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Like us human parents, our four-legged children have the potential to become very ill due to genetic diseases. Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) and von Willebrand Disease (vWD 1) are both prevalent in Poodles and Bernese Mountain Dogs.
Hats off to modern science! Now we can genetically test our mama’s and papa’s; guaranteeing none of our babies will be faced with these diseases later on in life—they simply do not have the genes!
All of our mama’s and papa’s undergo genetic testing panels. This allows us to feel confident as a responsible breeder. The test results for DM and vWD1 will be included in your puppy’s folder.
What is Degenerative Myelopathy?
Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. The disease has an insidious onset typically between 8 and 14 years of age. It begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs. The affected dog will wobble when walking, knuckle over or drag the feet. This can first occur in one hind limb and then affect the other. As the disease progresses, the limbs become weak and the dog begins to buckle and has difficulty standing. The weakness gets progressively worse until the dog is unable to walk. The clinical course can range from 6 months to 1 year before dogs become paraplegic. If signs progress for a longer period of time, loss of urinary and fecal continence may occur and eventually weakness will develop in the front limbs. Another key feature of DM is that it is not a painful disease.
What causes Degenerative Myelopathy?
Degenerative myelopathy begins with the spinal cord in the thoracic (chest) region. If we look under the microscope at that area of the cord from a dog that has died from DM, we see degeneration of the white matter of the spinal cord. The white matter contains fibers that transmit movement commands from the brain to the limbs and sensory information from the limbs to the brain.
In the section of a spinal cord from a dog who has died of DM (Left), the degeneration is seen as a loss of the blue color at the edges (arrows) compared with the spinal cord from a normal dog which is blue througout (Right).
This degeneration consists of both demyelination (stripping away the insulation of these fibers) and axonal loss (loss of the actual fibers), and interferes with the communication between the brain and limbs. Recent research has identified a mutation in a gene that confers a greatly increased risk of developing the disease.
By Dr. Becker
von Willebrand disease is also called vWD and is the most common inherited blood clotting disorder in pet dogs. Dogs with the condition have an insufficient amount of von Willebrand factor, called vWF, which is a plasma protein. This protein is needed in order for the blood to clot properly. The disease inhibits normal clotting function and causes excessive bleeding even for minor skin wounds. For this reason, it can be a serious and even deadly bleeding disorder.
von Willebrand is caused by a genetic mutation and is equally common in both male and female dogs, though the severity of the condition varies.