Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs – holistic approaches to slow progression
I’m not going to dive too deeply into DM but just briefly cover the condition. DM is a degenerative nerve disorder of dogs. We most often compare it to ALS in humans and though it is a similar disease in presentation there are many differences. (In DM unlike ALS it is the axons of nerves that are effected and there is no glutamate build up). DM causes a progressive lose of nervous function starting in the hind legs and progressing to the front of the body. It can look very similar to a disc compression issue when it starts. We know there is a genetic mutation that has a large role in DM and this mutation can be tested for by your veterinarian. Not all dogs with the mutation will get DM. However in a dog with progressive hind limb weakness where disc disease has been ruled out, a positive mutation test is usually considered diagnostic. There is some thought that early and repetitive trauma to the spinal code in the thoracic spine is a precursor to this disease for dogs with the genetic mutation.
We cannot reverse or even stop the progression of this disease but there are things that can be done to slow it down. Even with slowing things down, it is hard to get more than a year of time after diagnosis and often times it is less.
Dr. Clemmons has developed a protocol that many folks follow. Unfortunately most people only use part of his protocol, the supplements he recommends. This protocol is actually three fold and for the best results all parts of his protocol should be followed. I’ve also added in some herbals that seem to help slow down progression used by Dr. Steve Mardsen.
- Diet – these dogs should be on an unprocessed diet high in antioxidants. Whole foods are going to be the best – either a cooked stew, raw diet or homemade diet. Ideally high in multicolored vegetables and some fruits, low in grains and with good quality meat or fish. (Fish must always be cooked)
- Physical exercise and body work/manipulation – this ideally would include swimming or hydrotherapy to keep the muscles strong, massage to improve muscle function, acupuncture to help with blood flow, and chiropractic adjustment to help keep the spinal system in alignment. Although all parts of this protocol are important the very most important is physical exercise every day if possible.
- Herbs and supplements – these would include antioxidants to help prevent cell damage. Here are Dr. Clemmon’s recommendations. I also recommend an herbal containing Chai Hu, Milk Thistle and Curcumin. I use a modification of Xiao Chai Hu Tang with added Milk Thistle and Curcumin. One of my favorite veterinary herbalists, Dr. Mardsen, has done some of his own work with this disease and found that Chai Hu or bupleurum has much added benefit in that it stops inflammation in the spinal cord and reduces one of the main players in the disease, superoxide dismutase. Curcumin and milk thistle have long been used with DM to reduce gliosis and cytokine production in the spinal code leading reduction of inflammation.
I hope that sometime in the future we will understand more about this disease and will have a cure or better treatments. It is so hard to see those we love struggle.
More reading on Dr. Clemmon’s protocol and DM