Degenerative Myelopathy, such a weird and scary term for a name of a disease. In layman terms, it is a sickening and wicked disabling disease. A disease that eventually crushes down the health of a dog. It is said that it is compared to the Lou Gehrig or ALS disease in humans.
In short, Degenerative Myelopathy is a disease that there is no cure. It starts as a deterioration of the middle core of the spinal column. As this happens, the dog will start to lose sensation and motor skill of the hind legs. It happens to specific breeds and the German Shepherd is one of them. This disease can occur when the dog is approximately 9 years old and up. More specific information is available on the internet.
At first, I did not know much about Degenerative Myelopathy until symptoms, as described earlier, were observed on our dog, Duke. The first problem Duke experienced was slight wobbling of his hind legs and then after a period of time, dragging of his hind legs. His walk was slower and one could hear the slight dragging of his nails as they rubbed against the ground.
As the disease progressed further, there was a loss of further sensation and he could no longer wag his tail. Duke needed more time in getting up and in the latter stage he could not get up on his own. Assistance was given by using a harness to bring him out regularly so that he could relieve himself even though some mistakes were made in the house.
Gentle care was given and a decision was made to take care of Duke at home. A dog wheelchair was purchased for him so that he could keep mobile by utilizing his two front legs. At first it was difficult for him to get used to the balance and mobility of the wheelchair. With motivation and praise, just as in dog training, he became more successful. It gave him a chance to roam around giving him some freedom as his hind legs no longer had the strength to support his back legs.
As time progressed, Duke refused to eat or drink as this is what happens in the later stages of this disease. At this point, we noticed that the strength in his legs weakened further to the point he was not able to stand up. With further research, it stated that the disease is painless and that the dog does not suffer.
We provided hospice care at home and by hand we fed Duke apple slices since this was only thing he wanted to nibble. We also made sure his mouth was kept moist by using a water dropper. Changing Duke’s diaper was a regular routine. Also, we flipped him on different sides as he rested so as to minimize any bedsores.
It is true that dogs do keep a schedule, whether it’s meal time, training, play time, bed time or other routines. Duke waited for my return from work to take his final breath.
The latest on a cure for the Degenerative Myelopathy is that breeders are trying to breed out the gene that affects this disease. However, this will take some time and we only hope that a medicine will be available to help these poor dogs afflicted by this deadly disease.
This story is in honor of our Duke, and in no way is advocating what decision to take when a dog is in the grave stages of illness. Our decision in care was carried through by knowing through Duke’s eyes that he wanted to remain with us as long as it took until the end.