Heartbreak !!!!!!! The story of Pebbles’ struggle with Degenerative Myelopathy

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In late June 1998 we noticed, our 10 1/2 year old Kerry, Pebbles dragging her left rear foot as she walked across the kitchen floor. Nothing much, just a slight scrape, but enough that Lucy said ,”Pebbles must need her nails trimmed because I can hear her nails on the floor.” That’s when we noticed it was the sound of only one foot. We watched her walk and decided that it was just her left rear foot that was making the noise. It was evident that something might be wrong. There was!

Pebbles, a great companion, a little bossy at times (most times), who loved going to shows, and in all respects was a very happy little girl. She had a great show career, mostly because she loved it so much. Pebbles was OFA certified and never had a sick day in her life. She always wagged her tail, sometimes even in her sleep. She thought everybody came to see her no matter where she was, at home, at a show, in the motor home, or just walking the neighborhood. She was our first Kerry, our pet, our baby, our love.

After deciding that something was wrong, we immediately took her to our veterinarian, Dr. Tim Minnix, who examined Pebbles and could find nothing wrong. He then had us walk her up the hallway and back again. He said,”I have seen this in German Shepherds but never in any other breed. I would suggest you take her to Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine, because I think she might have a nerve/spine problem..” On July 1, 1998 we took Pebbles to Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio and met with Dr. Debbie Ruhlman, a Neurological Specialist, who wanted to keep Pebbles for a few days and run some tests. Reluctantly we left her. Pebbles had never been away from us in over 10 years.

We picked Pebbles up on July 3rd and Dr. Ruhlman explained the tests and procedures she and her staff performed on Pebbles and has concluded that she had Degenerative Myelopathy. Good news and bad news…. Good news is, no pain is associated with this disease. Bad news is, no cure and life expectancy will be three to six months.

Hemogram-CBC-DIFFSpine, Thoracolumbar
Profile – 17 testsContrast study, Myelogram
Cytology – CSF analysisThorax – 3 views

Although there is no known cure, there are a few things Dr. Ruhlman suggested we could do that might, just might, help extend her life. No promises, but it can’t hurt.


A lot of TLC

A positive attitude – do not show displeasure or unhappiness – ever!!! Exercise her rear legs by manually moving each leg 20 times twice a day


5 ml Aminocaproic Acid 3 times a day 
Vitamins B, C, and E (child’s dosage on the bottles)


If Pebbles shows any signs of pain, call immediately, because this is not consistent with Degenerative Myelopathy.


A condition where the white protective coating around the nerves in the spine starts to break down and expose the nerves. This works like the electrical cord to your lamp. The protective coating around the wires starts to break down and once the exposed wire touches something, like a heat register, it shorts out and the lamp doesn’t work anymore.

When the nerves become exposed they “short out” and they no longer stimulate the muscles in the rear legs. When the muscles do not get the stimulation, the muscles do not contract or compress to do the work required to make the rear legs work right. Eventually the muscles become useless, like mush, and the dog has no control over their rear legs. Also when the nerves “short out”, they can not carry any messages to the brain, so the brain is unaware of any problems in the rear end. In the final stages the dog loses all concept of where it’s feet are, and falls down often because the legs have no muscle strength.-absolutely none!!!!


In the beginning watch for one rear foot not being picked up as normal, maybe slightly dragging. Maybe the rear end stance just a little wider than usual. Later, you will see a weakness in one or both rear legs, where the dog doesn’t stand as straight as usual. The rear end doesn’t seem to be able to follow the front end. Going down steps (or stairs) the rear end is free wheeling (little or no control). Then toward the end, the dog falling down because the rear legs can’t hold the dog up.

We immediately, after returning home with Pebbles from Ohio State, signed on to the web and sent out an e-mail message asking for help and information from anyone who has ever known or experienced this problem in their Kerry. We received many responses from all over the United States and Canada. Some knew the problem as DM and some assumed it was just Hip Dysplasia. We were advised to go on the web and enter “Degenerative Myelopathy” on the search engine.

  • We found many web pages dedicated to DM in German Shepherds. The most informative was the web pages submitted by the University of Florida’s, Dr. Clemmons DMV, PhD. http://neuro.vetmed.ufl.edu (home page). If you are interested, you can read Dr. Clemmons research report and conclusions at the above address. The most important part of his conclusions are the recipe that he feels will help prolong the dogs life. We made a weeks supply each time by multiplying the recipe by 5.

Basic Diet

2 oz Boneless pork center loin chop (we used chicken) 
4 oz Tofu (soybean curd) 
8 oz Long grain brown rice (3 oz cooked in 6 oz water) 
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup of molasses 
2 whole carrots, boiled and then cut up 
1 cup spinach – cooked 
4 tbs green bell peppers – chopped and steamed 
4 broccoli spears – boiled and cut up 
2 raw garlic cloves – crushed 
1 tsp dry ground ginger 
1/2 tsp dry mustard 
1 tsp bone meal

Additionally each day

B-complex – stress formula 100 mg 
yeast – heaping tablespoon sprinkled over food 
Vitamin E – 2000 mg 
Vitamin c – 2000 mg 
selenium – 200 ug

We, on our own, gave 2 baby aspirins – 81 mg twice a day. We think this helped as much anything else we gave her.

