Degenerative myelopathy in dogs is one of those, particularly dreaded diseases. We all know them, the ones that make you say, "oh, no, I hope it's not that". Having to watch your dog's health rapidly decline and be unable to live a normal life is heartbreaking and it can lead to more health concerns. Thankfully, it's n Has your dog been diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy? There are many things that you can do to help your dog feel much better. The story of Bruce Wayne, my disabled pug with Pug Myelopathy, who has overcome so many obstacles with the help of CBD and integrative medicine.
Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs and How CBD Helps
Degenerative myelopathy in dogs is one of those, particularly dreaded diseases. We all know them, the ones that make you say, “oh, no, I hope it’s not that”. Having to watch your dog’s health rapidly decline and be unable to live a normal life is heartbreaking and it can lead to more health concerns.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad. There are doggy wheelchairs that can help your dog maintain a more mobile lifestyle and enjoy themselves, and there are natural treatments, like CBD oil, that can greatly improve your dog’s quality of life. Your dog can live longer and better with degenerative myelopathy than you are imagining.
What is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs?
Degenerative myelopathy, or DM, is a debilitating disease impacting the spinal cord or nerves that vets commonly compare to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in people.
A good first place to understand what you’re dealing with if your dog is diagnosed with DM is to understand what the name means. Degenerative refers to the fact that the disease causes one’s spinal cord to decline or deteriorate, while myelopathy states that it is a disease of the spinal cord.
Degenerative myelopathy is a disease actually of the white matter of the spinal cord, which is very bad, because it is the part of the spinal cord that transmits the signals the dog’s brain sends to the various parts of its body telling them to move. As you might guess, that means it directly impacts the dog’s ability to control their body, get around, and live any kind of normal life. Eventually, it will cause paraplegia, or paralysis of the hind legs, and potentially complete immobility.
From onset to paraplegia, the length of the disease’s progression can take anywhere from six months to three years. Unfortunately, it’s usually on the shorter side of that.
How to Know Your Dog Has Degenerative Myelopathy
Symptoms of Canine Degenerative Myelopathy Stages
Early Stage Symptoms:
- tremors in their hind legs
- hind leg weakness
- difficult moving their hind legs
- appearing uneasy or unsure when walking
- lack of coordination in their hind legs
- knuckling their toes when walking
- dragging their feet, which may be accompanied by worn down nails
- difficulty rising
The symptoms may be present in only one leg in the beginning and may only be noticeable when the dog performs certain activities like squatting to go to the bathroom or jumping.
DM in dogs is easily mistaken at this point for arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other diseases that are not quite as scary. Do not let this delay your visit to the vet!
If you can catch degenerative myelopathy quickly enough, you can begin treatments that can greatly improve the dog’s outcome. It, unfortunately, cannot be cured, but you can have an important impact on their quality of life and efforts work better when begun sooner.
Intermediate Stage Symptoms:
- initial symptoms will increase and worsen
- damaged toes from dragging the feet
- begin finding it difficult to rise to stand or lower to lay down
- urinary and fecal incontinence
- inability to hold their weight on their hind legs
- muscle loss
- cannot walk without support
Advanced Stage Symptoms
- paraplegia, paralysis of the hind legs
- muscle weakness in all four limbs
- difficulty breathing if the disease makes it to the brain stem
- displaying pain
- complete immobility
- systemic infections
Pressure sores may begin at any stage if the dog becomes inactive enough. The likelihood of this will, of course, grow as the condition worsens. When paralysis sets in, it will be important to take proactive measures to ensure pressure sores do not develop.
Their hygiene may also decline at different stages depending on the dog’s symptoms
and mood. You should do what is in your power to better their mood and mobility and assist them with their hygiene.
Causes of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
There is still a lot that is not understood about degenerative myelopathy.
One of the primary beliefs is that DM is an immune disease where the dog’s immune system thinks its nervous system is a harmful element and attacks it. This comes from an inherited genetic mutation. It is possible to test for the gene, but it is not very helpful because all dogs that have the gene do not get degenerative myelopathy.
