Syringomyelia (SM) and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

This hereditary illness was one of the most worry thing for me whilst Mylo was growing up. When we first got Mylo, for the first few months we took him to his vet for examinations to make sure he would not get this, by closely looking at the the size and shape of the back of Mylo’s skull. The following article contains some disturbing YouTube images.


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.

The back half of the cavalier King Charles spaniel’s skull typically may be too small to accommodate all of the brain’s cerebellum, which may also be too large, and so it squeezes through the foramen magnum – the hole at the back of the skull – partially blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) down the spinal cord. The variable pressure created by the abnormal flow of CSF is believed to create the SM cavities – called syrinx – in the spinal cord.

SM is rare in most breeds but has become very widespread in cavalier King Charles spaniels. The number of diagnosed cases in cavaliers has increased dramatically since 2000. Researchers estimate that up to 95% of CKCSs may have Chiari-like malformation (CM or CLM) – also known as caudal occipital malformation syndrome (COMS) or occipital hypoplasia (OH), the skull bone malformation present in all cases and believed to be at least part of the  cause of syringomyelia – and that more than 50% of cavaliers may have SM. The severity and extent of syringomyelia also appear to get worse in each succeeding generation of cavaliers. It is worldwide in scope and not limited to any country, breeding line, or kennel, and experts report that it is believed to be inherited in the cavalier.



SM seldom can be detected in young puppies, as symptoms of it usually are not evident before the age of six months or years later.

Pain is the most important clinical sign of the disorder.  Symptoms may vary widely among different dogs, but the earliest sign often is that the dog feels a hypersensitivity in its neck area, causing in some an uncontrollable urge to scratch at its neck and shoulders. Then usually follows severe pain around its head, neck, and shoulders, causing it yelp or scream. Click here or the YouTube logo to see videos of cavaliers with SM symptoms. As the disease progresses, it destroys portions of the cavalier’s spinal cord, and is so painful that the affected dog may contort its neck and even sleep and eat only with its head held high. The dog’s legs may become progressively weaker, so that walking becomes increasingly difficult.  Some dogs deteriorate to the point of paralysis.

Continue reading at Cavalier Health


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