Dr. Clemmons does not recommend monthly heartworm medication ( Heartgard, Heartgard plus, or Interceptor). He goes on, in his report, and recommends other herbs and vitamins, but leaves these up to the owner. He also talks about acupuncture, while it won’t cure DM or slow it down, it doesn’t hurt if it makes the owner feel better.

All my attempts to contact Dr. Clemmons via e-mail or phone were non-responsive. I was told that Dr. Clemmons does not believe any other breed has DM other than the German Shepherd, so consequently will not get involved. I even offered to donate Pebbles body to his research program if it would help to find a cure and I was told they were not interested. So much for that!!!!!

Although we were disappointed in the lack of response out of Florida, we still used Dr. Clemmons recipe and recommend vitamin dosage. Did it help? I’m sure that all the things we did, helped Pebbles, but we can’t prove any of it.

As time went by, it was evident that non-carpeted floors became too much for Pebbles to handle, so we carpeted the Kitchen, the slate floor in the hall way and the slate floor in the foyer. Pebbles was able to climb the stairs and come down the stairs the first six months but it became harder for her. We helped her climb the stairs until she got so weak that we had to carry her up at night and carry her down in the mornings. We set up a crate in the dining room for her and blocked the archway from the foyer and from the kitchen with 4 X 8 sheets of peg board and that is where she rested when it was time to let the other Kerrys down for their “prime time”.

Drs. Ruhlmann and Clemmons both claim that there is no evidence that DM is hereditary or genetic, both believe there are probably genetic factors involved as well as chemical and other factors. We know of approximately 10 other dogs that were put down with the same symptoms, some diagnosed by qualified neurologist and others not. Unfortunately, there has been no research in this area so I cannot say for sure either way.

As time went on, Pebbles became very tired if she stood too long in one place, like on the grooming table. We found in J-B Wholesale Pet Supplies catalog an item called a “Risky Bar”, which we ordered. It is an upside down u-shaped bar that fits into two grooming table arm clamps and supports the rear end of a dog and keeps the dog from sitting down or turning around. We padded the bar with 5 towels and then adjusted the padded bar to support Pebbles while we groomed her. She loved the attention of being groomed. We also found in the same catalog a harness with a strap that supports the rear end. It is called a “Walkabout” and it allows you to support your dog with the strap while the dog walks. We used it for about 4 weeks before she became too weak to even take advantage of this type of help.

We always allowed Pati, our 7 year old Kerry bitch, to be free the same time Pebbles was out because Pati was/is such a timid girl, afraid of any noise or disturbance. Pati used Pebbles as her protector. One day, when Pebbles fell in the family room, Pati attacked her. We were shocked, Pati never had the nerve to do anything like that before and we ran into the family room to protect Pebbles and to get Pati off of her. Before we reached them, Pebbles had gotten to her feet and was starting to fight back. Pati stood back, started wagging her tail and trotted off into the kitchen. We truly believe that Pati was trying to help Pebbles get her feet. Many times, later, we would see Pati out in the back yard with Pebbles walking shoulder to shoulder to steady her. She would stop when Pebbles would squat and stand there providing support until Pebbles was finished.

We had a chance to get a complete geriatric exam for Pebbles in May of 1999, so we took advantage of it, hoping against hope they would find something positive that maybe everyone else missed. The only thing they found that we did not know was that her heart was being stressed and weakening and her front end was becoming muscle bound. Of course this was because she had to use her front end more to pull herself up and to balance herself.

The beginning of July we knew it was just a matter of time, Pebbles would lay in one spot, usually where we set her down, until we would carry her outside again or carry her upstairs. She was still alert and wagged her tail but she wouldn’t move. We were now carrying her outside and holding her up while she defecated or urinated and then carrying her back in. The last week of July, Pebbles seemed so tired and did not pay any attention to what was going on. We discussed her condition with our Vet and he agreed she was probably ready. She was tired and too weak to carry on. The night before, I woke to her soft woof, I got up and sit down with her, and it seemed all she wanted, was for me to hold her. Lucy and I sat up all night with her. The next day, we held her as the Vet put her to sleep. Pebbles wagged her tail until the end. I truly believe she knew.

Pebbles lived 13 months after the diagnosis – But then again, she was a Kerry Blue Terrier.


Is Degenerative Myelopathy a problem in Kerry Blue Terriers – No I don’t think so. I truly believe it occurs in many breeds and has been misdiagnosed by Vets and owners as hip dysplasia. I think that some people when they have an older dog that shows the symptoms, just put the animal down, so we’ll never know for sure. In the research I did looking through pedigrees, I couldn’t find any concrete evidence that DM was hereditary in one line or another. I think that if there is any one area that might and I emphasize “might” be indicative of creating problems is the over vaccination of our dogs.

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