Vitamin deficiencies, toxins, and oxidative stress are also likely causes of degenerative myelopathy. You could discuss this potential with your vet and see if it impacts treatment and outcome.
Many dog breeds have an increased risk of developing DM:
- American Eskimo Dogs
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Cardigan Welsh Corgis
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Great Pyrenees
- Irish Setters
- Kerry Blue Terriers
- Pembroke Welsh Corgis
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks
- Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers
- Standard Poodles
- WireFox Terriers
Any dog can develop degenerative myelopathy, but they are much more likely to
develop it as seniors. Large dogs often get it after 8 years and smaller dogs often get it after 11. It is possible for dogs as young as 4 to develop it.
Diagnosing Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
DM is one of those diseases where the diagnosis comes from excluding things it isn’t. There is no test to prove DM directly that can be performed until after the dog has passed.
The vet will want to discuss the dog’s symptoms and lifestyle with you and to examine the dog for signs while in their office.
To discover what the disease isn’t, they may run several tests:
- thyroid tests
- biopsy of spinal cord fluid
A DNA test before the onset of degenerative myelopathy can tell you if your dog has a greater risk of developing it. There is no guarantee, just higher risk. You can use this knowledge to promote the dog’s health to reduce their chances, improve their diet,
Treatment Options for Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
Since there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy, treatment consists of maintaining the quality of life. This is actually more hopeful than you probably think.
Do be aware though that treatment for degenerative myelopathy requires extensive nursing. Your ability to be an active part of the dog’s health will dramatically impact the length and quality of their life with DM.
First, give your dog as much exercise as you can for as long as you can, without getting so carried away you exhaust the poor thing.
Exercise can be maintained for quite a long time with both harnesses, allowing the dog to still walk with your assistance, and doggy wheelchairs. As long as the dog’s front legs still work, they can be quite mobile and enjoy the physical and mental benefits of exercise with a doggy wheelchair. You’ve probably seen videos online of paralyzed animals in wheelchairs getting around almost as well as they always did. It’s amazing.
Even if the dog does become unable to use all of its limbs, there are wheelchairs designed for dogs that support all of their legs.
Aquatic exercise is also quite helpful for dogs to get exercise without having to support their weight, extending their ability to get exercise and maintain muscle mass for a much longer period of time.
As soon as your dog starts having difficulty getting around, enough that they act hesitant about exercise or seem too unsteady to do it safely, you should get them a degenerative myelopathy harness.
People make booties to protect dogs’ feet against damage from being dragged.
That being said, they are often overused and can cause additional problems for the dog.
- leave the booties on all the time
- use them for their walks
- walk the dog on grass as much as possible
- use booties if their feet drag in the wheelchair
There are two problems with booties, one is that using them for all of their walking makes it hard for them to walk correctly, which interferes with the dog’s ability to maintain the use of their legs, and the other is it can make them fall and hurt themselves. They certainly don’t need an injury on top of their disease.
The booties can protect the dog’s feet in the wheelchair without causing a problem because they don’t have to bear down or balance and aren’t at risk of falling.
The dog’s diet can play a big part in their prognosis.
Their immune system, inflammation, and vitamin deficiencies can be addressed with diet. It might be best for you to discuss the particular diet with your dog’s vet to personalize it to their needs, their weight, their exercise level, and their tastes.
It’s easy with homemade diets and foods to not give your dog the proper nutrition and cause other health problems.
As they start spending more time laying down, it is important to ensure they have proper bedding and that the bedding is maintained properly.
They will need well-padded, supportive bedding, think as strong as a human bed for larger dogs. If you have the room for it, give them a human mattress or air mattress. Sleeping bags and enough thick blankets may be enough for small dogs.
You can purchase special pet beds.
Regardless of what you pick, make sure to change the bed coverings or top layers frequently.
As the dog moves less, they’re also likely to gain weight or become obese. This can make moving more difficult for them and generally cause a decline in health.
