Laser therapy and rehab can add years to the lives of dogs affected by Degenerative Myelopathy
If you knew there was therapy that could extend your dog’s life by 3-4 years, would you do it?
Degenerative myelopathy or DM is a non-painful disease of the spinal cord similar to ALS in people. If you’re a dog parent with a dog suspected of having DM, you already know the prognosis is poor and the life expectancy is short. This disease causes a dog to develop a clumsy kind of movement in his hind end and lack of body awareness (proprioceptive ataxia). The condition progresses to rear weakness (paresis) caused by damage to the spinal cord. Sadly this eventually causes paralysis of the back legs and moves forward in the spinal cord, affecting the forelimbs.
I remember when I was first told my beautiful girl likely had this disease. Initially, I was in denial but I couldn’t ignore the signs.
One of the most frustrating things about this disease is the lack of a known treatment. Up until recently, intense daily physical therapy was the only known therapy that could slow the progression of DM, extending life from a few months to about a year (Kathmann et al., 2006). The complete exercises can be found in the study provided in the references at the end of this article.
A new retrospective review study now gives hope to dogs and dog parents! This study examined intensive rehabilitation combined with one of two laser therapy (photobiomodulation) protocols.
?Retrospective Observational Study and Analysis of Two Different Photobiomodulation Therapy Protocols Combined with Rehabilitation Therapy as Therapeutic Interventions for Canine Degenerative Myelopathy?
Lisa A. Miller, DVM, CCRT, CVA, Debbie (Gross) Torraca, DPT, MSPT, OCS, CCRP, and Luis De Taboada, MSEE
The results are astounding! Both groups (A & B) received the same in clinic rehab protocol and home exercise program, but those in group A survived on average, 1 year from disease onset, while those in group B survived 3-4 years from disease onset!!! AND paralysis was delayed about 2 years from onset compared to group A at 4-5 months! The difference was the laser therapy protocol as seen below.
Photobiomodulation Protocol (LASER therapy)
Protocol A (n = 6) was 904 nm wavelength, 0.5 W, 0.5 w/cm2, 8 J/cm2, covering a treatment area of 650 to 1,000 cm2, point-to-point grid pattern consisting of 20 points. Treatment for protocol A lasted 5 minutes 20 seconds.
Protocol B (n = 14) was 980 nm wavelength, 6 to 12 W, 1.2 to 2.4 w/cm2, 14 to 21 J/cm2, covering the same treatment area (650-1,000 cm2), continuously moving grid pattern covering entire area at a rate of 1-3in/second. Treatment for Protocol B lasted 25 -26 minutes 15 seconds.
As both a rehab practitioner and a dog mom with personal experience with DM, this study gives hope to those affected by this disease.
We interviewed study co-author, Debbie (Gross) Torraca, DPT, MSPT, OCS, CCRP. This interview is live streamed in our private Facebook group: Living with Dogs with Disabilities
1. Miller LA, Torraca DG, De Taboada L. Retrospective observational study and analysis of two different photobiomodulation therapy protocols combined with rehabilitation therapy as therapeutic interventions for canine degenerative myelopathy. Photobiomodul Photomed Laser Surg 2020;38(4):195-205.
2. Kathmann I, Cizinauskas S, Doherr MG, et al. Daily controlled physiotherapy increases survival time in dogs with suspected degenerative myelopathy. J Vet Intern Med 2006;20:927-932.