Archive for March, 2014

Drug Therapy May Bridge DM and ALS

Friday, March 21st, 2014

*Article provided thanks to University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine *

dm, als, degenerative myelopathy

Dr. Joan Coates, a veterinary neurologist and professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, was recently awarded a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health, to explore a potential therapy for canine degenerative myelopathy. The study involves treating dogs diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy (DM) with a drug therapy that is also being tested in people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“What we hope to do is slow the disease progression, and ultimately, halt the disease progression,” Coates said.

Coates was part of a team that also includes Dr. Gary Johnson, an associate professor in the MU CVM Department of Veterinary Pathobiology who is involved in genomics research, and investigators at the Broad Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who established that the same genetic mutation that causes DM in dog also causes some forms of ALS in people. The mutation is wide-spread in the dog population and DM exists in many breeds, such as Pembroke Welsh corgis, Rhodesian ridgebacks, German shepherd dogs, Chesapeake Bay retrievers and boxers.

Both DM and ALS are incurable neurological diseases that cause progressive neurodegeneration in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. The diseases lead to weakness and muscle atrophy, and culminate in paralysis and death. In DM, the onset of clinical signs starts at around 9 years of age with weakness beginning in the hind limbs and affected dogs are usually paralyzed within 11 months. Many pet owners choose euthanasia when their dogs can no longer use their hind limbs. However, if the dogs live longer with DM, the disease would continue to spread through the central nervous system eventually affecting the rest of the spinal cord, muscles, nerves and the brain. In end-stage DM, dogs can develop swallowing dysfunction and lose their bark.

Coates’ focus now is the search for a treatment that will benefit DM and ALS patients.

She is collaborating on a drug therapy project with Dr. Timothy Miller at Washington University in St. Louis. Miller is leading a clinical trial in ALS patients. Coates said beneficial effects of the drug have been observed in rodent studies giving hope that those benefits will carry over to treating DM and ALS.

“Possibly more can be learned in treating DM so that we can then go back and expedite therapeutic approaches in treating ALS,” Coates explained. “We hope to have pharmacologic studies completed in a year and from there we can take it to a clinical trial in DM-affected dogs.”

Similarities between the canine and human nervous systems, and the homogeneity in onset and clinical progression of canine DM, will facilitate translation of therapies into human applications. Furthermore, dogs with DM offer a ready clinical population in which therapies can be evaluated in an environment closely mimicking human clinical trials.

ALS is caused by many different genetic mutations or is sporadic. Moreover, the disease progression and the type of onset are variable. These heterogeneities pose challenges in management of clinical trials for the ALS community.

“The challenge in any therapy involving the nervous system is getting the therapy where the pathology resides — you have to get the treatment into the spinal fluid and the nervous tissue.”

To that end, Coates is collaborating on other translational and comparative medicine projects. With her fellow researchers within the College’s Comparative Neurology Program, she is working to establish biomarkers — the biochemical signatures of diseases — in spinal fluid and blood in an effort to further characterize DM. She is also partnering with Dr. Teresa Lever, an assistant professor in the MU School of Health Professions, to study swallowing dysfunction in dogs.

As the links between ALS and DM becomes clearer, Coates hopes that she, together with fellow veterinary neurologists, will foster collaborations with other ALS researchers to expand on different treatment approaches for DM and ALS and eventually a cure.

