This story was updated October 2018.
Have you heard of Degenerative Myelopathy? It’s a progressive neurological disease in dogs caused by the degeneration of the spinal cord. It is similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in people. DM most often strikes dogs between the ages of 8-14. The symptoms begin with a loss of coordination and weakness in the hind limbs. That progresses to paralysis in the back legs and eventually the disease moves to the front limbs and respiratory system. Dogs typically pass away after 2-3 years, although some live as long as 5 years.
I was introduced to DM because it was one of the first conditions my dog Sophie was tested for when she began to lose her balance and drag her hind legs. She had a DNA test for the disease, but it came back inconclusive.
Another dog wasn’t as lucky. Bundas had a DNA test after he showed the early symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy. Komondors aren’t listed as one of the breeds prone to the condition, but the DNA test for Bundas proved otherwise. The diagnosis sent shock waves to his owners and other Komondor breeders. It began a personal crusade by his pet mom to wipeout the illness from the breed.
Bundas and LeAnne’s story
Komondors are beautiful large white dogs with long dreadlocks. People can’t stop staring at when they see one. They are an ancient breed originally used to guard flocks of sheep, goats and their human families. They are loving and devoted dogs.
Bundas was born on September 4, 2002 along with five littermates on Braefiddich Farm in the beautiful Missouri Ozarks where LeAnne Abbott and her husband raise Arabian horses, Boer goats and Komondor dogs. LeAnne and Robbie Benoit, her partner in raising dogs, co-owned Bundas and his siblings. (Robbie has since passed away.)
“Robbie and I always considered ourselves to be responsible breeders, having few litters, worrying about placing the puppies in good homes, taking the best care we could of puppies and parents. Money was never the reason for a litter. Never at any point would we have bred puppies destined to suffer this disease. Had we known of this disease, we would have suffered nightmares worrying about our “children”. Had I known of the development of testing in 2009, all adults would have been tested,” LeAnne states on her website.
To their surprise in early 2013, Bundas started to show the first signs of DM. His hind legs became weak and the rear paws knuckled when he stood or walked. By the end of July he was completely incontinent in both his bowels and bladder.
Baffled by his symptoms, LeAnne asked for suggestions on her Facebook page. A friend emailed back saying she thought Bundas had DM. She included a link to the University of Missouri website where research was being conducted. After reading the information, LeAnne was certain Bundas had the disease. On September 5, 2013 the heartbreaking results from the DNA test confirmed the diagnosis.
More about DM
Degenerative Myelopathy is an inherited disease. It slowly strips away the white matter (myelin) on the spinal cord. At first dogs drag a foot or show signs of weakness. Later both legs become progressively involved until the dog loses the ability to walk or stand. After 6 months to a year, DM leaves its victims paralyzed and incontinent.
The most heartbreaking part of DM is the dog’s mind stays alert and healthy. The only humane part of the disease is that there is no pain associated with it.
The potential to acquire DM is present in 125 breeds. It is typically seen in large breed dogs like German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Standard Poodles. It also strikes medium-size dogs such as Corgis.
The DNA test for DM became available in 2008. Researchers have discovered that 70% of the breeds commonly affected have one or two recessive mutated genes they receive from both parents.
The incidence for Komondors is much lower with 47% diagnosed as potential carriers or “at risk” of DM. In plain English that means, Komondors are at less risk for developing Degenerative Myelopathy.
When LeAnne took Bundas to the University of Missouri for testing, they had only seen one other “effected” Komondor before Bundas.
LeAnne realized the best way for Komondors to stop the spread of DM was to have breeders test their dogs. She made it her mission to educate everyone about the DNA test. A safe at-home DNA test can be ordered by any pet owner or breeder through the Orthopedic Foundation For Animals (OFA), which is a nonprofit organization. The test is analyzed by the University of Missouri and the results are sent back to the pet owner from OFA. It is a simple cheek swab DNA test.
“This is a disease that can be beaten if the effort is made. Be smart and educated,” said LeAnne. “All of the Komondors at Braefiddich Farm have been tested for the DM gene.”
On October 14, 2013 LeAnne and Robbie walked into the University of Missouri Veterinary Teaching Hospital with their beloved Bundas for the last time. His disease had progressed and it was time to let him go.
Please help LeAnne spread the word about preventing DM by sharing this story.
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