Sigi's Diagnosis, Questions Answered
The Bad News
We received some bad news this weekend. Sigi, our baby, was diagnosed to be at risk for degenerative myelopathy or DM, which is like ALS in humans. With that horrific news, she has a 77% chance of developing DM. It has been devastating for us at WinterKommt. Like you, these amazing creatures are family to us. The news brought me right back to the same tragic and devastating place when we lost Harley almost a year ago to epilepsy. EmbarkVet, who ran the test, has been incredibly supportive and informative. They are dedicated helping us remove DM from our breeding pools. That is a non-trivial task since almost 30% of dogs are carriers. I appreciate that effort a great deal. This whole event has galvanized our collective efforts to breed the best dog we can. WinterKommt promises never to put you in this situation, and I mean never. We test every one of our dogs, both adults and puppies, with EmbarkVet so we know to the best our ability the health of our dogs and ultimately your dog as well. This is one of the reasons we are so expensive, but you can sleep at night knowing that your family member is healthy. That is why we do what we do. That is who we are down to our core.
Scroll down for some questions and answers ↴
Questions and Answers
What is Sigi like?
Sigi is an amazing 1 year old GSD. She is very loving, with a ton of energy and drive. She is incredibly obedient, highly motivated, and extremely loyal. The best way to understand Sigi is to understand her energy. We have a dog treadmill, which is a powered entirely by the dog itself. The treadmill goes exactly as fast or slow as the dog wants it to. We have the treadmill because we live in Fargo, ND, which isn't known for its mild winters. We don't force any dogs on the treadmill, some of them don't like it, but Sigi... she LOVES it. If the door to the room with the treadmill is left open, you can bet that she is standing on it waiting to be hooked up (that's what makes it work). Sometimes, it is impossible to get her off of the treadmill. This is just a small example of the dog that Sigi is.
What is DM?
Degenerative Myelopathy, or DM, is a disease of mature dogs very similar to ALS in humans. It is a progressive degenerative disorder of the spinal cord that can cause muscle wasting, gait abnormalities, and even paralysis. Sigi loves to run and work, so this disease will be especially devastating to her.
Does Sigi have DM now?
No, DM is a disease of mature dogs. The average age of symptom onset in GSD is 8 years old or older. DM has incomplete penetrance, which means that even though Sigi has 2 copies of the DM causing gene, that doesn't mean that she is doomed to suffer from DM. The penetration of DM is about 77%, and we hope and pray that Sigi is part of the 23% who don't develop the disease, although NO dog should have to suffer from DM.
What will happen to Sigi?
For now, Sigi is healthy and happy. She is in training to be a Search and Rescue cadaver dog, and although we hope she will never have to use that skill in a real situation, we will continue her training as if nothing is different. She loves to search, and can find a single tooth in a football field in minutes.
Working and playing are what make Sigi happy, and we intend to make her life as happy as possible.
Is there anything else you can do for her?
We sure hope so. At the time, there aren't any treatments for DM in dogs besides lifestyle changes and physical therapy in an attempt to make her as comfortable as possible.
There are, however, drug trials. These trials are searching for a treatment and ultimately a cure. We are looking in to these trials to see if they would be beneficial to Sigi. She is incredibly strong, we know that if she understood, she would want to contribute to the search for a cure.
Sigi is our baby, we love her dearly. Before any drug trials we will evaluate risk. We are trying to save her, not cause her more harm.
Are you going to breed her still?
We could breed her with a DM clear dog and all the puppies of the resulting litter would be DM carriers, meaning they would have 1 clear allele from the sire, and 1 DM positive allele from Sigi. There is no evidence that DM carriers are at risk of developing DM. However, this breeding practice is against our policy for a couple of reasons. We want DM gone from all dogs. If we increase the number of carriers in the population, then we are contributing to the problem, not solving it. When a carrier breeds with a carrier, they produce 25% DM positive puppies. We would never breed a carrier with a carrier, but we would feel responsible if any of our customers did, even by mistake, or even a few generations down the line.
What about gene therapy?
We are considering using gene therapy and in-vitro fertilization to produce healthy Sigi puppies. The DM mutation is a single nucleotide missense mutation. This means that a single letter in her DNA code is wrong. This plan would change that mutation back to normal without changing anything else. Sigi would have healthy, DM clear puppies.
Follow up, what makes you qualified to do gene therapy?
Dr. Benjamin Brooks, and Dr. Amanda Brooks, who own WinterKommt German Shepherds, are both PhD level scientists with world-class medical and scientific research. You can find their research on google scholar.
Our in house veterinarian has a career as a research veterinarian.
We have a collaboration with EmbarkVet
We are seeking guidance with the worlds leading experts in gene therapy and DM.
Before doing any research, we follow all legal and ethical standards.
Another follow up, why do gene therapy in the first place?
Testing for DM is wildly available, and it is recommended by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, the OFA. However, that is not enough. There are many breeders who choose not to test, or even choose to ignore the results of DM tests. They don't want to know if their established and profitable lines carry DM. They rationalize that if they don't know, then they don't carry any responsibility. Currently, diagnosing a dog as at-risk or a carrier of DM represents a huge loss of revenue to these breeders. We want to change that.
If we can master gene therapy, we can provide an option for these breeders. If a breeder knows that there is a solution, then they may be more willing to test.
Ultimately, we want for every dog to be completely free of DM, and we cannot do that without gene therapy.
Are you doing okay?
Thanks for asking. Honestly, no we aren't. We are heartbroken. Last year in January we lost our GSD Harley to severe seizures. It was one of the hardest ordeals to go through. He would be 3 years old now. His story will be told another time. Sigi was the first dog we bought after Harley died, and we thought the reputation of her breeder, as well as the high price tag would ensure her health. The pain of her diagnosis is crippling. We will do everything we can to make sure that no one else ever has to feel this pain.
How can I help?
As a dog owner
- Perform a genetic test on your dog
- Consider spay/neuter if your dog has any genetic diseases
- Buy from reputable breeders
- Be informed and ask questions
- Consider donating to DM research
As a friend of Sigi's
As a breeder
We welcome your feedback. Please contact us, leave a comment below, or leave a comment on our facebook page. We will answer all questions and concerns.
Please be respectful, we know that not everyone agrees with participating in drug trials or performing gene therapy. Finding a solution is the best way we know how to cope. You are entitled to your opinion, and if you disagree with our methods, then we aren't the breeder for you. That is fine, all we ask is that you find another breeder that is responsible and ethical.
To End on a Good Note!
Exciting news in the works!
WinterKommt German Shepherds is working on a new name and logo to more closely resemble our principles! This new name will have even more meaning after Sigi's diagnosis. It will be unveiled in the next couple of months, along with some other surprises!