Syringomyelia (SM) is an extremely serious condition in which fluid-filled cavities develop within the spinal cord near the brain. It is also known as “neck scratcher’s disease”, because one of its common signs is scratching in the air near the neck.
It is usually congenital but can be caused by trauma.
Originally publicized to be a condition specific to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel SM is seen more often in small breed dogs such as Brussel Griffons, Pomeranians, Maltese, Poodles (toy and minis), Chihuahua, Mini Dachshund, Bichon Frise, and Shih Tzu.
- Symptoms include pain or sensitivity to touch around the neck region including ears and shoulders.
- Scratching in the air without body contact or scratching around the regions of neck, shoulders, head, face and ears .
- Biting hind quarters or chewing front paws. Sudden yelping or crying out for no obvious reason.
- Limb weakness, particularly hind legs.
- Rubbing of eyes, ears, face on to the ground or rubbing on to paws.
- Slowing down of movement or reluctance to walk due to pain.
- Reluctance or hesitation to jump on to furniture or climb stairs.
- Random screaming because of pain which may lead to aggressive behavior particularly to other dogs.
- Curving of the spine leading to scoliosis.
All symptoms need thorough investigations by an expert (neurologist ) to rule out other causes. Some symptoms are common to other diseases and conditions. A MRI scan is the only conclusive way of confirming a diagnosis of syringomyelia and chiari-like malformation.
Medications may be used including anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids and drugs that reduce the production of fluid in the brain and spinal cord.
Occasionally medical management is unsuccessful and surgery needs to be considered. The aim of surgery is to improve the shape of the back of the skull and reduce the flow of fluid down the center of the spinal cord. Many dogs will improve following surgery, although some patients will have persistent signs despite surgery. Some may show improvement initially but then develop recurrence of their symptoms.