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Purebred Dogs and Genetically Linked Disabilities

In honor of the Westminster Dog Show, I am sharing this letter I wrote last summer which was published in All Animals (July/Aug. 2010), the official publication of the Humane Society of the United States.   One of the first boxers we ever met who had degenerative myelopathy had won Best in Breed at Westminster and had sired hundreds of “well-bred ” boxers.  The owner felt a great burden of guilt that he had unwittingly perpetuated this genetically linked disease to multiple generations.  Since then, we’ve made hundreds of carts for AKC champion dogs who have degenerative myelopathy or other genetically linked defects.

Tika, a weimaraner with degenerative myelopathy.

“As owner of Eddie’s Wheels for Pets,  we note that the majority of  our clients are purebred dogs suffering from genetically linked disabilities.  The most devastating disease that creates disability in dogs is degenerative myelopathy, an incurable neurologic disease that is the canine equivalent of ALS.  Because there is no medical or surgical treatment for DM, it is often misdiagnosed by many family vets as arthritis or hip dysplasia.

Uneducated about mobility carts and skeptical about people’s ability to cope with a disabled pet, they often advise caregivers to euthanize their animals, despite the fact that these dogs are not in pain and personalities and spirits remain intact.  DM affects German shepherds, corgis, boxers, Bernese Mt. Dogs, pugs, wire haired fox terriers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, among others.  It starts with the toenails scraping on the sidewalk, and within a year, most affected pets need some assistance walking, either with slings and harnesses or with mobility carts.  With a healthy diet, massage, regular exercise and good nursing care, many of our clients live with the disease for several years.

There is now a test to screen for the genetic markers for degenerative myelopathy in dogs; however, since DM shows up in older dogs who are past their reproductive prime, only public pressure will force breeders to take it seriously.  Today I measured two AKC- registered German Shepherds who were from different litters from the same breeder.  One dog had degenerative myelopathy, and the other had degenerative disc disease and an array of orthopedic problems – bad hips, collapsed hocks.  When I asked the owner if she’d reported these defects  to the breeder, she sighed and said that she had, but that the breeder was clearly not interested in receiving this feedback about middle-aged dogs from his line.  It was bad business.

I applaud HSUS’s article and hope that you will continue to act as a conscience to the culture that is producing fragile, sick and disabled animals.”

Yours truly,

Leslie Grinnell

PS  – For information about genetic testing, visit www.caninegeneticdiseases.net