Dog Spinal Disease Often Misdiagnosed
Susan Malinao knew her dog was special from the moment she entered her life. Found with her littermates and mother roaming the streets of California, the now nearly 15-year-old dog found a permanent spot in the home and heart of Malinao.
If this sounds like a typical story of stray dog finds happiness with loving mom, it is; but Powder Marie is anything but ordinary and typical.
Powder is afflicted with the spinal cord disease, degenerative myelopathy (DM). She is not, however, defined by it.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)
Degenerative myelopathy affects a dog’s central nervous system, may progress to the cervical and lumbar portions of the spinal cord, and lesions are often associated with the spinal cord. According to petMD, this condition has no specific cause and can affect any breed or age of dog, though senior dogs seem to be the ones most affected. Most literature on the topic points to German Shepherd Dogs, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Boxers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers as more predisposed than other breeds.
“Simply put DM is a disease where the immune system attacks the nerves within the myelin sheath, and these nerves die off,” dog mom, Malinao, shares. “Without these nerves the signals the brain sends through these nerves (like moving the legs to walk) but are never received.”
As the disease progresses, the hind legs may atrophy and cause paralysis. As it progresses, DM travels through the spine, front legs, neck, and eventually into the organs.
Triumph of the Spirit
Malinao does not allow DM to define her dog. Powder Marie is a German Shepherd/Pit Bill mix whose needs are ever changing, evolving, and adjustments are made along the way.
“I don’t know if I have given her a fantastic life, but I have tried,” she shares. “ I wish I could heal her from this horrid disease..I make sure that just because she has special needs, that she does not stop what she loves to do: go on daily adventures, looking for critters.”
A Day in the Life
As of this writing, Powder’s hind legs are paralyzed, and she uses a quad cart for mobility and adventures. She is incontinent, so her bladder is manually expressed several times a day. There remains strength in the dog’s neck, shoulders, and torso, but she needs to be periodically turned to prevent sores. In December, a mass was discovered on Powder’s liver, with a suspected diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma. Malinao says she is stable, a fighter, very strong and determined, and always happy
Powder’s brain is not affected and her personality flourishes. Despite her physical issues, Malinao reports that her dog is still loving, sweet, stubborn at times, and her goofiness remains unchanged.
Dr. Karen Becker of HealthyPets says DM is a diagnosis of elimination. Other diseases are usually ruled out before a solid diagnosis of DM can be made. Some of the diseases or conditions that must be ruled out include disc disease, infections, injury, tumors, cysts, or even stroke.
Examination of the spine during necropsy (after death) is the only definitive way to confirm DM, so eliminating other conditions is pivotal for dog parents.
Powder’s diagnosis took over two years because her veterinarian was unaware of DM.
“There is debate within the DM community on whether or not it is similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) or MS (in humans), or a mix of both,” Malinao says. “The only way to bring attention to this dreadful disease is to come together and FIND THE CURE. If we do not stand up and speak for them who will?”
At this time, there is no cure for DM. Management of the disease while maintaining quality of life for affected dogs are goals. Work with your dog’s veterinarian and seek the assistance of non-traditional therapies, i.e. acupuncture, in working with a holistic veterinarian.
The reality and bottom line: No one has the right to tell you what is right or wrong for your dog’s quality of life and treatment/management goals.
Powder’s mom faces the occasional critic but her love, goals, and putting Powder first are always at the forefront, and her advice is simple, strong, and a message for all dog parents:
One of the greatest gifts of taking care of an animal with special needs is the deep connection you develop. You start to feel their needs before they let you know. Animals, especially dogs, have this amazing ability to take whatever comes in stride. They continue to find a fascination for life and overcome any and all hardship they may face. Humans could learn a great deal from them, enjoy life as it comes, the past is the past and the future is not to worry as it will come so enough, live and love for the moment is what truly matters.
Words to live and wag by.
For more information about Powder, to follow his fan page, and learn more about degenerative myelopathy in dogs, please visit:
Dr. Karen Becker’s Healthy Pets
Question: Have you ever dealt with a health issue in your dog where you went above and beyond simply because you love your dog and they are oh so worth it?
My husky was born with glaucoma. We opted to have his eyes removed since they were so painful. he is such a wonderful boy. He travels with me on speaking engagements and we hike in the woods. You would be hard pressed to notice he is blind. However, since his other senses have taken over, he is easily overwhelmed. I have worked energetically with him, as well as use other therapies such as flower essences, and essential oils.
Beautiful, beautiful post! Power is so blessed to have a wonderful family that loves him! We’ve adopted a number of dogs with special needs – and while initially the process takes time, eventually everyone learns what is needed and how to do it. Blessings and thanks for posting!
This is a disease that occurs in Bernese Mountain Dogs as well. Our BernerGarde database provides genetic testing results on dogs who are tested. I have not experienced it first hand but have a friend whose German Shepherd has just been diagnosed at 5 years. There is an excellent Yahoo group with 2000 members – https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/degenerativemyelopathylist/info. There is also a yahoo group for Berners with DM and I imagine many of the affected breeds also have their own resources. Dr. Nancy Kay had an excellent article on DM recently – http://speakingforspot.com/blog/2014/11/30/degenerative-myelopathy/ – we can only hope that research will help both dogs with DM and people with ALS. Both diseases take a tremendous toll on the caregivers.
