German Shepherds

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Degenerative myelopathy in German shepherds

Degenerative myelopathy (commonly referred to as “DM“) is a degenerative muscle disorder that can strike dogs (frequently in the German shepherd and this article is specific for the GSD version of DM). I’ve personally seen what it can do to a German shepherd – Zion Van De Hildewaerde SchH3 was worked and trained by a good friend of ours and retired to another good friend of ours where Zion stole the hearts of everyone he met. Zion was able to quickly obtain his SchH3 title (scoring SchH1 – 291, SchH2 – 294, ScnH3 – 288) as well as ranking #25 in the Schutzhund world finals October 2005 – scoring 278 points (full stats available on his site). He was received by our friend early to mid 2006. Roughly 6 months later he started to develop a little twitch in his right rear foot. DM struck him so quickly and fiercely (even UofFL agreed they’ve never seen a case attack this quickly) – he ended up being put to sleep on June 18, 2007. If you’d like to read more about DM, The University of Florida has a great and informative (even if technical) article on the disease.

Until recently, there was very little way of telling not only what triggered the gene but how it was passed from one generation to the next. Luckily, a team of veterinarians were able to find out what genes carried and activated DM. Plus, there is a simple test you can purchase now to see if your dog is at risk. This article is not going to be about preventing it in dogs that are at risk or treatment of the disease (please consult your veterinarian for this) but more about eliminating it from lines in as little as two generations. If you are unsure on where to go, the University of Florida has been one of the leading research facilities in the USA on GSD DM. I’m sure they’d be willing to help you and/or your veterinarian with treatment and prevention in dogs who are at risk. You can read the official press release on the CGD network.

The test is available though OFA’s website store for $65 (US) per dog. The test itself is very simple, non-evasive, and extremely painless. You order the kit and when you receive it there is a tube and a swab (like a common q-tip). You rub the swab on the inside of the dog’s cheek (best if they haven’t eaten or had anything to drink recently – an hour or so), put the swab in the tube and ship it off to OFA for evaluation – generally you get your results within 4-6 weeks (we got our test results very close to 4 weeks).

It turns out to be a simple pair of genes and the results are very simple:
Normal / Normal (N/N)– This means your dog does not have the DM gene and your dog will not develop DM.
Normal / Abnormal (N/A)– This means your dog is a carrier. While he may have the DM gene, he will NOT develop the disease.
Abnormal / Abnormal (A/A)– This means your dog is has an active gene pair – your dog may develop DM.< Now, here’s the good news. This gene is very simple, the normal is very dominant and the abnormal is very recessive meaning even if your dog tests A/A you CAN breed him to a N/N dog and at worst case the puppies will only be carriers. As you go through your puppies and pick and choose your next generation of breeding stock you can breed them to another N/N dog and the second generation away from the A/A dog will all be N/N dogs – no DM in the puppies and it can be out of your lines. A simple $65 test per dog can help you eliminate this devastating disease. As you can see, any breeder can breed DM completely out of their lines in as little as two generations and with careful testing and breeding in the future they can be sure that DM will not appear in their lines. As long as they keep their lines N/N – they can even breed to N/A dogs and still have a little of healthy N/N, non-carrier, puppies. Even with a riskier A/A breeding (if the dog fits the FCI standard perfectly, has high scoring (290+) schutzhund titles on all 3 levels, etc.) can have the DM bred out in two generations. I’m sure some people reading this are thinking “why haven’t I heard about this yet?” It is simple – this news was released in December 2008 – only six months prior to this article being written. Add in the fact that many breeders like to just claim that they don’t have these issues but are rarely willing to spend a simple $65 to test a single dog (and it should be quite easy since most sell their puppies from between $1,000 to over $5,000 each – that’s at most 6.5% of one puppy (and litters range from 5-10 puppies). We know that our GSD is N/N and are willing to show our certification from OFA to any prospective stud’s owner and anyone who is interested in adopting one of our puppies – I suggest anyone interested in any kind of GSD puppy should request this test to be done on the parents. (Plus, if you don’t believe me – here is the proof). 🙂

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