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What is Syringomyelia (SM)?

The breeds that are most often affected include the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Griffon Bruxellois, but other breeds have been reported as well. Some of these breeds are the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Boston Terrier, Havanese, Affenpinscher, Pomeranian, Papillon, Chihuahua, Yorkshire Terrier, and Maltese Terrier. This is a serious disorder that needs to be addressed by a veterinary professional right away.

Syringomyelia (SM) in dogs is a common condition that mostly affects Griffon Bruxellois and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, leading experts to believe it is an inherited disorder. The nature of this disease is that the dog’s skull is too small for his brain, which blocks the opening at the base of the skull and prevents the flow of spinal fluid. Because of this backup of fluid, pockets of fluid called syrinxes are created in the spinal cord which causes extreme pain in the shoulders, neck, head, and chest. They are usually very sensitive to touch in these areas and some dogs show weakness of extremities and possible paralysis.

Symptoms of Syringomyelia (SM) in Dogs

The signs of syringomyelia depend on the stage of the disease and age of your dog. In fact, some dogs with mild SM may never have symptoms and the only way you will know about the condition is if your dog has to get an MRI for a different reason. However, the most commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Extreme sensitivity to touch in the neck, chest, shoulders, head, and back
  • Holding head high and at a certain angle to prevent pain
  • Sleeping with head held up
  • Whining and yelping for no obvious reasons
  • Phantom scratching (scratching about an inch or two from the head)
  • Weakness of the extremities
  • Inability to play or walk
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures

Types

There are several types of SM, which include:

  • Grade 0 - Normal (with no syrinx or pre-syrinx and is not dilated)

  • Grade 1 - Central canal dilation (CCD) under two millimeters
  • Grade 2 - Syringomyelia (has CCD of more than 2 millimeters and a pre-syrinx or syrinx)

In addition, each grade includes a letter corresponding with the dog’s age because SM is a progressive condition. The letters include:

  • A - more than five years old

  • B - three to five years old
  • C - one to three years old

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Causes of Syringomyelia (SM) in Dogs

The cause of SM is thought to be hereditary although this disease is not completely understood yet. It seems to affect certain breeds most often, which include:

  • Pomeranians
  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers
  • Shih Tzus
  • Boston Terriers
  • French Bulldogs
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Maltese Terriers
  • Chihuahuas
  • Miniature Dachshunds
  • Miniature Poodles
  • Bichon Frisés
  • Pugs
  • Pekingese
  • Miniature Pinschers
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Griffon Bruxellois
  • Havaneses
  • Affenpinschers
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Diagnosis of Syringomyelia (SM) in Dogs

The most effective way to diagnose SM is an MRI scan of the spinal column and brain. Your dog will need to be put under general anesthesia during the procedure and will be given oxygen and fluids. The results should indicate pockets filled with spinal fluid throughout the spinal column if your dog has SM. First, your veterinarian will need to do a thorough physical examination including palpation and auscultation, vital signs, and a complete body condition score.

Also, you need to provide the veterinarian with your dog’s medical history and the most recent symptoms you have noticed. Afterward, the veterinarian will perform some blood tests such as a serum biochemical analysis and complete blood count (CBC). Urine and stool samples will be collected for microscopic analysis as well. Then, your veterinarian will do the imaging including x-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, and MRIs.

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Treatment of Syringomyelia (SM) in Dogs

Treating SM depends on the stage of the disease and age of your dog. The most important objective is to relieve the pain that your dog is experiencing. This may include surgery or medication as well as physical therapy in some cases.

Surgery

Cervical or cranial decompression is done to remove part of the bone that is blocking the spinal column. This procedure is successful about 80% of the time. However, in some cases (25% to 50%), the syrinx causes it to become blocked again and the symptoms will return. This can be due to the scarring or the regrowth of the syrinx.

Medication

There are a few drugs that can help with pain, swelling, and reduction of spinal fluid production. Pain medications include narcotics and NSAIDs, steroids to reduce swelling, and diuretics or omeprazole to reduce the production of spinal fluid.

Physical Therapy

There are several types of therapy that can help your dog, which include aqua therapy and massage therapy. Your veterinarian can teach you how to do these yourself or you can take your dog to special physical therapy classes.

