What is Muscle Cramps (Scottish Terriers)?
Scottie cramp is a hereditary condition found in Scottish terriers and very occasionally in Cesky terriers. Affected dogs will exhibit muscle hypertonicity in response to certain stimuli, usually a combination of exercise and excitement. Dogs will suddenly become rigid; their spine will arch and if they continue moving, they will have an odd, high-stepping gait. Dogs that are running may fall or turn a somersault. As the episode continues, severely affected dogs may be unable to move or curl up into a ball. Although this is called a cramp, there is no muscular cramping or pain; rather the dog is experiencing ataxia, an inability to neurologically control voluntary movements. This condition is believed to be the result of an abnormality in the serotonin processing that takes place in the central nervous system and affects motor control. Situations that make the dog excited, such as feeding or going for a walk, can commonly bring on an episode. Various psychological factors may play a part and some dogs are more affected than others. The condition is a recessive trait, so it must be inherited from both parents to be expressed. It usually becomes apparent in puppies around six or eight weeks of age. In mild cases, older dogs often learn to compensate, and will stop activity when they feel the problem developing. For this reason, Scottie cramp is often less apparent in adult dogs. In severe cases, medication can reduce the symptoms and frequency of episodes, but there is no cure and the dog will have this condition throughout his life.
Scottish terriers can sometimes develop muscular hypertonicity suddenly in response to exercise or emotional stimuli. Veterinarians call this Scottie cramp. It is often most apparent in puppies, but it is a lifelong hereditary condition that results from abnormal serotonin processing in the CNS.
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Symptoms of Muscle Cramps (Scottish Terriers) in Dogs
In some cases, the symptoms can seem to resemble a seizure, but the dog will remain fully consciousness and does not experience any pain. These are the signs to look for.
- Sudden rigidity in the muscles
- Arched back
- Goose stepping gate
- Rigid and unable to move
- Turning a summersault or falling while running
The chemical mechanism that creates Scottie cramp is only partially understood. Some dogs with the gene are more severely affected than others and it’s believed that other factors probably play a part in reducing or increasing the expression of the disease.
Causes of Muscle Cramps (Scottish Terriers) in Dogs
Episodes can be caused by a number of different factors.
- Exercise – most episodes happen while the dog is in motion
- Intense emotion – several different emotions can play a part
- Fear – some dogs have episodes when they have to climb steps
- Anxiety – excessive anxiety can sometimes stop the condition from happening; many dogs may not exhibit symptoms in a veterinarian’s office
- Temperament – dogs that are excitable by nature usually have the condition more strongly
- Lifestyle – dogs in a high-stress environment are more likely to show symptoms; puppies may exhibit more symptoms in a crowded kennel than in a quieter home environment
- Illness – dogs may show more symptoms when their overall health level decreases
- Drugs – dogs may show more symptoms when they are taking temporary drugs, such as an antibiotic
Diagnosis of Muscle Cramps (Scottish Terriers) in Dogs
The veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and look for other health issues that could be causing the problem, such as seizures or muscle weakness. Breed and family history are very important, so the vet will want to know this information. If your dog can be induced to have an episode in the veterinarian’s office, this will help with a symptomatic diagnosis. A video of a typical attack can also help the vet see exactly what your dog’s symptoms look like.
A definitive diagnosis is made by giving your dog injections of methysergide. If your dog has Scottie cramp, this will make the condition temporarily worse. It will not hurt your dog, and the effects will subside in about 8 hours, but it will allow the veterinarian to see that your dog’s condition responds in the same chemical way as Scottie cramp. Diazepam can help to decrease symptoms if they become too severe. If Scottie cramp runs in the family, most dogs will be tested in this way before breeding since it can help to diagnose dogs that have mild or unnoticeable symptoms. Although the condition isn’t harmful to the dog, most breeders prefer to eliminate it from the family line as much as possible.
Treatment of Muscle Cramps (Scottish Terriers) in Dogs
Diazepam is usually prescribed for dogs with severe symptoms. It can be taken regularly at 8 hour intervals to avoid recurring symptoms, or in small doses in the case of an acute attack. In general, it is preferable to avoid a long-term medication with potential side effects. Prozac and other related medications can also be prescribed. The veterinarian will decide which medication seems most appropriate for your dog.
High doses of Vitamin E have been effective at reducing the frequency of attacks. Putting dogs on a regular dose above 125 IU/kg can keep symptoms intermittent so that diazepam or another medication is only needed occasionally. Giving a dog a small amount of glucose before an activity that normally causes problems can also be helpful, as well as maintaining a diet that is high in tryptophan.
Training and lifestyle changes can often be effective in reducing attacks as well. With repeated exposure, dogs can sometimes be trained not to respond to stimuli like stairs. Keeping the dog in a calm environment, protected from situations that create fear or excitement, can help to lessen the number of psycho-generated attacks.
Recovery of Muscle Cramps (Scottish Terriers) in Dogs
Dogs will have Scottie cramp throughout their lives. There is no cure, although treatment can help to reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms. The attacks may be inconvenient, but they are not detrimental to your dog’s health, and they will not shorten the length of his life. Dogs with Scottie cramp still make good pets and are well-loved by their owners. Diet and supplements are the best way to manage the condition with sparing use of medication as needed.