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Do you think it’s possible for good nutrition to slow the progression of Degenerative Myelopathy? It’s a subject that weaves in and out of popularity every few years and it’s once again being discussed.
It was a topic Steve Marsden, DVM ND presented at an online workshop hosted by Upward DOG: Rehab & Wellness, during the summer. Everyone in attendance, including me, paid close attention as Dr. Marsden made his case about the health benefits of feeding dogs with DM a balanced diet made from “real food.”
His presentation made me think about another veterinarian who also developed a nutrition plan for dogs with degenerative myelopathy. In 1998, Roger Clemmons, DVM, PhD formulated a homemade diet to slowdown the advancement of DM symptoms.
While the diet was nutritionally sound, it lost support from the veterinary community. I have always been a fan. My personal view is that pets are healthier when they eat fresh whole foods. I found Dr. Clemmons’ recipe when my dog Sophie became paralyzed from a progressive neurological disease. She lived with the condition for 5 years and I like to think Dr. Clemmons had something to do with it.
Note: Please talk with your veterinarian before using any of the nutritional information in this article. This post contains affiliate links. Read our policy.
A brief explanation about Degenerative Myelopathy
Canine Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive illness that attacks the spinal cord. The disorder is similar to ALS in humans because it causes the protective myelin coating around the spine to breakdown. This prevents the neurons in the spinal cord from communicating with the brain.
Dogs first show signs of hind end weakness and knuckling of their paws when they walk. As the disease advances, their back limbs become paralyzed. Eventually DM moves to the front legs and later attacks the organs and respiratory system.
DM is most often seen in older dogs between the ages of 8 – 14 years-old. Younger dogs can be affected as well, but it’s rarely seen in canines under the age of five.
The life expectancy of victims is 2-3 years. Some dogs pass away earlier at 1 year and others have been known to live for 5 years. Progression of the disease depends on how fast it advances through a dog’s body.
Read my complete story about DM.
The role of nutrition to slow the progression of Degenerative Myelopathy
Note: The following is a summary of my notes from Dr. Marsden’s presentation.
Steve Marsden is a pretty remarkable person. He’s the co-founder of Edmonton Holistic Veterinary Clinic and a respected international lecturer who also teaches and practices naturopathic medicine. In addition, Dr. Marsden is a Chinese medicine practitioner and co-author of the Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine: Science and Tradition.
Dr. Marsden shared his two main goals for DM patients: Make sure dogs eat only fresh food (lightly cooked or raw) and mobilize them with plenty of exercise to keep their spine in top condition.
For nutrition the goal means serving:
Real food vs. prepared dog food
A balanced diet that includes dog friendly vegetables (kale, spinach, green beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower)
Varying proteins (chicken, turkey, fish, beef, venison, bison, lamb etc.)
Blue clams (Clams contains iron, B12, protein, collagen and are heart healthy)
No starch except sweet potatoes
Dr. Marsden also recommends adding a pre-biotic vitamin and mineral supplement to a dog’s diet. The ingredients in this type of supplement balance any missing minerals from a home cooked diet.
His personal favorite is called supplement called Hilary’s Blend, but unfortunately, it’s only sold in Canada. A similar product I use for my dogs comes from a veterinary nutrition website called Balance IT.
In addition, Dr. Marsden adds a Chinese herb called Bupleurum. This is an important herb that improves the liver, lowers inflammation and lessens viral activity. Practitioners use Bupleurum to fight liver and respiratory infections and to aid digestion. The herb works by stimulating the immune system to work harder. It must be ordered through a holistic vet.
Tips about exercise
Dr. Marsden is a firm believer in the benefits of exercise and rehab therapy for canines with DM.
Daily walks (in a wheelchair or on their own)
Hydrotherapy or physical therapy
In his presentation the doctor also talked about the benefits of LED Light Therapy and tPEMP™.
LED Light Therapy can be done at home with your dog. The treatment emits low level infrared light to reduce inflammation and increase healing. Units, specially designed for pets, can be found online.
Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (tPEMP™) is another piece of equipment that emits energy to lessen inflammation and promote healing. One popular device is the Assisi Loop. It’s used at home while a dog lies down and relaxes. This device requires a prescription from your vet. Click to read more:
Dr. Marsden shared that utilizing good nutrition, exercise and light therapy has the potential to stabilize DM. His experience has shown him, it can put the disease into remission for some dogs.
Dr. Clemmons’ regimen
Dr. Roger Clemmons, DVM, PhD, DACVIM Diplomate is a renowned veterinarian who spent most of his 35-year career at the University of Florida, trying to end DM. The journey also helped him earn a PhD in neurology and neurosurgery. Today he continues his career working with animals at the Neurology Institute of Veterinary Specialists in Florida.
In 1998 Dr. Clemmons’ developed a “clean” diet of fresh whole foods, supplements and herbs to delay the progression of Degenerative myelopathy in dogs.
The Integrative approach also included: an exercise regimen, medications and supportive measures like acupuncture.
The exercise part of his plan called for dogs to walk or swim because it increased blood flow and maximized muscle tone. He recommended scheduled exercise of 30 minutes, 3 times a week and 1 hour of walking 1 day a week, followed by rest on the off days.
The supportive care in Dr. Clemmons’ plan included acupuncture, stress reduction and the elimination of heartworm and flea medication.
He thought these measures could improve the immune system in DM dogs.
The plan also included a lengthy list of medications and supplements. These can still be found on the original DM website.
Dr. Clemmons’ nutrition plan for DM dogs
At the time, Dr. Clemmons’ used a model diet that was prescribed for patients with Multiple Sclerosis. It’s a stricter diet than what Dr. Marsden prescribes, but it consists of clean non-processed food. You can read details about each ingredient on the DM website, but below is an example of what’s included.
You’ll see one ingredient that always brings up questions with pet owners and that is – Garlic. Many people know that garlic can be toxic to dogs. Years ago, I wrote to Dr. Clemmons about this ingredient and he assured me that the quantity of garlic in his recipe is safe for dogs.
The shopping list
- Protein – Dr. Clemmons prefers Tofu
- Vegetables – Carrots are recommended
- Sardines – for their Omega-3 fatty acids
- Garlic – exact amount given on the website
- Green tea
- Grape seed extract
- Variety of vitamins listed on Dr. Clemmons site.
It’s interesting to me that two experts in the field recommend good nutrition to slow the progression of Degenerative myelopathy. If your dog is dealing with the condition, I hope you’ll take a closer look at this tool.