Lately, we’ve all been seeing the ice bucket challenge on social media to raise awareness about ALS in people. I thought I would use this blog post as a way to raise awareness about a similar condition in dogs: Degenerative Myelopathy (DM). And no, I’m not going to dump a bucket of ice water on my head or nominate my dog to dump ice water on her head, either!
How are DM in dogs and ALS in people similar?
To learn more about the signs and diagnosis of DM in dogs, click here.
DM in dogs and ALS in people are both degenerative diseases of the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Both diseases cause adult onset weakness and muscle atrophy.
Both diseases are progressive and result in paralysis and death.
Both diseases are associated with a mutation of the SOD1 gene.
What are the differences between ALS and DM?
DM tends to occur in certain breeds; it is most commonly seen in German shepherds, Welsh corgis, and boxers. This implies a genetic cause. In 2009, researchers identified a mutation of the SOD1 gene that causes DM in dogs.
ALS can either be inherited (familial) or sporadic. There is concern that there may be an environmental cause of the sporadic form of the disease. Mutations of the SOD1 gene are important in the familial form of ALS.
How can dogs help?
Currently, the treatment for DM in dogs is to try to slow progression by maintaining strength. That means small bouts of low impact exercise several times a day.
Testing for a medication that could be beneficial to both dogs with DM and people with ALS is in the early phase at University of Missouri. Veterinarians are collaborating with physicians, neurologists, and geneticists to find treatments that will benefit both species, and hopefully lead to a cure for both diseases.