Canine Degenerative Myelopathy, DM, is an extremely common condition in German Shepherds and anyone who has owned one, knows what this is immediately. A terrible, progressive condition that in the end typically leads to euthanasia, which is the practice of ending a life to relieve pain. Canines with this will be paralyzed in the back half of their body and will lose control of their bowel movements.
While most owners will come to the decision to put their dog to sleep, it makes the decision difficult because the brain and front half of the body act normal and will just drag its other half behind them. While euthanizing is the most common decision, some owners will get a wheelchair even though this means a greater commitment from them.
After death, you will see the loss of sheath of the spinal cord, the loss of axons, and abnormal cells, you will also find similar symptoms in the kidneys, brain, and intestines. This information leads researchers to believe that it is a disease that causes failure of the immune system. This is what leaves German Shepherds at such a high risk to develop this disease because their immune systems are less effective than other breeds. Their lower IgA levels make them prone to skin and gut disorders, and anything else to add to these problems will further compromise their immune system.
Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments
Usually seen more in males than females, it presents itself in middle-aged or older dogs and will leave them in serious pain. They can be seen dragging their back feet, which will scuff the feet and can leave sores. They lose a sense of awareness of their back legs and will often times trip themselves, project them outwards, or project them inwards without correcting the problem.
Most vets will tell you there is no cure and will want to prescribe medicine that can weaken their immune system even more. While it is not proven, using alternative methods such as a change in diet, exercise, and taking certain vitamins and supplements will not cure DM, but can potentially give your dog an easier, less painful life.