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Syringomyelia in dogs: symptoms, causes and treatment

The syringomyelia in the dog It is an irreversible neurological disease. Also note as siringoidromieliais usually congenital and characterized by the formation of a cavity called a “syringe” in the brainstem or spinal cord in the neck.

Small breed specimens (especially Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, in which an autosomal recessive genetic transmission is suspected) and brachycephalic dogs are among the breeds most prone to presenting syringomyelia: their particular anatomical conformation of the skull favors the development of this pathology.

What causes syringomyelia in dogs?

The impaired CSF flow (idiopathic or caused by problems such as tumors, inflammation, malformations) typical of syringomyelia leads to the formation of pockets of fluid in the spinal cord, which can cause severe pain in the neck, shoulders, chest and to the head of the affected animal.

The main cause of syringomyelia is the so-called “Chiari malformation”i.e. when the dog’s brain is larger than its skull.

Symptoms of syringomyelia in dogs

The typical symptoms of syringomyelia depend on the spinal site: it can be at the cervical level or at the cervico-thoracic level.

Cervical syringomyelia

Individuals with cervical syringomyelia, with or without hydromyelia, may have:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Stiff neck
  • Cervical pain
  • Scoliosis

Cervicothoracic syringomyelia

Dogs that present the pathology in the cervico-thoracic area may show clinical signs such as:

  • Cervical muscle atrophy
  • Weakness in the forelimbs
  • Loss of balance
  • Decreased tactile sensitivity

How to diagnose syringomyelia in dogs?

The diagnosis of syringomyelia in dogs is based on the demonstration of clinical signs and on imaging tests. The MRIunder general anesthesia, allows you to visualize the spinal cord cavities, highlight the possible presence of fluid pockets and lead to a certain diagnosis of syringomyelia.

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If Fido exhibits the symptoms listed above, you should contact your vet.

Cavalier King Charles are the breeds most affected by syringomyelia. © Roman Milavin / Shutterstock

Syringomyelia: how long do dogs live? Can he die?

Syringomyelia it is not fatal for our pets, but it can be really painful for them and get worse over time. For this reason it is advisable for the dog to follow drug therapy for life so that he can live more peacefully.

Syringomyelia and Chiari syndrome: two related pathologies

We have seen that syringomyelia is often caused by a cranial malformation called Arnold-Chiari Syndrome. It includes 4 different types of cerebral malformation and more precisely of the posterior cranial fossa.

Also known as Caudal Occipital Malformation Syndrome (COMS), this anomaly is similar to that type 1 of man and is a condition in which part of the cerebellum moves from the braincase to the vertebral canal, through the opening at the base.

Syringomyelia in the Cavalier King and other breeds

This malformation is more common in brachycephalic dogsbut it is also reported in Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, miniature Dachshunds, Shih Tzus and Boston Terriers.

Even the small head size they are a predisposing factor: it is estimated that almost all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are carriers of these bone anomalies, but not all will develop associated symptoms.

How do you treat syringomyelia in dogs?

Treatment for syringomyelia in dogs is essentially based on two types of treatments: drugs and surgery.

Medicines

Treatment uses pain relievers and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and cerebrospinal fluid production. Other drugs are sometimes combined depending on response to treatment. Whenever possible, follow-up by a veterinary neurologist is recommended.

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Surgery

Surgery is usually employed when medical treatment fails. It consists of decompressing the region of the base of the skull to eliminate the pain. However, the results are disappointing with frequent relapses one year after the operation as the pockets of fluid will reform.

This article is based on the original written for todocat.com and:

Isabelle Vixege
French veterinary doctor