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Did you know that King Caviller Charles Spaniels can suffer from a condition called "Chiari-like malformation" ?!

Updated: Mar 28

Syringomyelia is a neurological disorder where fluid-filled cavities develop within the spinal cord, often as a result of a mismatch between the size of the skull and the brain. This mismatch can cause pressure on the brain, leading to a range of symptoms including pain, weakness, and in severe cases, even eye issues or a condition called "Chiari-like malformation," where the brain's cerebellum herniates into the spinal canal. It's a distressing condition and often requires management through medication or surgery to alleviate symptoms and improve the dog's quality of life. It's important for breeders to screen for this condition and for owners to be aware of the signs and symptoms to ensure early intervention and treatment.


Syringomyelia in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels is often associated with a condition called Chiari-like malformation (CM). CM is characterized by a skull shape that is too small to accommodate the brain properly. This results in part of the brain, particularly the cerebellum, being forced out of the skull and into the spinal canal, causing compression and disruption of cerebrospinal fluid flow.


As a result of CM, fluid-filled cavities, known as syrinxes, can form within the spinal cord, leading to syringomyelia. These syrinxes can expand over time, causing compression of the spinal cord and leading to various neurological symptoms.

Symptoms of syringomyelia and CM in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can include:

1. Scratching at the neck or shoulder area.

2. Sensitivity or pain around the head, neck, or shoulders.

3. Weakness or paralysis in the limbs.

4. Head tremors or shaking.

5. Changes in behavior, such as aggression or fearfulness.

6. Difficulty swallowing.

7. Eye problems, including protrusion of the eyeball (exophthalmos).


Diagnosis typically involves a combination of clinical signs, neurological examination, and advanced imaging techniques such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

Management of syringomyelia and CM often involves a combination of medical management (such as pain medication) and, in some cases, surgical intervention to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and improve cerebrospinal fluid flow. However, it's important to note that while treatment can help alleviate symptoms, it may not cure the condition entirely, and affected dogs may require ongoing management and monitoring throughout their lives.


Syringomyelia and Chiari-like malformation (CM) are most commonly associated with Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, but they can also occur in other small and toy breeds, as well as in some larger breeds. However, Cavaliers are particularly predisposed to these conditions due to their skull shape and size, which often leads to overcrowding of the brain within the skull.

Other breeds that may be affected by syringomyelia and CM include:

1. Brussels Griffon

2. Affenpinscher

3. Chihuahua

4. Maltese

5. Pomeranian

6. Toy and Miniature Poodles

7. Yorkshire Terrier

While these conditions are less common in other breeds compared to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, it's important for owners and breeders of all susceptible breeds to be aware of the signs and symptoms, as early detection and intervention can greatly improve the prognosis and quality of life for affected dogs.


Signs of syringomyelia and Chiari-like malformation (CM) in dogs can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the individual dog. Some common signs to watch out for include:

1. Scratching at the neck or shoulder area, often referred to as "phantom scratching" because there may not be any visible irritation or itchiness.

2. Sensitivity or pain around the head, neck, or shoulders, which may be manifested as yelping or reluctance to be touched in those areas.

3. Weakness or paralysis in the limbs, which may result in difficulty walking or standing.

4. Head tremors or shaking, particularly when the dog is excited or stressed.

5. Changes in behavior, such as aggression, fearfulness, or depression.

6. Difficulty swallowing, which may be indicated by excessive drooling or gagging.

7. Eye problems, including protrusion of the eyeball (exophthalmos), abnormal eye movements, or vision changes.


If you notice any of these signs in your dog, it's important to consult with a veterinarian for a thorough examination and appropriate diagnostic testing, such as MRI imaging, to determine the underlying cause. Early detection and intervention can help improve the prognosis and quality of life for dogs affected by syringomyelia and CM.