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Recovery of Syringomyelia (SM) in Dogs

If your dog was treated with surgery, you will need to be very observant for a few weeks while he heals. Provide plenty of fresh water because hydration is essential. You should also keep your dog as calm as possible, placing your dog on cage rest when needed. Call your veterinarian if you have any concerns or questions.

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Syringomyelia (SM) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Bella

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ckcs

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Low Potassium
Siesures
Siesures Low Heart Rate

My girl Bella has had 2 seisures when playing or having exercise she lays on floor no crying but panting & both times rushes her to vets but her heart rate is below normal reading at 50/60bpm each time is this a normal symptom of SM has heart tests & they have come back fine

Sept. 5, 2018

Bella's Owner

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Cherry

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King Charles Spaniel

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6 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Started Face Rubbing On Furniture

Face rubbing ,lickin front leg a lot.Does not appear to be in pain as she regularly play fights with my other dog . could this possibly be the start of syringomyelia

Aug. 14, 2018

Cherry's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

By the age of six years, the majority of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will be affected by syringomyelia; Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are the poster dog for the condition. However face rubbing and licking of the paws are not the characteristic symptoms we normally see with syringomyelia (we shouldn’t automatically assume syringomyelia due to the breed); but you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination to look for other symptoms and to see whether it is syringomyelia or another cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 14, 2018

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T

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Maltese Shih Tzu

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3 Years

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Serious severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Screaming Running Around Burying
Scratching At Midsection

This sounds like the episodes my malshi has. Most often, late at night he will scratch at his midsection till the attack progresses to severe where he screams and runs around burying himself. Pressing himself to the ground. They also occur randomly. He wants to go to the bathroom when they are coming on seems to be an attempt at relieving some pressure. When it is over he relaxes breathing deeply for at least 30 minutes. I have tried many medications, he is currently on Amantadine, dexamethesone, and phenobarbital. He sees a neurologist. We do not have a definite diagnosis. The medications do not seem to work. He is only 3 years old. How do I keep him alive? What else can I do? Is it true diet can stop this?

Aug. 3, 2018

T's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Firstly it is important to discuss with your Veterinarian or the Neurologist about syringomyelia and to have them explain which symptoms fit with the diagnosis or don’t; I cannot say whether or not T has syringomyelia (or a similar condition) without examining him first. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 3, 2018

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Gabriel

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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3 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

My dog scratches alot with the leash on but mot much with it off could this still be a sign because i read that this breed has a very high chance of getting sm?

July 7, 2018

Gabriel's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are the poster dog for syringomyelia, the majority of dog in the breed are affected by age of six years. Typically we see phantom scratching of the neck among other symptoms, the collar may aggravate this so it may be good to switch to a harness in this instance. You should also visit your Veterinarian for a discussion about syringomyelia. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.ufaw.org.uk/dogs/cavalier-king-charles-spaniel-syringomyelia

July 8, 2018

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Echo

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King Charles Spaniel

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

I am so scared. I have a King Charles named Echo. Just a week ago she was walking fine and then she started loosing control of her front left leg.. now it's nearly useless. She has been take to the Vet, to the Surgeon and to the Numerologist. An MRI has been done there are some signs of a fluid build up. The gabapentin doesn't seem to be having any effect. It worked for the first day and since then has done nothing to help. She is now on 200mgs x3 a day. Can anyone comment on the success of the surgery or offer an insight in other forms of medications. Once the pain medication is changed how soon should expect to see a result.

July 1, 2018

Echo's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Syringomyelia is a condition which affects over half of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels by the age of six years. Medical management is normally attempted first in these cases may may include pain relief, omeprazole and diuretics (furosemide) aimed at reducing fluid accumulation; surgical management has a high success rate of reducing fluid pressure, but quality of life may still be impacted. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?pId=11349&catId;=34773&id;=5328340&ind;=370&objTypeID;=17 www.ufaw.org.uk/dogs/cavalier-king-charles-spaniel-syringomyelia

July 2, 2018

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Lulu

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Brussels griffon

dog-age-icon

2 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Depression
Tremors
Neck Stiffness
Screaming Attack

Lulu started having intermittent attacks at night at the age of 6 months. I have been able to control her symptoms this far with omeprazole. She is 10 pounds and the vet prescribed 2 mg daily which was not an effective dose. So I started increasing it. When I tripled the dose to 6 mg a day no more attacks no more symptoms. 3 mg in the morning 3 mg at night. I have also used cold laser therapy treatments every 4 weeks These treatments focus along each side of her spine from the base of her head through her shoulder blade area. Assisi loop have also been recommended but I have not invested in this yet. I feel for all those out there that who are experiencing the affects of SM. I would love to know what others do combat this disease.

