Syringomyelia Awareness: Charlie’s Story

Guest Post by:

Karen Barnard


Charlie came in to our life at the end of September 2009. He was a very underweight cruelly treated 9 month old boy. He was taken in to rescue when his owners didn’t want him anymore.
We started looking for another dog when Ruby was diagnosed in May 2009 but weren’t looking for a puppy as it would be too much for Ruby to cope with through her problems. So we started the long search for our perfect rescue boy- Cavaliers aren’t really a breed that you find in the big rescue centres in the UK. There is an independent rescue centre in Wales that takes in Ex- Puppy farm breeding Cavaliers that have had a lifetime of misery and neglect, they have never seen the outside world and have spent their lives locked in tiny cages breeding litter after litter of puppies for the pet shop trade.

Charlie was advertised through a private foster home as a ‘9 month old Blenheim Boy needs a new home’. I called the number instantly and arranged a time to visit him- took Ruby along too! As soon as I set eyes on him I knew he was my dog, we went for a walk with him, he was very skittish and nervous but he was perfect. The following Saturday we had our home visit and Charlie came too- he never went again!!!!

Getting another Cavalier I knew was risky as Syringomyelia is a very widespread problem, deep down I knew we would come accross it again. He was taken to the Vets for his worming and microchipping and they diagnosed us with a grade 5 Heart Murmor. I was shocked, in a 9 month old puppy!!! Well at this time we were in the exclusion period for our insurance. So we knew he wouldn’t be covered for any heart problems now or in the future!

He was such a little tyrant, really really naughty, suffering from extreme seperation anxiety and didn’t eat anything except Webbox sausage meat- if you can call it that!!! It took us a very long time to wean him on to a part dry/part wet good quality food but his weight still didn’t increase. We also arranged for him to have an ECG on his heart to find out what had gone wrong. It turned out that he has Mitral Valve Displasia, which is a birth defect, his mitral valve doesn’t close properly with every heart beat which means that blood flows back in to the heart the wrong way. At the moment it isn’t causing him any problems but it is definitely a problem that will get worse with age!

And then came the scratching, the head rubbing and the dreaded symptoms that I never wanted to see again. It was over Christmas 2009 that my parents noticed his habits. He would claw at his head with his front paws and really rub his head along surfaces. The whites of his eyes would go really red as though he was in pain. I immediately emailed Dr Rusbridge and arranged for him to be seen for an MRI scan to put my mind at ease, I had to know one way or another whether I would be dealing with this all over again.

The results were mixed, he has the Malformation of the brain. This means his brain hasn’t enough room to expand and contract with in the skull and has herniated out the back of the skull. This in turn causes the CSF to cause pressure at the back of the skull as it hasn’t much room to get in and out of the brain. It is this that causes Charlie’s headaches and facial pain- poor little guy. We don’t know at the moment whether it will progress to Syringomyelia, that we can’t predict as some do and some don’t.
For now he is still my cheeky little boy who is enjoying a much better life than he had in the past and that we have to be thankful for.

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