While routine testing for syringomyelia and Chiari-like malformation (CM) may not be necessary or practical for every dog, especially those not exhibiting symptoms or belonging to breeds with lower predisposition, it's essential for owners to be vigilant for any signs or symptoms of these conditions. If you own a breed known to be predisposed to syringomyelia and CM, such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, it's important to be proactive about monitoring your dog's health and seeking veterinary care if any concerning signs arise.


If you have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or another breed prone to these conditions, discussing screening options with your veterinarian is advisable. For example, if you're planning to breed your dog, screening for CM and syringomyelia before breeding can help reduce the risk of passing on these conditions to offspring. Additionally, if your dog exhibits symptoms suggestive of syringomyelia or CM, your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic testing, such as MRI imaging, to confirm the diagnosis and guide treatment.

Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for all dogs, and discussing breed-specific health concerns with your veterinarian can help ensure your dog receives appropriate care throughout their life. While there may not be a need for yearly testing in every case, being attentive to your dog's health and seeking veterinary care promptly if any concerns arise can help prolong their life and improve their quality of life.



Can this effect temperament and training? Yes, syringomyelia and Chiari-like malformation (CM) can potentially affect a dog's temperament. Dogs affected by these conditions may experience chronic pain, discomfort, or neurological symptoms, which can impact their behavior and personality.

For example, a dog experiencing pain or discomfort around the head, neck, or shoulders may become irritable, anxious, or aggressive. Chronic pain can also lead to changes in behavior, such as reluctance to engage in activities they once enjoyed or increased restlessness or agitation.


Additionally, neurological symptoms associated with syringomyelia and CM, such as weakness or paralysis in the limbs, head tremors, or difficulty swallowing, can affect a dog's coordination, balance, and ability to interact with their environment, potentially influencing their temperament and behavior.


It's essential for owners to be aware of these potential effects on temperament and behavior and to seek veterinary care if they notice any changes in their dog's behavior or personality. Managing the underlying condition through medication, surgery, or other interventions can help alleviate symptoms and improve the dog's quality of life, which may positively impact their temperament and behavior.


Syringomyelia and Chiari-like malformation (CM) can potentially lead to aggression and anxiety in affected dogs. Chronic pain and discomfort associated with these conditions can cause dogs to become irritable, defensive, or reactive, leading to aggressive behavior towards people or other animals.


Dogs experiencing neurological symptoms such as weakness, tremors, or difficulty swallowing may feel vulnerable or threatened, leading to increased anxiety or fearfulness. Changes in behavior, such as aggression or anxiety, can also be a response to the stress and frustration of coping with a chronic medical condition.


It's important for owners to recognize the potential for aggression and anxiety in dogs affected by syringomyelia and CM and to seek veterinary care and behavioral support if needed. Managing the underlying medical condition, providing pain relief, and implementing behavioral interventions can help alleviate symptoms and improve the dog's overall well-being, potentially reducing the likelihood of aggressive or anxious behavior.


The effectiveness of training for behavioral issues related to syringomyelia and Chiari-like malformation (CM) can be influenced by several factors, including the severity of the condition, the dog's individual temperament, and the owner's commitment to training and management.


In cases where behavioral issues such as aggression or anxiety are primarily driven by pain or discomfort associated with syringomyelia and CM, addressing the underlying medical condition is essential. Effective management of pain and discomfort through medication, surgery, or other interventions can help reduce the frequency and intensity of behavioral issues, making training more successful.


However, it's important to recognize that while training can be helpful in managing behavioral issues, it may not completely resolve them, especially if they are rooted in the dog's physical or neurological condition. In such cases, a comprehensive approach that includes both medical management and behavioral modification techniques may be necessary to achieve the best results.


Additionally, it's essential for owners to work with qualified professionals, such as veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, or certified dog trainers, who can provide guidance and support tailored to the specific needs of the dog and their condition.


Overall, while syringomyelia and CM can present challenges for training and managing behavioral issues, a combination of medical treatment, behavioral interventions, and consistent training efforts can help improve the dog's quality of life and enhance their behavior and well-being.

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