Prevent weight gain through diet management, such as with fewer treats or no treats, and low fat, healthy dog food. Table scraps will often be a bad idea as this is a common cause of dog weight gain. If you don’t want to cut them out altogether, try lessening them drastically and/or being picky about whether they’re eating high calorie or high-fat human foods. Be as aggressive with the diet as needed to go with their exercise level and weight.
When a dog starts laying down more than usual or all the time, they develop bedsores. You can prevent this by keeping them mobile as long as possible and turning them on a regular basis when they aren’t mobile.
When dogs become immobile, they can have accidents and you must be able to keep them clean to prevent urine scalding, ulcerations, and lesions.
Dogs with plentiful or long hair on their rear ends will need trimming to help keep them clean, the area just under the tail and around the anus, not their whole back end.
Dogs frequently develop bladder and urinary infections or dog UTI with degenerative myelopathy because they may start not peeing regularly. This is very dangerous and must be treated.
If your dog is crying out in pain, it is necessary to get them help as quickly as possible because they are in an extreme amount of pain.
This unfortunately means your dog may be having pain before you know it or that they appear to be only a little uncomfortable when their pain level is really higher.
A natural, healthy pain treatment may be helpful at the first sign your pet may be in pain, and prescription pain medication may eventually be required if natural methods aren’t cutting it.
If your dog starts crying out in pain during off hours, don’t think you have to put off getting help until the vet office opens again. Call your local emergency vet, your vet’s office should give you the number if you call during off hours, and ask them if they can see the dog or advise you on a human medication to give your dog until you can get to a vet.
CBD oil is a seemingly magic supplement for a staggering number of issues, many of which may apply to your dog with degenerative myelopathy.
First, let’s discuss what CBD oil is. It is called cannabidiol, and it comes from the hemp plant. Do you know how people discuss the medical benefits of marijuana? Well, cannabidiol is part of that, in fact, it can work more effectively than marijuana because marijuana contains the “high” causing chemical THC and can make users feel drastic benefits for a short time and then suffer a crash. Cannabidiol has been shown to be more subtle, last longer, and help the body do what it already does in a better, more efficient manner.
CBD oil for dogs may help with degenerative myelopathy:
- have less inflammation
- enjoy more energy
- metabolize food better
- stress less
- gain extra nutrition
- prevent infections
Using CBD Oil
There are several CBD oil products available that may help your dog:
- Lotions are great for soothing pressure sores and other lesions, helping them heal and preventing infection in the sore.
- CBD Extract concentrates
Tinctures, concentrates, capsules, and treats are given orally. Treats are, of course, the most enjoyable method and come in crunchy or chewy kinds to suit your dog’s tastes. Tinctures and concentrates are the most versatile and cost-effective treatments, and capsules are great for dogs who take pills better than other methods of medication delivery and who don’t like the taste of hemp. Concentrates contain nothing but CBD and hemp oil and taste just like hemp. If your dog doesn’t like that, you’ll have to cover up the taste yourself by delivering the medicine in a food or beverage. Most oil tinctures are flavored, but you’ll have to make sure you buy one that is and that they enjoy the flavor.
Treats and capsules are easier for dosing control as they have set dosages on the package, based on the size of the dog. You’ll have to choose small, medium, or large for your dog’s size. There may be instructions to give one or more treats to reach a certain dose.
Oil tinctures and concentrates provide you with more variability to get the specific dose your dog needs. Tinctures come with either a dropper or sprayer to be applied directly to the dog’s mouth or food. Drops and sprays contain certain amounts for you to measure by the number of them.
Always start with a smaller dose and work up in a week or few weeks increments to reach the effective dose amount for your dog. You can ask your veterinarian for guidance to get the exact dose for your dog, though some trial and error will still be needed.
Do be aware that very small, very large, and very sick dogs will have different requirements and you’ll definitely need CBD dosing advice from a licensed vet.
Purchasing CBD oil
Not all CBD oil is equal.
