When your dog is diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy (DM), and you look to Google for information, it is easy to be overwhelmed and immediately despondent. This month AHAH asked a few well-loved clients whose dogs have DM to share their insights, tips and advice. It is not possible to clip any of the letters because too much would be lost. Some of the more pertinent points are highlighted.
Sue and Roscoe
- Luckily picked up he had this disease very early mainly because 2 strangers on separate occasions stopped me to comment on Ros' hip problems which I knew he didn't have and then my best friends German shepherd was in the very late stages of DM so we could compare
- I took him straight to the vet who x-rayed his hips and back and all came back completely clear so the conclusion was he had DM
- It was an awful shock because seeing my friends dog drag himself around by his front legs was horrible
- My vet referred me to Tanya and we were given exercises to do. Ros is walked every day and I just included these in his walk. I am convinced this has held it at bay because his muscles in his back legs are still strong <br>
- There is no cure so I realized early on the was absolutely no point
in feeling sorry for myself or Roscoe as this would help neither of us, things would be different if there was a cure but it cost R100 000 - then big headache as to decide what to do!
- Ros must have the best life possible, he walks twice a day doing sets of "squats" along the way ( in return for a treat) and he is doing really well so far, 18 months into the treatment. He is noticeably weaker in his back legs and falls over quite a bit especially on uneven ground, sometimes he battles to jump into the car without a heave up. I have got him 2 harnesses but he hates them so I know he will not be a candidate for wheels if that time comes.
- His tail has dropped so his bum gets really sweaty and sore so he has to be powdered twice a day to keep it dry
- He is in no pain which is a blessing and he has no clue that there is anything wrong with him - he falls over - he gets up and carries on as if nothing ever happened. He does get more tired on his much shorter walks
- His back legs quiver as if he is dreaming but it is the nerve endings mis-firing
Eileen and Timah
DATE OF BIRTH 1.4.04 - 1.11.17
What a journey I was to travel when my precious girl, TIMAH was diagnosed with DM at the age of 8 years old. The devastating news given to me by a specialist vet, was that she would have 3 – 6 months to live.
First thing was to try and understand why. Then a plan of action. Well I had to know what dm was/is/how. Of course one googles, that had me feeling like a headless chicken, so many different opinions by professionals.
I found that there is little support from vets or guidance on what I should be doing or expecting from “my girl”. I was fortunate to have had ANIMAL HEALTH AND HYDRO practically on my doorstep. I also had previous interaction with the staff for TIMAH’S cruciate ligament.
Appointment made – off we both went. At last someone to explain how DM would manifest itself in my girl. At last, although there isn’t a cure for DM I felt a sense of hope. The disease CAN BE SLOWED DOWN. I will use the words COMMITMENT, DILIGENCE is needed.
An exercise programme was planned. This involved swimming, which TIMAH adored. It was done in a controlled programme and overseen by practise owner/vet TANYA GRANTHAM and members of her team. Walking was very important, at first I thought TIMAH AND I had to train as if we were going to run the comardes – mostly definitely not. I had shoes for TIMAH’S walks to prevent the top of the paws being bruised by the walks. Highlight during our walks would be when we passed the school and learners would come to hug and say hi to her. We would work with the bosu and pilates ball on various exercise given to me. It was important to keep as much muscle strength as possible while the disease was progressing. I made sure the home was carpeted where necessary. TIMAH’S bed was sheepskin to prevent sores, as eventually she did sleep more.
I was soon to learn everything in moderation, which is what life teaches us… and through TIMAH I was learning a valuable lesson. While it’s hard to see one’s pet be less able to do everyday things, getting up, TIMAH still had quality of life, eating, walking, playing fetch, being brushed, interacting with those she came into contact with.
A holistic approach was extremely valuable in adding many months to TIMAH’S life as is vitamins and a good diet.
I was blessed to have nearly four years of quality both for her and I.
We took time as they say to “smell the roses”.
HOW LUCKY AM I TO HAVE SOMETHING THAT MADE SAYING GOODBYE SO HARD (a.a. milne)
I have been privileged to TIMAH in my life, and still in my heart.
Megan, Geoff and Mystic
Tips for coping with your companion’s DM, from a mom and dad who have been there
- Living with a dog with DM will teach you a lot about yourself and about just how strong you can be mentally.
- Don’t treat them as special cases. Dogs have an amazing capacity to adapt to their circumstances and for as long as they can they will do everything they did before the disease.
- In our personal experience, the team at Animal Health Solutions were an invaluable ally not only from a treatment perspective for Mystic but also as a source of support for both us and our dog who did not have the disease.
- Do your research. Not every vet you come across will support you in deciding to take your DM companion for therapy, but it will give your companion quality of life and both of you extra time together.
- Join Facebook groups – they are a great source of support and advice
- Hydrotherapy and acupuncture were two treatments our GSD loved.
- If you have a swimming pool at home, and your dog is keen on swimming, regular sessions in the pool also help especially as their back legs get more affected.
- Once the paralysis sets in in the back legs, a cart/wheelchair can make a world of difference to both of you and will give your dog a new lease on life.
- If you do have a second dog, you may find that their presence during therapy sessions is a major help. We found that Mystic relied heavily on Merlin’s presence.
- Buy a mattress protector for their bed – once they become incontinent it is easier to wash the mattress protector and saves the bed. We found with our GSD that she almost seemed embarrassed when she wet her bed but was much happier if we just moved her and didn’t make a big deal out of it.