Lucy Main page

Resource site for new DM information

I am happy to report that there have been so many advances into the testing, treatment and development of products for DM dogs, that some of this material is outdated. I've put 2010 updates where possible, but mostly this is now Lucy's story as we tried to figure out how to live with a cruel disease. She taught us a lot about the joy of living in the moment.


After the MRI I am groggy!

Lucy's physical therapy at Sol Companion

My Different Carts:

Lucy and her Eddie's Wheels car

Lucy and her Doggon Wheels Quad cart

More pics in the Quad cart

Lucy and her original Doggon Wheels cart

Lucy and her K-9 cart

About the Author

Author's Stuff

the drlemon homepage


Well, in the early stages of the DM disease my legs were wobbly but I could still get around ok. When I ran, sometimes I ran so fast I started dragging my hind legs. Even though I was having fun, I know now that this was bad for my back and that I should have been in a "walking cart" which supports the spine and hips but lets me still use my legs. My family bought me an Eddie's Wheels cart which is tough and sturdy. The wheels are angled so that it is tough to flip this cart over. My shoulders and back were still strong so I could get great speed in the cart. The cart didn't flip over even though I curbed trees and went over street curbs and off-roaded on hikes! When my hind legs failed they were raised in the stirrups attached to the back bar and I continued to chase balls and play with my dog friends.

2010 update: Eddie's Wheels now designs carts specifically for DM dogs. The carts adjust to offer increasing stability as the disease progresses. There are attachments to convert the cart into a quad cart when front support is necessary.

Later when my back began to fail, I needed a different cart to support my back. I tried a couple and finally settled on a Doggon Wheels cart that is made of light-weight aluminum. It put very little pressure on my spine and shoulders and the wheels are angled to increase stability.

Later still when my darn front legs began to weaken and my back had the strength of a wet spaghetti noodle, my family bought me the Doggon Wheels front leg extenders turning my cart into a quad cart. This cart held my body in a sling and allowed me to push myself around a little with my front legs. Later my family figured out that they could run and push my cart very fast which was great fun. It triggered some instinct in me that made me move my front legs in a running fashion so I built up strength.


Aside from walking every single day and visiting the dog park as often as possible, my family took me to the Animal Fitness Center to work with hydrotherapist Kathy Kerns. They made me swim even though I explained in a very loud voice that German Shepherd Dogs are not water dogs. I know the swimming exercised the strong and the weak muscles to even out my athletic strength and built up my ability to support a cart. I know the therapist could loosen my knotted muscles and stretch my spine and massage my shoulder and legs. Yeah, I know the therapist could do a thorough exam to see how the disease progressed. But I was still Not a water dog!

They tried another therapy center, Sol Companion, where I was to walk on a tread mill. But first they put me in a glass box and began filling it with water. I pointed out at first quietly and then shrilly that I was about to Drown, but they kept smiling and trying to calm me down! They thought I should passively walk on this moving ground in a tank half-filled with water! I was determined to jump out. I did not care that many other dogs get a great safe workout this way and that the water helped reduce my body weight so that my legs could work better!

However, at Sol Companion I worked with wonderful therapists who taught my family how to massage and stretch my muscles. Sometimes they had me balance on large balls which was fun because I got cool treats for holding different stances. Later they even used a hoist to hold me up and get me to use my front legs more.

I also had Acupuncture which was soothing and relaxing. I don't know how it works but I never had any side effects from my intensive drug therapies. On days when I seemed really depressed, I always got my energy and zest back after seeing Dr. Williams (my vet who does acupuncture.)

Tests and stuff

2010 Update: There is now a simple blood test available to identify genetic markers to determine whether your dog is at risk or is likely to develop DM.

My mom noticed a funny sound in the rhythm of my walking (she has good ears for a two-leg.) She took me to the vet. They didn't see anything but she could tell I was hesitating with my right hind leg. They took an x-ray of my back. The x-ray looked good. My mom took the x-rays to an orthopedic surgeon just to be sure but he couldn't find anything wrong. But now I had a tell-tale symptom: the toenails on my right hind leg were worn to the quick. I clearly wasn't picking up the leg correctly.