Make sure you are buying CBD oil that:
- contains no THC
- is third-party tested and shows results online
- was extracted using the CO2 method
- was grown in a country with good growing regulations
You also need to know the difference between full-spectrum and CBD isolate. CBD iso is just CBD oil while full-spectrum CBD oil contains other cannabinoids, terpenes, and nutrients that come from the whole hemp plant. Full-spectrum is actually the most popular option, and it may be particularly beneficial for your dog with degenerative myelopathy because they may need additional nutrients. Should full-
spectrum not work for you, definitely try CBD isolate. Some people swear it works better for their specific case.
Innovations from Innovet
At Innovet, we make scientifically-backed CBD oil products for pets and humans to address hard-to-treat ailments. If your dog has unique needs or doesn’t respond to CBD oil, let us know so we can try to develop a new product for your dog.
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, St. Georges University
Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM was raised in north Louisiana. She graduated from LA Tech in 2011 with a degree in animal science. She then moved to Grenada West Indies for veterinary school. She completed her clinical year at Louisiana State University and graduated in 2015 from St. George’s University. Since veterinary school, she has been working at a small animal and exotic veterinary clinic in east Texas, where she has experience treating all species that walk in the hospital. In her free time, she likes to travel with her husband Greg, bake yummy desserts and spend time with her 4-legged fur kids, a dog Ruby, a cat Oliver James “OJ”, a rabbit BamBam and a tortoise MonkeyMan.
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The Innovet Team
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CBD Oil for Canine Degenerative Myelopathy
Has your dog been diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy? There are many things that you can do to help your dog feel much better. Most vets may prescribe your dog medications to help them feel better, but you can also use CBD oil to help your dog who has Degenerative Myelopathy.
What is CBD Oil?
CBD is cannabidiol and is found in the hemp plants. Unlike what some people may think CBD does not contain any THC. THC is the chemical that is found in marijuana that is responsible for the euphoric state. CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system in the brain to produce a variety of effects on the body. It is used to treat a variety of issues, both mental and physical.
When looking for CBD products for your dog, you will want to find one that has CO2 extraction, as this produces the best results and the highest quality oils. Since there are many different ways that CBD can be harvested, the purer the product usually means, the higher the price point. Once CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system in the body, it produces a variety of effects, including:
- Reduced joint inflammation
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Decreases Stress
- Higher appetite
- Reduces itching from allergic reactions
- Helps decrease seizure activity
- Thought to possibly treat cancer
CBD can be administered to your dog in many different ways. You can buy oils that can be put right in your dog’s mouth or on their food. You can even find tasty treats that your dog will love.
The Natural Doggie CBD-Infused Bacon Flavor Soft Chews use only the best ingredients nature has to offer. The perfect treat to promote calmness, reduce inflammation and pain and stimulate appetite in your pet. This is a perfect supplement to add to your dog’s diet. This Colorado-grown, hemp-derived oil is legal in all 50 states and contains no THC. The non-GMO oil in every treat is derived from the finest non-GMO hemp the world has to offer. Your dog will love these bacon-flavored dog chews and you will see a major difference in your animal and if you don’t, your satisfaction is guaranteed.
What is degenerative myelopathy in dogs?
Degenerative myelopathy is a disease that affects the spinal cord. This disease causes a slowly progressive hind end weakness and eventually paralysis. This is very common to Lou Gehrig’s disease seen in people. The symptoms that are seen are due to the degeneration of the white matter of the spinal cord.
The exact cause of degenerative myelopathy is unknown. When your dog first presents with signs, they will resemble arthritis or hip dysplasia. This makes the diagnosis of this disease a challenge.
As this disease progresses, you will start to see weakness and ataxia in the back end. There are also diseases that you must also consider for a dog with suspect degenerative myelopathies such as back injury, a tumor of the spinal cord, fibrocartilaginous embolism, myasthenia gravis, and disco-spondylitis.
What are the clinical signs of degenerative myelopathy in dogs?
The early clinical signs of degenerative myelopathy include:
- Your dog will “knuckle” on their back legs. This is when your dog will turn their paw under so that they walk on the tops of their feet. This is most commonly seen when your dog is turning.
- Your dog’s back end will sway from side to side when they are standing still.
- Your dog falls over very easily especially when you gently push them from the side
- Your dog’s back feet scrape the ground when they walk. You may also notice sores or hair loss of the tops of their feet due to them continually walking this way.
