Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia – What makes sense and what doesn’t?

Guest Post By:
Embee Cavaliers

When you type “Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and health” into Google or any search engine it doesn’t take long to come across the terms Syringomyelia and Chiari Malformation. From there it takes no time at all to realize that this is *the* hot topic of discussion across many publications, forums, blogs, and email lists. There is *so* much information, research, debate, and yes controversy that many are often left more confused than when they started researching. There has also been a large divide that has been created between some breeders, researchers, and pet owners..always over the same things. What is being done, what isn’t, who is in support, and who isn’t.

I have been involved in working with Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia for several years now. I have seen research studies start, and be completed. We have come a long way in understanding both conditions, yet we also still have a lot to learn. Research is continually evolving and changing. We are very lucky to have Professionals that do care enough to research and study our breed.

My involvement with our scanning program here has given me the unique opportunity to be in contact with many Cavalier owners and breeders all over the world. I have engaged in both debate, and discussion regarding many opinion and thought. I have viewed a ton of MRI images. I have listened to many heartbreaking stories. As I continue to view more MRI’s, talk to both breeders and pet owners regarding results, discuss symptoms, and scan my own dogs, the more questions I have.

I will *always* be a huge supporter of research, MRI scanning, and following protocols, however I also believe in good old common sense.

The supporter of research, MRI scans of dogs, and following protocols part of me absolutely loves that there is being awareness and education brought to both CM and SM. I’m the first to step up and say donate to research. Scan your dogs. Talk about those dogs who have been impacted. Be transparent regarding MRI results. Without discussion and research there will never be any answers.

What we have found so far that does make sense.

* MRI scanning provides much needed support of research, and a greater understanding of breeding dogs. It enables breeders to make responsible breeding choices, and follow set out breeding guidelines in the attempt of reducing Syringomyelia in our beloved breed. The preliminary stats do seem to be favourable in improvement.

* MRIing is the only way to properly diagnose dogs showing symptoms. Neurological symptoms can be very similar between conditions and to know what really is going on with a dog having problems you have to MRI it.

* Much education and awareness has been brought to CM and SM. Pet owners are encouraged to do their research and support responsible breeding practices. Don’t go out and buy that cute cavalier puppy in the pet store, or become involved in getting a rescue if you aren’t ready to deal with a Cavalier who is likely going to have severe health problems.

The common sense and balance part of me knows that only the popular aspects of CM and SM are continually discussed, and that several of the questionable areas are always quietly swept under the rug.

I’d like to share some of what is hardly ever discussed, yet is happening all the time. Some of what just plain doesn’t make sense.

* Clear of Syringomyelia dogs, or Cavaliers with a Grade of A on breed screening reports can be EXTREMELY symptomatic from Chiari Malformation pain.

Some of the most symptomatic Cavaliers I have met, are ones that have had beautiful clear MRI’s. Yes even their CM is fairly mild. This is a subject near and dear to my heart as Mylee is one of them. When I first went through this with Mylee I thought she was a rare case. I now know that she is not, and that as we MRI more we are finding more Cavaliers just like her. She is a challenge to keep comfortable and pain free on the best of days. Yet both of her MRI’s were beautiful with her second being *better* then the first. Would you like to buy a puppy from my A grade clear Cavalier who is on a combination of Lyrica and Prednisone and screams in severe pain some days?

* Cavalier’s who scan WITH Chiari Malformation AND Syringomyelia, can and DO remain symptom free their entire lives. Just because they scan with SM doesn’t mean they will develop symptoms from it. Some do yes, however there are many who don’t. If a breeding dog has SM, yet never shows symptoms from it, and produces dogs that have SM yet never show symptoms from it, what can be said for that?

* D to D breedings of Cavaliers CAN produce CLEAR Cavaliers. I know several examples of this.

* A to A breedings of Cavaliers CAN produce severe Syringomyelia. Sadly I also know several examples of this.

* Clear Cavaliers and ones with severely symptomatic Syringomyelia can come out of the same litter. Yes a Boy who is an A clear and a popular breeding dog, can have a sister who scanned with severely symptomatic SM.

* Reports and gradings on MRI’s can differ greatly depending on who has read them. A dog can be interpreted as a Clear by one expert, and be graded a D with Syringomyelia by another.

* It is not just pet owners who have dealt with the heartache, helplessness and distress, of seeing a beloved pet suffer with severe neurological pain. Breeders are *just as* heartbroken and devastated when their own dogs, or dogs they have bred are impacted with severe CM or SM symptoms. I have yet to meet a Cavalier breeder who is involved with their breed Clubs who do not care about the dogs they produce. They are all extremely passionate, and devoted to their dogs. They may not think the same way, or be supportive of all research or breeding protocols but they do love and care about their dogs.

* Many other dog breeds have been identified as having Chiari Malformations and Syringomyelia. Friends of Lola illustrates some of the breeds impacted. From those breeds you will only find CKCS breeders, and Brussels Griffon breeders MRI’ing their breeding stock.

* Only a very small percentage of Cavaliers are bred by registered Breeders. Almost all are produced by puppy mills, and backyard breeding. No matter what protocols are followed by those of us breeding responsibly, those who aren’t are producing WAY more puppies.

I think I will end this list here as it could go on and on.

As you can see this is a topic that I care deeply about. I would love to see the day that CM or SM is not a problem in the breed but I also know that outlook is unrealistic. No matter what breeders do, or don’t do, these will be two major areas of concern that they will continually deal with.

Breeders who MRI every dog they own, and breed will produce Cavaliers with CM and SM.

Cavaliers with SM need wonderful unique homes, so some owners and breeders will experience the heartache of owning a symptomatic Cavalier. We will cuddle them when they are ill, pay for their ongoing prescriptions and specialist appointments, love them unconditionally and do the best we can for them.

I also hope that the vast majority can and will experience owning a Cavalier who is healthy. One that we can take anywhere without worry, does not require daily prescriptions, and lets you truly experience how wonderful this breed is. In my house I have experienced both.

What I do hope that some of you will come away with after reading is maybe an understanding of what goes on “behind the scenes”. Why questions are asked, and why debate and controversy takes place. Some “food for thought” if you will.

For me I will continue to advocate MRI scanning, research, and breeding to protocol. You have to start somewhere, and work towards a common goal. I also will continue to ask questions, and be both critical and objective in my thinking. Nothing in regards to CM or SM is black and white. Shades of grey is a much better fit.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    It is a huge responsibility to be the pet owner of a dog with SM, and it can be devastating as well. Having been there twice already, I have to say I would only buy another ckcs from a show breeder who is following all of the suggested breeding protocols and has the paperwork to prove it to me. I know how to read the pedigrees, cardiology, neurology, ophthalmology and orthopedic reports. This will be my way of supporting thoroughly health conscious breeders in the future. Cathy Moon

  2. Thanks for this post–very enlightening! i just discovered the sat. blog hop and i'm glad i did.

  3. Paperwork and having all completed testing is *very* important. So is having a healthy and sound dog to support that paperwork. I probably should have worded that a bit better.

  4. MB, I didn't know this was you who wrote this! Great information here. I've appreciated the help you've given me in the past with Friday. It's good to read the breeder side of SM.

  5. I stumbled this great article I hope you will stumble mine back.
    Thank you,
    Amee from http://www.madamedeals.com

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