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Understanding What is DM Degenerative Myelopathy and why should I buy a German Shepherd That is DM Clear


Understanding What is DM Degenerative Myelopathy and why should I buy a German Shepherd That is DM Clear


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First off let us say with all the advances in science there is no reason whatsoever for this terrible inherited defect to be in existence anymore. With responsible breeding of German Shepherds this Disease could be all but gone. It can only be passed on if one or both of the 2 Parents of a puppy you purchase are a carrier so before you buy a German Shepherd Puppy especially in the USA where it is the worst Ask your potential GSD breeder if the puppy you are interested in has had both parents checked for DM?  and verify via the OFA website that their breeding Dogs are both DM Clear? Refuse to buy one If both parents are not DM Clear and stop the cruelty caused to animals by irresponsible breeding. A simple DNA test is all they have to do to know if a GSD dog is DM Clear! Please help stop the breeding of dogs that are not DM Clear and let that breeder know he needs to spend a little money to help better our beloved German Shepherds un tell you will buy a dog from him if his dogs are not DM Clear let him know maybe he does not know about this horrible disease and you can let him know. 


Degenerative Myelopathy (Degeneration of the Spinal Cord, DM) is an inherited Defect where the immune system attacks a dog's central nervous system. The attack leads to a loss of insulation around the nerve fibers (myelin) and of nerve fibers (axons). Once the nerves in the spinal cord are destroyed, the dog can no longer walk because, without nerve connections, muscles cannot work. The control pathways that make muscles work are located all throughout the spinal cord.

DM is an insidious Defect, the symptoms of which rarely show up before the age of 5, and possibly as late as age 14 years. The early stages of DM start with an almost imperceptible weakness in the hindquarters. In the last stage, the dog can no longer walk, nor hold balance when standing or squatting to defecate.

However, DM itself is not painful. There is zero pain because the nerve cells have died. The dog no longer feels the legs. A very stressful thought and physical experience, but without pain.

Who Gets Degenerative Myelopathy

German Shepherds are the breed that is most susceptible to Degenerative Myelopathy: Between 1 to 3% of German Shepherds worldwide are affected. However, in the USA alone, each year between 14,000 to 42,000 GSDs are diagnosed with DM - which effectively means that in the USA the proportion of affected GSDs is much higher. Simplified calculation: average 28,000 per year * average 12 years lifespan / 3.5 mio GSDs = 9.6%!

Since DM is hereditary, this means that GSD breeders have not yet taken enough care to avoid breeding affected parents. This reinforces the importance of finding responsible German Shepherd breeders when you select your next GSD.

 Degenerative Myelopathy


Related terms: Degenerative radiculomyelopathy, chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM), German shepherd dog myelopathy


Outline: Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive, incurable, disease of the nerves of the spinal cord which causes gradual loss of mobility and loss of feeling in the limbs. Affected dogs become paralysed first in the hind limbs and then in the forelimbs. The condition, which appears to be quite common in German Shepherd dogs, does not cause pain but they are unable to behave or function normally which is likely to have a detrimental impact on their welfare.



Summary of Information




1. Brief description


Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a fatal, chronic, progressive, degenerative disease of the spinal cord of several breeds of dog, including the German Shepherd dog (GSD). There is no treatment for this disease and in time it leads to complete paralysis in all limbs (tetraparesis). Euthanasia is usually opted for before the disease progresses to this stage.


In DM there is a slow, progressive degeneration of an outer layer of tissue of the spinal cord (the white matter) in the thoracic (chest) section of the spine with loss of myelin and axons (Shell 2008). This degeneration appears to be due to the presence of excessive amounts of damaging reactive oxygen species molecules (ROS): biochemicals that react with and damage the components of cells, causing oxidative or free radical injury. High numbers of ROS occur with this condition, due to a mutation in the gene which codes for the production of the superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1) enzyme, which is produced by cells to help break down ROS and limit any damage they might cause (Awano et al 2009).


The first signs of DM are classically seen at around 5 to 9 years of age and involve hindlimb ataxia (swaying when moving). As the disease progresses, hindlimb weakness occurs, leading to an inability to stand and then complete hindlimb paralysis. Most owners elect for euthanasia, once significant paralysis or paraplegia has occurred; however, if allowed to progress, the disease will ascend up the spinal cord to affect the forelegs leading to tetraplegia (inability to use all four limbs) (Awano et al 2009).


There is currently no effective treatment for this disease or its effects, though physiotherapy can help some dogs stay mobile for longer.


2. Intensity of welfare impact             


DM is a non-painful disease (Cherubini et al 2008, Shell 2008), however, the dog may be caused distress by its progressive inability to move normally. Normal maintenance behaviours, such as scratching, comfort shifting of the body, urinating/defaecating become difficult or impossible as the disease progresses and nursing-care needs rapidly increase. Pressure sores and painful ulcerations may occur secondary to hindlimb paralysis unless there is scrupulous care by the owners.


3. Duration of welfare impact


This disease usually appears in dogs from 8 or 9 years of age (Cherubini et al 2008, Rusbridge no date), however, animals as young as 6 months can be affected  

Once the condition appears it is progressive and fatal. The majority of owners have their dogs euthanased within a year of diagnosis 


4. Number of animals affected


Considered a common problem of older GSDs by veterinary surgeons; the exact percentage of GSDs affected is currently unknown although researchers at Missouri University suggest that a relatively high proportion of individuals have the predisposing mutated gene and many will go on to manifest the disease. From data on estimates of total dog population in the UK and on the percentage of all micro-chip registered dogs that are German Shepherd Dogs (Alsatians) (Lucy Asher, 2011, personal communication), we estimate that the UK population size of this breed may be around 400,000. 


In one study 2% of all GSDs presented at USA veterinary teaching hospitals were found to be affected (Coates et al 2007). If, on the basis of this, we estimate prevalence at 2%, then the number of affected animals in the UK may be about 8000.


5. Diagnosis


A definitive diagnosis of DM can only be made at post-mortem with microscopic examination of the spinal cord (Cherubini et al 2008). A tentative diagnosis of DM, whilst the dog is alive, can be made by a veterinary surgeon through elimination of all other possible causes of the signs. This may well involve diagnostic procedures including radiographs, blood tests, analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the spinal cord and brain) and computerised tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.


6. Genetics


A gene connected to a greatly increased risk for developing DM has been recently identified. This mutated gene has been categorized as autosomal recessive with incomplete penetrance; this means that to develop the disease an animal has to have inherited one copy of the gene from each parent but even then it may not go on to develop the symptoms of the disease


7. How do you know if an animal is a carrier or likely to become affected?


DNA testing can now be undertaken to identify animals at risk of developing the disease and carrier animals, who have a copy of the mutated gene but which are unaffected by the disease themselves. All animals should ideally be tested prior to purchase and breeding.


8. Methods and prospects for elimination of the problem


Currently there is no scheme in place to try and eradicate DM from the GSD breed in the UK, although in the USA the University of Missouri and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals offers a test for the condition.


Elimination of a recessive gene with incomplete penetrance from a breed is not straightforward if its prevalence is high because removing all carrier animals, that possess a copy of the gene, may significantly affect the number of animals suitable to breed from, and hence the size of the gene pool. To avoid such a problem, careful breeding of carrier animals to known healthy non-carrier individuals is recommended (Bell 2010), with slow replacement of carrier breeding animals with non-carriers over time.


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