- Your dog will have a hard time getting up from the laying down position.
As this condition progresses, the spinal cord will deteriorate, and these symptoms will become worse. This will eventually lead to paralysis of the back end.
Unfortunately, there is no really good treatment for this disease. Most vets will manage pain and inflammation, as well as any other issues that your dog may be having. Most of the time, the damage that has been done to the spinal cord is irreversible and usually life-threatening.
Who is most commonly affected?
This disease is most commonly seen in older dogs between 8 to 14 years. There is a genetic mutation SOD-1 that has been identified in almost all dogs who have degenerative myelopathy. Common breeds that are predisposed to this disease are:
- German Shepherds
- Siberian Huskies
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- Kerry Blue Terriers
- Miniature and Standard Poodles
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
- Pembroke Welsh Corgis
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks
- Wirehaired Fox Terriers
This disease can commonly be passed on genetically from parent to offspring. It is always best to make sure any breeding pair does not have this gene to prevent further spread of this disease.
Can CBD Oil Help?
CBD oil can be very helpful if your dog has been diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy. This can act as a pain reliever and treat symptoms of degenerative myelopathy, including depression and inflammation. CBD interacts with the nervous system and is thought to help with neurodegenerative diseases such as degenerative myelopathy. The antioxidants of cannabinoids suggest a therapeutic use as a neuroprotective agent, potentially preventing the disease. They shield brain cells from toxicity along with aiding in the prevention of degenerative myelopathy.
If your dog has been diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, there are many things that you can do to help decrease your dog’s pain and inflammation. While there are traditional medications that your vet can prescribe, there are also many great supplements that you can use. CBD is great at helping decrease the pain and inflammation as well as help with many other issues. When looking for treatment for this disease, consider using CBD products.
Bruce’s Story: CBD for Pug Myelopathy
The story of Bruce Wayne, my special pug with Pug Myelopathy, is one of many obstacles, all overcome with the help of integrative medicine and Full Spectrum Hemp Extract.
Table of Contents
Bruce’s Pug Myelopathy Diagnosis
Bruce started out like any other happy, healthy dog, free of issues. However, at 5 years old, Bruce started to show signs of hind end weakness. His tail stopped curling and his back legs did not work properly, he would suddenly lose control of his rear legs, and often stumbled looking like his back legs were drunk walking.
After an MRI, Bruce was diagnosed with a slipped disk and intervertebral disk disease (IVDD). Bruce had his first spinal surgery, known as a hemilaminectomy, to fix a slipped disk in 2015. Unfortunately, not many vets understand or even know of Pug Myelopathy. Because of this, Bruce’s vets thought his spinal injury was not congenital and the surgery was all he needed. Pug Myelopathy is in fact a congenital illness, very similar to Degenerative Myelopathy. However, with PM, the spinal cord damage is localized to the lumbar spine only and does not quickly progress up the spinal cord as DM does.
After Bruce’s PM Diagnosis
Unfortunately, throughout the years, Bruce’s condition progressed exactly how Pug Myelopathy does. Two years after his first surgery, Bruce faced another issue: Neurogenic Bladder. This basically meant Bruce was unable to urinate on his own, his bladder could not empty and without intervention, would burst. The cause was another spinal issue, a spinal cyst that damaged the nerve controlling Bruce’s bladder. Another MRI and surgery were performed to break up the cyst to alleviate pressure on Bruce’s spinal cord. Although the surgery fixed the compression issue, Bruce never regained the ability to urinate and now must be catheterized on a twice-daily basis.
By 2018, Bruce lost control of his back legs completely, was unable to walk on his own, and needed the assistance of a wheelchair. His wheelchair, custom-made by Eddie’s Wheels, gives Bruce the freedom he needs while still sustaining nerve function in his feet and legs. Even though Bruce can’t “feel” his rear legs, his spinal cord still needs to be stimulated in order for him to maintain muscle mass and retain some nervous system function.
