal genes will develop DM.

In a living animal, degenerative myelopathy can only be diagnosed by ruling out other causes of progressive, irreversible paralysis. Unfortunately, the only definitive way to diagnose this disease is to examine the dog’s spinal cord under a microscope after the animal has died. This is done at a diagnostic pathology laboratory using a technique called histopathology.

Early detection, diagnosis and supportive care may be helpful. Owners of affected animals must provide scrupulous supportive care to maintain their pet’s quality of life, especially once it loses the ability to stand and move on its own. Smaller dogs may survive longer than larger dogs, because it is easier for their owners to provide supportive care. Owners may want to ask for a referral to a veterinary specialist with experience managing this disease.






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