There are many things that you can do to help your dog maintain a good quality of life. Do not give up hope, all dogs appear to progress at different rates. There appears to be no set pattern. Some dogs lose mobility in the hind quarters around 8 months after diagnosis, and others are still walking up to 3 years later.
One of the most important things is to ensure your dog is getting exercise on a regular basis. This will help to keep his muscle mass. Without exercise we found that the DM would progress quicker and you can find yourself in a viscous circle. Some days Spanna was particularly wobbly and could hardly walk so we didn't take him out as we were worried that he would fall. Then due to the lack of exercise he would seem to get more wobbly and weak, and this is where the viscous circle sets in. In hindsight, we now realise that it probably would have been better to take him out on these days, if only for a few minutes just to keep his muscles moving. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise if you have access to a pool. Some equestrian centres have pools that they will allow you to use.
To help your dog keep traction on slippery floors you can put down old carpets, rugs or carpet runner.
Raise your dogs food and water dishes so he won't have to stoop down to use them.
Ensure that your dog has a thick comfy bed. As he becomes less mobile he will appreciate the extra comfort. Spanna had a "Vet Bed" and he found this very comfortable. The cat also liked it and would try and get Spanna off it by burrowing underneath. Please click here to see photo.
If your dog has become incontinent there are various different things you can put down to protect your carpets: Pampers care mats (disposable), plastic carpet runner, cut up mattress protectors, shower curtain, cut up car wind screen frost protector, plastic table cloths, plastic backed picnic rug. If you cut a sleeping bag in half and place this on top, it makes a very comfortable bed and is very easy to wash and dry. And, if you are lucky, you may get away with just washing the one half.
If your dog has leaked urine on himself you must wash his skin thoroughly to avoid burns. It is best to wash the area with warm water each day. In between washes you can use baby wipes.
Once your dogs is very wobbly and finds it difficult to get up, please remember to offer him water at regular intervals as he may find it too difficult to bother with. We found that as the DM progressed Spanna was getting very thirsty. If your dog sleeps upstairs, ensure that you have another water bowl close to where he is sleeping. If you are awake during the night offer him his water again.
Remember to sit on the floor and play games with your dog, he can become bored very easily, and will not want to feel excluded.
When your dog starts dragging his hind legs to the extent that the toe nails are worn down and bleeding, and the paws are becoming cut you will need to find some way of protecting these on walks. When we were taking Spanna out on concrete we would put a boot on him. Spanna's boot was made by "Mikki" and it laced up at the front which made it quite easy to get on. Generally it worked quite well but did occasionally fall off. There are mixed feelings about boots for DM dogs by people whose dogs have experienced DM. Many people feel that it is best to only use a boot if your dog will injure his paw without it. When using a boot it may cut down on the sensation to the paw, and there is already limited sensation there with a DM dog, so by adding a boot it may actually make the dog walk worse. We found that it was harder for Spanna to walk with the boot, however, without the use of his boot he would have been unable to walk on concrete as he paws would have been cut red raw. Other peope have said that their dogs walk better with a boot, so I think it is a trial and error thing and you have to do what is best for your dog. What we tried to do on most walks was to walk on grass and then we didn't need the boot. We also used a bandage called "vet wrap". This is a horse bandage and is like velcro and sticks to itself. This is not ideal for outdoors as it is not strong enough, but works well in the house.
A harness can be a useful aid for helping your dog to get around. You can buy these, or you can make your own out of old towels or anything that will sit comfortably underneath the dog.
Dr Clemmons, Associate Professor of Neurology & Neurosurgery at the University of Florida has undertaken much research into DM, he has an exercise regime and vitamin, supplement and food recommendations. Many people use these, some it would appear have good results, whilst others say they haven't noticed any improvements. It must be said that there is at present no cure for DM but sometimes in some dogs the progression can be slowed down by certain measures. Accupuncture seems to help with some dogs, and also gentle physio exercises.There are a number of dogs that I know of who are currently on an experimental drug called LDN. Please click here for further details of LDN and a case history. There is a lot of debate over the use of this drug. Most of the users have found it to slow or stop the progression of the DM whilst others have found it to make no difference but say the dog appears happier and less depressed. A number of other dogs known to me are using a drug called Prednisone, this is a steroid, but not an anabolic steroid. Again, there appears to be mixed reactions to this. For some it seems to be working very well. It must be said however, that it is known that there can be some nasty side effects if used long term. There appears to be no set pattern, and what works for one dog may not work for another.
It has been said that it is not advisable to vaccinate a DM dog or any dog that is ill. There appears to currently be a lot of debate as to the necessities of annual vaccinations.
Please do not stop vaccinations without first discussing this with your veterinarian.