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Daisy

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Phantom Scratching Behind Left Ear;

I am a caregiver to a 9 year old Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Daisy. She's with me from Monday through Friday. she is on Gabapentin for 2 years now for Syringomyelia although she never had an MRI; she had all the symptoms. I noticed a new symptom this morning when her owners came to pick her up for the weekend. When the man picked her up she was trembling. I had never seen this behavior before and wondered if this could be a worsening of the CM/SM? Also, for the past year or so occasionally when someone picks her up she would yelp in pain, but not always. I try to be careful if I have to pick her up. Also, she's been 'phantom scratching' the left side of her head. I'm wondering if the trembling I witnessed this morning was indicative of a worsening of the CM/SM. Thank you.

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Tanuki

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Pomeranian

dog-age-icon

10 Years

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Critical severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Scratching, Pain, Crying

I have been dealing with this horrible disease SM for 8 years along with a collapsing trachea. He now has been diagnosed with Cushings, maybe from all the medications. I cannot bear to put him down. I love him so much but can’t stand to see him in pain. His back legs shake continually, he falls down a lot, he coughs all the time, lost all his fur, hungry all the time, and cries in pain at least twice a day. He cannot be held or hugged because it brings on an attack. I keep giving him medication thinking just give me another month and then another. I say when these meds are gone then it’s time but then order more. Do I just keep giving him pain pills? I am his world, he is mine. I work at home most days and he is there by my side. How can I let him go? I am listening to him cough and scream now. I am crying. My heart is breaking. Giving pain meds again. OMG. Is it time? How can I do this? How do I know when enough is enough? If he was human this wouldn’t even be an option. I feel like I am betraying him if I give up on him and don’t squeeze every bit of life he has left out with me.

dog-name-icon

Arlo

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king charles cavalier

dog-age-icon

7 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Face Rubbing
Air Scratching
Pain Jumping Down

My 7 month old pup has just been diagnosed with CM/SM. The only pain symptom he shows is he stopped wanting to jump down from the bed yelps jumping from heights greater than the couch. He does the air-scratch/face rubbing maybe 1-2 times a day for 10 seconds. He's very playful, loves walks and throws his toys about. Has no trouble with jumping up, being lifted, sleeping without elevated head or using low food bowls and doesn't show signs that his neck is sensitive to touch at all. He has started low dose medication to see how he responds. There is no one in my state who performs the surgery to correct CM. What is the average expectancy for dogs diagnosed before age 1? With the described symptoms do the outlooks seem ok (years/months?) I just want to know what to possibly expect, and to give him the best life I can for the rest of it.

dog-name-icon

T

dog-breed-icon

Mal-shi

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5 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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3 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Scratching
Attacks

I finally was able to get a second opinion. He is diagnosed with a diffuse syringomyaelia. None of the medications work. He has one to two attacks every day that’s one every 24 hours. When they happen he screams in pain. They go from low to extreme then there is a remission phase. I need help I don’t know how to save him. He is on amantadine and gabapentin also dexamethesone. I just stopped omeprazol it did nothing. I don’t think any of these medaviations do anything. In fact I think he has gotten worse but that may just be the disease. He is only 5 this began at 1. I need a specialist on this disease. This is absolutely heart breaking T and I are victim to these attacks just managing each one that comes. When an attack occurs I follow him around trying to console and massage him he runs and buries himself, digs, and screams thumping his back right leg. I don’t feel that the specialty center has enough experience to complete the surgery or am confident they are even positive of how they will do it and what the result will be. I live in daily fear of the next attack and of what will happen next with his health. There has to be something I can give him when he is having an attack to stop it or lessen the severity. Maybe we will just go on this way until the disease gets so severe I will have to end his suffering but I have to know I have tried everything. Please help us any advice gives me a glimmer of hope. Hope is all I’ve got the last 4 years, this is priceless. I believe if the rest of the time he is not in pain then he deserves to live.