Dr Nancy Kay is awesome and we love her Speaking for Spot book. Thanks for sharing this. I know of one other person who has a dog with DM (German Shepherd). TY for sharing with us, Kathie. All our best to your friend and that link you shared is so valuable – support groups dedicated to the topic can be very helpful. I know from when my last Cocker had mast cell cancer.
Power is such an inspiring doggie. I know the feeling of doing anything you can for your dog. With Chuy’s compressed disc flare ups, we will do anything possible to make him feel better. As my vet so nicely told me, “You are extremely pro-active” when it comes to Chuy’s health and won’t hesitate to speak up for him and get what he needs. A lot of times I’ve noticed vets will dismiss your concerns. Yes, they are the expert but we live with these babies 24/7 and KNOW when things aren’t right! A friend of mine was recently told she needed to put her cat down ASAP. This was weeks ago and her cat is now doing really well after the 2nd opinion and lots of TLC.
We had our share of mysterious health issues, one of which actually really never got diagnosed. We did everything we could come up with for Jasmine.
And you are not only a great dog mom but a tremendous resource for pet parents. Happy new year!
Rolo’s friend is going through something along these lines right now, theyre still in the diagnosing stage right now but know it is something to do with the nervous system. Rolo has lent his harness to them so they are able to get the dog up standing.
And I agree with taking care of a dog with special needs is the deepest connection you will ever have! Rolo had Epilepsy and I fear for him every day that he will have a seizure. Our bond is unbreakable!
Awww we hope and pray Rolo’s friend does not have DM but whatever it is that he is okay. The bond we share is unbreakable – definitely. Happy New Year!
This is such a wonderful post! I absolutely love the last photo! Thank you for sharing!
I did a lot of research on this last year when we thought Sampson had DM. The University of Missouri has a test for it. The test cannot tell you if the dog has DM but it can tell you if the dog is a carrier, not a carrier or at risk. It is a simple blood test, but is only available to breeders and owners whose vet suspects DM.
It is a horrific disease, just like MS and ALS and I do hope they find a cure for it. In the meantime, I wish Powder and his mom lots of time together.
Good to know that you did the testing and how very simple it is, Jodi.
My Chow/GSD mix had DM and I knew nothing about it prior. Thank you for an informative post!
What a sad story, but a lucky dog. Things like this don’t bother the dogs as much as the humans. He is lucky to have such a wonderful home.
Thank you for sharing such an inspirational story for people who are going through the same thing with their dog. It seems like Powder is loved and cared for and most important happy. The fact that Powder is happy means other families going through this can find hope that their dog can still live a fulfilling life with them.
I’m glad she’s happy and found someone to give her the best care.
Oh indeed, my human has gone over and beyond to make sure that me and the Kitty Crew are happy and healthy. She had both of my back legs fixed so I wouldn’t have problems when I got older and when she found a lump on my tummy, she took me to the vet right away to make sure it wasn’t anything to worry about. Thankfully, it was nothing bad. Remember to do frequent checks on your pup or kitties and make sure you let the vet know if you find anything unusual. It is all for the love of dog for sure!
You are a great dog mom to do that, and Sophia Loren is a lucky little girl to have found you. We love following her adventures!
What a great post. Powder looks like such a sweetheart and it sounds like she has the most wonderful humans.
My uncle’s corgi lost the use of her back legs when she was older. She did use a cart for awhile and it helped her get around and improved her quality of life during her final years. I’m not sure what was the exact cause, although I know hind end issues can be common in corgis.
So true, Mary, about Corgis as one of the affected breeds. I am glad to read the cart helped your uncle’s dog.
Mindy, Susan, Cindy, Gwen I am locked out of my facebook! Please contact me. I left contact info on Mindy’s Etsy page. I miss you Powder Marie! Hugs ♥
Ugh, I hate the thought of Felix not being able to run around, but man, it did my heart good to hear how happy and fulfilling Powder’s family has made life. Good people there. Thanks for sharing their story!
It’s amazing how technology has developed so much to help dogs with such a disease!
DM is an issue I care deeply about, having known multiple corgis who suffered from it, including Denby Dog, who was nominated for a Nose to Nose Award last year and passed away a few months ago. Education of breeders is extra important since DM can be prevented through genetic testing before breeding. But many breeders skip that step or even go ahead and breed two carriers together. I have the genetic tests sitting on my counter right now to send in on my corgis. Not because I breed, but because I simply want to know if they are at risk so I know how carefully I need to watch for future problems.
In the research I did on DM for this piece, I discovered the very pivotal genetic testing you write of, Carleen. I am so sorry about the loss of your Denby Dog – my heart breaks for you. You are such a wonderful dog parent and caring responsible canine lover to send the testing in to help dogs in the future.
What a touching story, I’ve got some tears welling up. I can see Powder is really special, and so is her mama! I’ve been fortunate not to have experienced debilitating diseases with my dogs. If I did, I’d do whatever was necessary to fight the disease and find quality of life for them.