In Loving Memory Of Kona

Friday, March 14th, 2014
understand dm, degenerative myelopathy
understand dm, degenerative myelopathy
We were lucky enough to first meet Kona back in 2012. Her vet diagnosed her with Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) so she started visiting us to swim and receive laser and massage therapy.  Kona loved her swimming! And we sure loved seeing her. She was a happy face and a lively warm soul that brightened up everyone’s day when she walked through our door.  Although there was a time when Kona could no longer walk well on dry land, she was still able to move in the water and could swim well. Kona’s wonderful family would take her to a lake house every summer. She loved these trips and would spend the majority of her days there enjoying the water. It was such a pleasure to be a part of your life Kona, your beautiful soul will continue to live on and your strength to inspire others. You will be remembered, dear Kona.
“Dogs may not be our whole lives, 
but they make our lives whole”

Understanding Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

Friday, March 7th, 2014

degenerative myelopathy

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive neurologic disease of the spinal cord. It is characterized by weakness and coordination of the hind limbs. As the disease progresses the hind limbs will become weaker and weaker until they are paralyzed. The disease will continue to progress up the spinal cord eventually causing front limb paralysis and death. DM is most often caused by a genetic gene mutation, and is comparable to ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease in people. At this time the disease is incurable, but there are things you can do to help slow the progression and provide your dog quality of life. 

Dogs are usually older than 5 years when signs first appear. Often the first symptoms owners notice are stumbling and tripping over the back paws, however there are many symptoms to be aware of including:

  • Progressive weakness of the hind limbs
  • Worn nails
  • Difficulty rising
  • Stumbling
  • Knuckling of the toes
  • Scuffing hind feet
  • Wearing of the inner digits of the rear paws
  • Loss of muscle in the rear legs progressing to general muscle loss
  • Tremors of the rear legs
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence
  • Front leg weakness
  • Mental anxiety
  • Pressure sores on boney prominences
  • Inability to rise
  • Poor hygiene
  • Pneumonia
  • Depression
  • Infection/sepsis

*Note that the above symptoms may represent other medical concerns that should be discussed with your veterinarian

DM has been identified in 43 breeds, including German Shepherds, Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Shetland Sheepdogs, Corgis, Pugs, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.  If you have a dog who is showing these symptoms (whether they are a breed that is predisposed to DM or not) you should visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.

There is no known cure for DM at this time. The disease is non-painful, however, it is important to develop a physical therapy plan as soon as possible.  Physical therapy has been shown to increase life expectancy significantly as well as significantly increase your dog’s quality of life.

When developing a therapy plan for a dog with DM, the whole dog has to be taken into consideration. Often dogs diagnosed with DM also have arthritis or other old injuries (like a repaired torn cranial cruciate ligament) that should be taken into account. The general plan for DM includes 5 parts: active exercise, passive exercise, massage, hydrotherapy, and paw protection. Depending on the dog, we may also recommend laser therapy and acupuncture. As a rehab practitioner and vet, our goal is to slow the progression of the disease by keeping your dog as active as possible. It is also recommended that you request an at home exercise plan from your rehab vet. The more regular your routine for providing planned exercise and activity, the better it will be for your dog.

There are products that can be helpful for you and your dog as you work together. The Help ’em Up Harness will allow you to safely give your dog assistance moving around. As the disease progresses, eventually a dog wheel chair will be needed. Dogs use the wheel chair a couple hours a day to allow them some freedom of movement and to explore their world. You will want to regularly consider your dog’s quality of life. (What is your dog’s favorite thing to do? Is it to eat, play ball, swim, go on walks, or greet mom when she gets home? Having good quality of life means enjoying these things.) He/she should be checked every 3-4 months for urinary tract infections, and any wounds in order to closely monitored for signs of infection. In the latter stages of the disease, as the weakness moves forward in the body, it may become more difficult for your dog to breath and pneumonia may become a risk. At this point in the progression, it is important for you to watch for mental anxiety and depression. At some point, euthanasia becomes the kindest gift to then give your dog, but until then, enjoy your time together, and be thankful of each other and all the other two and four-legged creatures in your life.

Welcome To Our Blog

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

Welcome to our blog!

Here you will find articles posted from our website, inspiring success stories, educational and informative posts, as well as fun community posts with pictures of our (and your!) furry family members.

If you have a great story (or photo) you’d like to share with us, we would love to hear it! Just shoot us an email at

Looking forward to this blog experience being an interactive one with you.

Helping your dog fetch more out of life.