Last updated on January 6, 2015
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:
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?