Research at the Broad Institute of Harvard University and the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine has demonstrated a genetic link between degenerative myelopathy, DM, (degeneration of nerves) in dogs and Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans.
A spontaneous genetic mutation in dogs causing nerve degeneration is the same mutation which in humans causes Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. Researchers found that dogs with DM had mutations of the SOD1 gene just as people with ALS had mutation of SOD1. These dogs had nerve changes similar to changes seen in human patients with ALS.
Researchers report that canine DM is the first recognized spontaneously occurring animal model for ALS. It’s hoped that this finding will aid in understanding ALS in people.
Degenerative myelopathy is a disease that affects the spinal cord of German Shepards and other large breed dogs. The disease causes degeneration and dysfunction of the spinal cord starting near the tail and gradually moving forward. Early symptoms include mild rear limb weakness and ataxia as well as scuffing or dragging of the rear limb toes. These symptoms often appear similar to arthritis in the early stages of the disease. As the disease progresses dogs experience greater difficulty walking and eventually it can lead to paralysis. If your dog is having difficulty walking or using his rear legs you should have him examined by your veterinarian.