Updated: Mar 12, 2019
I belong to an online support group for people with DM dogs and it has been a lifesaver to know I am not alone in it. Sad to say new members join weekly from all over the world. Unfortunately I am definitely not alone.
They all say the same things in the beginning, just as I did. They are always in shock, want to know if they will ever stop crying, ask about the first symptoms of other dogs. Let's get some basics out of the way.
DM is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning there is no test for DM, thus diagnosis is given when there is no other explanation. The only way to be sure a dog has DM is to examine tissue post-mortem. So what are we dealing with in the here and now? Probability, and symptoms. What does probability look like? It looks like a dog almost always over 6 years old (and usually after 9 years old), who has tested at risk (meaning carries 2 copies of the mutated gene per genetic testing), is exhibiting "progressive" symptoms, and has tested clear of any other contributing factors. Even an "at risk" result is not a guarantee a dog will ever come down with DM. You really need just about all of the above.
There are several sites to go to to order a DNA kit, and your vet can also send a test out on your behalf. This is a good reference site explaining the DNA testing: https://www.ofa.org/diseases/dna-tested-diseases/dm
Symptoms of DM usually present in the hind legs; dragging the paw (are the nails worn down), knuckling of the paw, and cross over of the rear legs (the dog looks a little drunk in the rear end). This website can help you understand the symptoms: http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/canine-degenerative-myelopathy-its-dna
If you suspect, rule out other causes, there can be many. Consider at minimum a neurological exam and blood work. Further you may consider urinalysis, x-rays of the hips, MRI/CT scan of the spine, spinal fluid collection and analysis. There can be other reason why a dog would exhibit these symptoms. If the tests are clear and the dog is still exhibiting symptoms, get the DNA test to confirm the gene status. Of course you can do this the other way around and get the DNA test first, but like I said, this is a diagnosis of exclusion, and an at risk dog may not have active disease, and suffering from something else you can help, so these tests matter. Trakker has had them all other than the spinal tap which he will likely have next week.
Will you ever stop crying? No, you won't. It will wax and wane. My first fall into the abyss was when my fear of Hip Dysplasia gave way to the absolute shock that my 7 year old healthy and high drive GSD had this disease, and the helplessness I initially felt. I wanted to kill this disease with my bare hands and protect him as he has always protected me, but I couldn't. I had no words only tears. This was mid January 2019 and I cried for 3 days straight, whimpering on and off. I couldn't talk to anyone about it. I couldn't validate it in any way, even by texting, not even to my children. I didn't want anyone to look at me with even a bit of empathy as I couldn't even respond to kindness without shattering like glass. My sorrow was literally just beneath my thin skin and even a touch would crumble and fragment me. I didn't sleep. Then something miraculous happened which of course, was another gift Trakker gave to me. He never leaves my side, and I mean never. He would look at me with crooked head and sad eyes, which of course made me cry more, so I would avoided his gaze. That really bothered him, and I know that because GSD's don't lie with their eyes. The realization that my behaviour, which he is so intuitively connected to, was causing him distress was not ok with me. Not at all. So I switched my focus off my own heart to his. This is all about him now. When I made that decision, I realized something very important.
You cannot be in two places at the same time.
You cannot care about someone else and yourself at the same time. I decided I would let God open me to the lessons and true gifts that my relationship with Trakker continues to give me. And that was one of them.
I feel better most days now, other than fleeting moments, because my time with him is about him. And being "with" him, brings "me" great joy.
So yes, you do stop crying randomly in restaurants, shopping malls and while driving in the car, and you do put on your fighting gloves, and you do tune into him like he tunes into you, at least until the next slip and fall creates more small tears into your heart. But you go on because it's all about him and the new phase of connection that is happening right now. And that is still a most beautiful place to be.