The vet suggested I have a Myelogram. My mom got me an appointment with a canine neurologist at Animal Care Center of Sonoma County who told her this might be Degenerative Myelopathy in which case a Myelogram was a Very Bad Thing to do. Most DM dogs who have myelograms get worse really fast and it isn't reversible. Dr. Pedroia gave me an MRI instead. This way he could examine lots of nerve and disc stuff without injecting my spine with dye. When my MRI and my blood tests came back perfectly healthy, Dr. Pedroia explained this meant he was 99.99% sure that I had DM. He told us DM is diagnosed when nothing else can be found to explain the slow paralysis. He said, the bad news is that the paralysis would go from my feet to my legs to my back to my shoulders to my neck. The good news is that it was painless and that if I want to use carts and stuff that there was No Reason to euthanize me

Mom went to Dr. Clemmons (Univ. of FLA) site and found lots of useful information about treating DM dogs and put me on the regime. I really liked the fresh organic rice and vegetables and fruits (except for the grapes, I spit them out.) There were several drugs I had to take three times a day (I got used to them) and a daily prescription vitamin/mineral supplement that I liked. West Labs pharmacy was really great about shipping my drugs promptly!

Physical Conditions

I didn't lose control of my bladder or ability to poop, but years later I couldn't tell when I was going to poop until my tail began flagging! Fortunately my family kept strict mealtimes and routines so that I kept going every twelve hours at about the same time all through the disease. In my last few months I couldn't pee very well so my family learned how to express (empty) my bladder by massaging it according to our vet's instructions. What a relief!

Um, speaking of bladders, I did have to watch out for Bladder Infections. My family kept me very clean and used special Malacetic wipes to keep that area sanitary. But sometimes I started leaking or my urine got dark or strong smelling. Then my family would get me the right antibiotics to take care of it quick. Several vets told us that bladder infections are a leading cause of death in handicapped dogs because they can spread to the kidneys.

Even though lots of people told us to expect bed or pressure sores where my poor skin got thin over the bones, my mom massaged me several times a day and made sure to flip me from one side to the other every 1/2 to 1 hour. I always had a piece of foam padding under my hip bone when I wasn't on my bed (even on grass!) Our vet gave us special creams and powders to use, and I never suffered from a single sore!

Anytime a little urine got on me my family bathed my skin to be sure I didn't get "urine scald" which can lead to skin sores. There are several "Dog bath" wipes and even sensitive skin non-alcohol baby wipes that my family used to keep me clean.

I did get some rashes between my hind legs until mom figured out to put a foam pad (cut down from a pad bought at Bed Bath and Beyond) between my legs. She also used unscented pure corn starch between my legs to keep the skin from getting damp, sweaty and irritated.

Cool products

Walkabout Harnesses & Walkaboots: the hind end harness was a terrific help! and the boots are a Must

2010 update: Most of the cart developers also make or sell harnesses (especially that fit their carts) and boots now.

There are lots of special beds for handicapped dogs, and my family and I tried out a couple. In the end they bought me four twin bed size "cone" foam pads at Bed Bath and Beyond (very inexpensive). They covered 2 pads each with a zip up plastic twin bed cover and then put a washable cotton mattress pad (with elastic to grip) over that. So now I had two beds which were Really Easy to clean (the mattress pads can go in the washing machine.) The bed was nice and big so I could move around but still have my hips protected. We put one upstairs and one downstairs so we didn't have to move the beds around.

Piddle pads Well, ok, sometimes I had to go and my family couldn't get me outside fast enough. These pads allowed me to go in the house and then my family could just fold them up and throw them away. They were great for riding in the car too!

Some people ask about diapers. My family tried this too, but what a mess! The few times I went in the diaper, it was a Big Bath job to get me clean. Also I got more bladder infections with them which led to more incontinence. My mom and dad took me outside every few hours so that I didn't need diapers and I was just fine!

Massage Brush Every night my dad gave me a massage and my mom gave me one in the morning. I loved these brushes not just because they helped my circulation (they vibrate!) and kept my skin healthy but because they felt awesome. Just google "dog massage brush".

Radio and TV I really liked Dr. Laura's voice. I also had a Sound Machine ( I preferred the Beach and the Yosemite Falls settings. I enjoyed the TV in the evening when we were all upstairs (Animal Planet!) Since I couldn't move much, I got bored and depressed when mom ran to the grocery store or had to teach a workshop. These "white sounds" kept me from listening for every little creaky sound in the house which could make me feel panicky!