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Syringomyelia in Dogs

A Disorder That Affects Your Dog's Spinal Cord

By Madeleine Burry. February 18, 2014 | See Comments

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Syringomyelia in dogs is a spinal cord disorder that occurs when there is a pocket of built up fluid, affecting your dog's mobility. This is mostly found in small breed dogs such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Here's a more in depth look into this debilitating disorder.

Syringomyelia is a disorder of the spinal cord that causes pockets of fluids to develop in the part of the spinal cord close to the brain. While it is quite rare in dogs, it’s also very serious. Syringomyelia in dogs is more common in certain small breeds, including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Brussel Griffons, Pomeranians, Boston Terriers, Maltese and other small dogs. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are particularly prone to this disease. Syringomyelia is often referred to as neck scratcher’s disease, since dogs who are afflicted with the disorder will scratch at their necks, seeking to ease the irritation caused by the cyst-like fluid mass. Learn more about the diseases associated with this disorder, how to detect syringomyelia, and treatment options. 

Causes of Syringomyelia in Dogs

Syringomyelia is often a genetic disorder. However, it can also occur as a result of tumors or injuries to the spinal cord. It’s also associated with chiari-malformation, which is what occurs when sections of the skull do not develop properly, resulting in inadequate space for the brain, and causing it to spread into the spinal column.

If your dog is on the list of breeds commonly associated with syringomyelia mentioned above, it’s wise to test and see if your dog is a symptomless carrier of this disorder before breeding them, or the disorder could be passed along to the puppies.

The Symptoms of Syringomyelia

One common symptom of syringomyelia is scratching at the neck, but this disorder is not just uncomfortable: it’s also quite painful, particularly at nighttime. Collars can be irritating, depending on the location of the fluids, as can being touched around the neck, head, or spine. Limping and difficulty walking can also be a result of this disorder.

Treatment Options

If your dog experiences these symptoms, and the vet rules out other reasons for potential itchiness (such as fleas), then an MRI will be done to investigate your dog’s skull and brain. If syringomyelia is diagnosed, surgery can be performed to relieve the pressure caused by the fluid. Corticosteroids can also be used to relieve the pressure, but due to side effects, steroids aren’t considered a long term solution. Painkillers can also be used to alleviate a dog’s discomfort. With all treatment options, the main goal is to relieve your dog’s pain and suffering as a result of the disorder -- while surgery can sometimes temporarily eradicate the fluid pockets, they generally return at the site of scar tissue.

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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Syringomyelia at a glance

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  • 1Syringomyelia is also referred to as neck scratcher’s disease.
  • 2Itchiness and pain around the neck are very common symptoms.
  • 3The disorder is rare and passed along from parents. It’s most common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
  • 4Treatment options are aimed at limiting a dog’s pain and discomfort: painkillers, steroids, and surgery.