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Degenerative Myelopathy and the Irish Wolfhound

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Degenerative Myelopathy and the Irish Wolfhound PDF Print E-mail
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Irish Wolfhound - Health Issues
Written by Hugh McManus   

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Monday, 11 August 2008 21:16

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is an adult-onset neurological disease most commonly occurring in German Shepherds (called Alsatians in the UK and Ireland).  The disease is progressive and results in weakness and reduced motor skills in the hind quarters of the Wolfhound and, ultimately, paraplegia.  Most dog owners usually elect euthanasia within a year of the first occurrence of the disease.  DM does not appear to be common among Irish Wolfhounds.

Claire Wade and Kerstin Lindblad-Toh at the Broad Institute of MIT/Harvard and Gary Johnson and Joan Coates at the Animal Molecular Genetics Laboratory of the University of Missouri have identified a genetic mutation that appears to be a marker for canine degenerative myelopathy.   A genetic test is being developed. 

DM is believed to be an autoimmune disease.  The current hypothesis for the cause of the disease is that myelin, an insulating sheath around neurons in the spinal column, is attacked by the dog's immune system (hence autoimmune) compromising the sheath which insulates neurons in the spinal column of the dog.  These neurons form that communication network between the various muscles in the dog and the brain.  Once this protective sheath is compromised, there is a loss of communication between the brain and the nervous system in the lower extremities of the dog.  Ultimately, the dog loses sensation in his hind quarters, a lack of coordination and control.

It should be noted that compressive spinal cord diseases can mimic the symptoms of DM.  It is often difficult to distinguish between them. 

Symptoms

The simplest test for this disease is to measure the rapidity of the reflex to right the back paws.  With the dog standing, simply turn toes of one of the back paws so that the top of the paw is touching the ground.  If it takes time for the dog to right itself, it may be an indication that there is nerve damage, which could be DM.  In a normal dog, this righting reflex is instantaneous.  In a dog with DM, correcting the position of the paw can take up to a few seconds.

When walking, the dog will appear to stagger, crossing one paw over the other, tangling his hocks if he attempts to turn quickly.  The dog’s gait will acquire a swaying quality as he trots.  He will also, likely, drag and scuff one or both of his hind legs, wearing downe and even damaging the nails in his back paw or paws, which could result in bleeding.  The disease is progressive.  There will be gradual muscle loss; the dog will have difficult y in walking, standing from a lying position, balancing and righting himself, and, ultimately, incontinence and paralysis.   The progression can be rapid—six to nine months in some; the progress is considered delayed if the animal lasts two to three years from the time of the initial diagnosis.

The ailment is degenerative ; the symptoms will likely reach a plateau and appear stable for some time before degenerating further.  Ultimately, the hindquarters will no longer support the dog, at which the kindest gift for the Wolfhound is, sadly, euthanasia.

Treatment

The condition is chronic, so can be treated but not cured.  Exercise is recommended to slow the onset of symptoms.  Some veterinarians recommend hydrotherapy or acupuncture.  Aminocaproic acid or n-acetylcysteine are prescribed to delay the progression of the disease.

If your Wolfhound has been diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy, please post a report here.  Or send an e-mail by clicking on the following: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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