Supporting Bruce Holistically
Bruce goes to physical therapy every week and utilizes the water treadmill to keep his legs moving. Bruce has the ability to “spinal walk” which means that although his brain is not telling his legs to move, his spinal cord is hard-wired to do so. He still walks in the treadmill; with the help of the water, he can gait and keep his muscles moving. Spinal walking is an incredible phenomenon.
Although many pugs are afflicted with Bruce’s condition, not many pug parents have the tools and resources to be able to conquer this disease with the success Bruce has. Bruce has a team of many highly skilled physicians and experts. He has weekly visits with arguably the best chiropractic neurologist in the world, Dr. Carl DeStefano, as well as weekly acupuncture appointments, massage therapy, cold laser therapy, and physical therapy.
The other foundation of Bruce’s health is his diet and supplement protocol. Bruce eats an exclusively all-fresh and whole food diet, rotating various cooling and neutral proteins like beef, duck, and rabbit. This is critical to maintaining urinary health since Bruce has to be catheterized and is holding urine longer than most animals, making his likelihood of urinary crystal formation higher than a normal dog.
CBD for Pug Myelopathy
Bruce also has a daily supplement regimen, which includes Full Spectrum Hemp Extract CBD. Without Bruce’s CBD regimen, he would have a missing link in his foundational health. CBD’s ability to balance all systems in the body is absolutely critical to keeping Bruce well. CBD helps protect Bruce’s body from chronic pain and inflammation, nervous system damage, and GI upset due to lack of nutrients from his damaged spinal cord. Because Bruce has a spinal cord disease, this means that his microbiome and GI tract will always need support. The spinal cord “feeds” every system in the body, and the gut is arguably the most important system in the body since it intrinsically connects all systems, especially the immune and nervous system.
In addition to the systemic benefits Bruce’s cannabis regimen offers, I also give Bruce CBD to manage a very strange phenomenon that is still not fully understood. Pugs like Bruce often experience neurological spasms in their rear legs. When Bruce experiences these spasms, it looks like his legs are running a marathon and then cramping up. His legs will spasm for upwards of 1-2 hours. This was happening 2-3 times a day and caused Bruce significant disorientation and fatigue. When these spasms first began, I tried EVERYTHING to manage and control them. I tried conventional pharmaceuticals like gabapentin, methocarbamol, and valium to no avail.
I even tried a CBD oil from a brand I previously carried in my store. Nothing seemed to help. However, Angela Ardolino, a medical cannabis expert, saved the day! She convinced me to give CBD another shot, this time trying CBD Dog Health tinctures. Within two doses of their HEAL: CBD Oil for Dogs, Bruce’s spasms resolved. Bruce is now free of these spasms! In the extremely rare case they do occur though, he sleeps right through them! I am forever grateful to Angela for reaching out to help me when I was at a very low point in Bruce’s care, and for teaching me about Full Spectrum Hemp Extract as a natural alternative. Bruce has since dealt with some other serious health issues, like thrombocytopenia and acute liver disease, and FSHE has helped get Bruce through those issues too!
Pug Myelopathy is a condition that requires close monitoring and care, but it is possible to give your pug excellent quality of life through a multi-modal approach of fresh food, supplementation, and proper physical rehabilitation. My hope is that with more information and education, veterinarians who encounter pugs like Bruce will be able to provide their clients better tools to help care for their pugs more proactively.
If you have a pug, regardless of whether it has or does not have PM, please consider contributing to a research study being conducted at Purdue University to try to identify the gene responsible for the condition. Healthy pugs and pugs affected with hind end weakness and/or paralysis area encouraged to submit samples.
Krysta Fox is an experienced Veterinary Technician, a career inspired by her own beloved pug’s medical issues. With her years of experience working in traditional, holistic, and integrative practices, working alongside some of the most gifted practitioners in the industry, her varied experiences have played a key part in expanding her knowledge of veterinary medicine. She has also previously taken on several roles within the industry, including the manufacture and sales of raw pet food as well as consulting on animal health and nutrition. With her combined veterinary and pet industry knowledge, she can effectively help almost anyone she comes across in some way regarding their pets’ health.