Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is one of the most devastating disorders of the spinal cord diagnosed in dogs. It can strike between 5 – 14 years of age. DM is an autoimmune disease. It slowly attacks a dog’s central nervous system by killing off the outer protective coating of the spine called myelin. Without myelin, nerves are unable to communicate with the brain to control movement. Dogs become paralyzed in the hind end within 6 months to 1 year. Eventually the disease progresses to the front limbs and organs.
Until a few years ago, there wasn’t much a veterinarian could offer in the way of treatment. I know this from personal experience when Sophie became paralyzed. Today Degenerative Myelopathy dogs have new options thanks to researchers who have dedicated their careers to studying the disorder.
R.M. Clemmons, DVM, PhD is one of these heroes. Before his retirement as Associate Professor of Neurology & Neurosurgery at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Dr. Clemmons worked with DM dogs for more than a decade. His research led to the development of a four-tier plan to manage symptoms and slow the progression of DM.
One of the major components of the plan is a diet that slows the progression of the disease.
Before I share Dr. Clemmons’ diet for DM dogs here are more facts you should know about Degenerative Myelopathy.
First discovered in 1973, DM is a genetic disorder that is comparable to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Multiple Sclerosis in humans. Dogs with DM show early warning signs of: hind end weakness, stumbling or crisscrossing the back legs, and knuckling or scuffing the rear feet when they walk.
A mutated gene has been identified as a major risk factor for the disease in a number of dog breeds. An easy-to-use DNA test is available from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for owners and breeders. The test is approved for breeds that have been proven to be susceptible to DM though a University of Missouri study.
These breeds include:
- American Eskimo Dogs
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Cardigan Welsh Corgi
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- German Shepherd Dog
- Golden Retriever
- Great Pyrenees
- Kerry Blue Terriers
- Pembroke Welsh Corgis
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers
- Wire Fox Terrier
Here is Dr. Clemmons’ Diet for Dogs with DM
The overall goal of the DM diet is to stabilize the immune system of sick dogs through wholesome and balanced home-cooked food. Processed foods have been eliminated. And scientifically proven vitamins, minerals, and natural herb supplements have been added.
“Diet may have a powerful influence on the development of chronic degenerative diseases and new information suggests that dietary regulation might play a more significant role in the progression and development of diseases like MS,” said Dr. Clemmons. “Elimination of toxins from pre-processed food may assist in preventing a number of immune-related disorders. The current treatment of DM is designed to suppress the immune disease, but does nothing to correct the immune alterations which led to the disease state. Diet might help in correcting this defect and allow the immune system in DM dogs to stabilize.”
It might surprise you to learn the DM diet is not based on large quantities of meat.
“Wild dogs were not big meat eaters” said Dr. Clemmons. “They ate bodies, including intestinal contents often laden with plants and plant materials.”
The Basic DM Diet
- 2 oz. Boneless Pork Center Loin Chop (boiled, baked or fried in olive oil)
- 4 oz. Tofu (soybean curd)
- 8 oz. Long Grain Brown Rice (3 oz. cooked in 6 oz. water)
- 2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- ¼ cup Molasses
- 2 Whole Carrots (boiled and then cut up)
- 1 cup Spinach (cooked)
- 4 Tbs. Green Bell Pepper (chopped and steamed)
- 4 Broccoli Spears (boiled and then cut up)
One serving is for a 30-50 lb. dog and has1160-1460 calories. You can substitute poultry, beef and lamb for the pork chop. This will alter the composition slightly, mainly by added additional fat. The weight of meat is based upon boneless portions.
Most of the items can be prepared in a microwave. Based on your dog’s body weight, you will need to make more or less. For example, if your dog weighs 80 pounds, multiply all the ingredients by 1.5, keeping their relative proportions.
Food can also be prepared in advance and frozen for later use. Dr. Clemmons recommends that before feeding, you remove the food from the freezer and thaw in hot (or boiling) water or microwave to defrost.
To complete the diet, add (amount per serving):
- 1 tsp Dry Ground Ginger
- 2 Raw Garlic Cloves (crushed)
- ½ tsp Dry Mustard
- 1 tsp Bone Meal
If your dog has a sensitive stomach, Dr. Clemmons recommends mixing the DM diet into their existing food a little a time until they adapt to it. The process should take about a week.
Dr. Clemmons has also approved the DM diet for healthy dogs that are listed as one of the breeds susceptible to the disease.
The 3 other tiers of Dr. Clemmons overall treatment plan for DM Dogs.
Exercise – such as walking or swimming with periods of rest.
Medication – as prescribed by your veterinarian.
Dietary Supplements – Yeast, B-Complex, vitamin E and C, and selenium. In addition: omega-3 fatty acid, Gamma Linolenic acid, Soybean Lecithin, Coenzyme Q, Ginkgo Ginseng: (males only) Dong quai: (females only) Green tea, Grape seed extract, Hydergine, Siberian Ginseng, Bromelain/ Curcumin and Feverfew. (Dosages are available on Dr. Clemmons’ website.)