My female, 16 year old, 55 pound, shepherd hound mix was confirmed with DM. I just put her down. Sherah and I were extremely active her entire life, for years and years we hiked or walked trails for at least 3-7 miles each and every day so she was in pristine physical condition even at 16 years old. She literally never had a single medical illness or issue aside from a broken leg at 7 years old and then the DM at 16. Exercise is crucial to maintaining a DM dog’s mobility as long as possible so we still walked at least 2 miles a day throughout the first few months after her DM diagnosis. It did progressively take her longer on each walk but we broke it into chunks, took lots of breaks and only did what she was happy and eager to do.
The first sign that I noticed was when Sherah started scuffing her middle 2 toenails on both rear feet in September of 2022, I took her for a nail trim because I thought they were maybe just a little too long. Looking back, the toenails on the rear feet were not wearing evenly at all so that was a subtle sign. I also noticed that she had quit “hiking” to pee when on walks (she’s an alpha girl so she had always pee’d like a boy) and she started squatting to pee instead.
Then all of the sudden one day, about 1 month later in November 2022, she could no longer walk across hardwood/laminate/tile floors without her feet slipping out from under her (many times falling into a side split), I thought she was just showing some arthritis or other senior dog signs. She did not have any pain. She could walk pretty normally outside on the grass but I started avoiding pavement or any other rough surface with her because I didn’t want her to hurt her back feet. I covered every inch of the floors in the house with utility rugs to help her with traction and she seemed to be able to walk ok for a bit after that, again at that point I just thought it was just her getting older - after all she was 16 years old at this point.
Then in mid December 2022 she started standing with her hind legs crossed and didn’t seem to realize it at all. That was obviously a more serious sign so I took her to the vet. She was also walking with a slightly wobbly gait at that point and stumbling some on her walks. We were still walking about 2 miles a day total, spread over multiple walks throughout the day. At the vet we took a battery of tests and had an MRI. The MRI and every other test showed no issues with her at all, perfect condition physically (not even the arthritis that I had mistakenly assumed she was starting to experience), so we then did genetic testing and she tested positive for the genetic predisposition (and let me remind you she is not a purebred, she is a shepherd hound mix). That’s how she received an actual true DM diagnosis.
By the end of December 2022 I had to install a ramp over the 3 steps to get outside so that she could still walk in and out by herself without falling. She also started knuckling her rear feet.
By mid to late February 2023 she was having real trouble getting up from a lying or sitting position but once up she could still get around decently enough, just wobbly and stumbling. She still never had any pain and was a very happy girl. However, when she squatted to poop or pee she would fall on her butt about every other time she when to the bathroom because she could no longer hold herself up and that absolutely mortified her. I was able to help hold her up by the hips to steady her while she did her business but she was definitely unhappy about that situation. I purchased a special harness that had pelvic straps and a handle above her hips to try to help her move around but she was a pretty rural country dog and while she did love her cuddle time with me, she definitely wasnt used to being “manhandled” and so she refused to wear the harness (a wheelchair was definitely out of the question because of that).
By mid March 2023 her rear end would sink immediately to the floor when she stopped to drink or eat from her elevated water and food bowls, kind of like pressing the foot lever of a barber chair to make it go down in height - a pretty quick sink down but not a ”thunk” or a slam. She was extremely uncoordinated walking and tripped a lot (and fell over sometimes) but never stopped being alert, happy and had a great appetite.
By mid April 2023 she really starting to slow down, walks became shorter and shorter and we took lots of long breaks, and she was very rarely able to get up off the ground without assistance. She also experienced random rear leg jerking and kicking when just laying down. To give a specific timeline to how fast things start to progress: one weekend she was able to walk 1 mile round trip (half mile out and half mile back) on a sandy beach over about 3 hours - LOTS of stumbling and even more stops to rest for about 10-30 minutes at a time, but she was not in any pain and was really enjoying herself. Exactly 2 weeks later to the day, she only made it about 300 yards at the same location. So it starts to snowball very quickly towards the moderate stages. Because of this rapid progression I decided to have her euthanized by a mobile vet at home about 2 weeks after that, which was just a couple days ago.
Towards the end she because upset and frustrated with her lack of coordination and limited mobility. She was too large to carry around everywhere (not that she would have let anyone carry her anyways) and was not the kind of dog whose quality of life would be improved by harnesses, slings and wheelchairs. She had also started not sleeping through the night, whining, uncomfortable and also quit lying in her beds instead choosing to just lay on the rugs on the floor. To keep her with me any longer would have selfishly been for me, not for her, and that is 100% the wrong thing to do. It was so devastatingly hard to put her down, words cannot express it. And not just because of how incredibly much I loved her (she was literally my entire world, no husband or kids) but so so difficult because DM dogs stay alert and engaged up to the end. It’s awful to say but it is so much easier to put a dog down who is sick and in pain. DM dogs do not have any pain but they also do not understand what is happening to them and at some point it WILL become frustrating and depressing and scary to every DM dog, no matter what their disposition is. The time to euthanize a DM dog is different for everyone because all dogs are different, a dog who will accept a wheelchair will obviously be happier longer and can wait for euthanasia longer than a dog who refuses that kind of assistance. Also a dog who is in great physical condition and maintains their exercise throughout the DM (to the best of their comfort and ability) will be able to stay happy longer than a dog who just enjoys laying around and doesn’t exercise as much.
I hope that timeline helps someone else whose baby is experiencing this awful condition, I was not able to find many specific timeline examples online so I wanted to post my experience for others to read. I will also add that I went back and watched old videos of her to look for any subtle signs that I must have missed and a one thing was that in about April-May of 2022 the videos show she was not putting her tail upwards anymore. The highest she was lifting it when walking or barking at things was straight out horizontal. I never noticed it at the time because she was so active. So if you count the lack of tail movement in May 2022 as the first sign, everything I described happened from May 2022 to May 2023. I am too heartbroken to describe but I would rather have put my baby down a little too early than even one day too late. The time to euthanize is not when it becomes a sudden crisis situation or they have been suffering or become depressed. This is the one thing we can do for them, to make sure they pass away happy, peaceful and without fear and anxiety. I would gladly do it all over again for my precious loving wild little cuddle bug.
RIP my sweet Sherah, you will always be my scrumptious dumpling and my life is forever better because you were in it.