Syringomyelia Awareness: How to Choose a Healthy Puppy

Go to a breeder who registers her puppies with the Kennel Club and who can supply you with a five generation pedigree for both parents of the litter of puppies. One thing to look for is how many times a dog’s name appears in the pedigree. This will give you an idea of the level of inbreeding in the pedigree.

Do not buy a puppy from a puppy farm where standards of welfare will be poor and almost certainly health screening will not have been carried out.

The pedigree information should if possible include an inbreeding score (coefficient of inbreeding, COI) based on a ten generation pedigree. Ideally this should not be higher than 6%. The ages at which ancestors died and their cause of death would be very useful. It will be a guide to your puppy’s lifespan and chances of inheriting a genetic disease. Currently most breeders do not have access to the computer software which can make the COI calculation for them. The Kennel Club could provide them with this online service, but currently do not.

Ideally both parents should be seen and their temperaments observed and discussed with their owners.

The age of both sire and dam should be at least two and a half years when mated, and after testing for MVD and SM. Do not buy a puppy from parents who are younger than this.

Syringomyelia: MRI certificates required for both parents. Must be at least two and half years when tested and ideally both parents should be Grade A or equivalent (i.e, Skerritt certificate ‘cerebellar herniation’ only)

Ideally the certificate should also note that there is no ventricular dilation or central canal dilatation; however, few dogs fit this category. MRI certificates and Grade A for grandparents is highly desirable, especially if done at a later age, say five years.

Note that using A x A parents will not guarantee that all of the puppies will be free of SM, but the risk will be reduced. In addition, using A x A dogs is an ideal situation but because of the paucity of older SM free dogs and to avoid limiting the genetic pool (making other genetic diseases more likely) some breeders mate grade A dogs to asymptomatic older SM dogs. (This system is being revised and it is hoped that there will be an official scheme similar to the hip and elbow dysplasia scheme)

A good place to start is the list of MRI scanned dogs on the Cavalier Club’s website. You may also want to look at the current breeding guidelines for Syringomyelia.

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  1. As a scanning breeder to show that I support research – I list every dog whether it has an A gr or an F grade. The best way and the common sense way to look for a puppy is to get on the telephone have a list of breeders from the clubs website directory, have your list questions ready and start calling, if you don't get the answers you were looking for move on to the next name on your list – it's no different for me as a breeder when going out and looking for new blood. Our clubs COE is all pups must be placed wit ha 3 generation pedigree, and as far as inbreding – Guy Rouleau 2008 watch this video

  2. It is very important to speak to breeders,get a list of breeders on paper, then start asking them your questions, ask them about the parent's and if they are able to answers questions about the grandparents, ask to see health clearances, for eyes, hearts, hips, patellas,and MRI report.There is still a lot of unanswered questions like how does a DxD produce clear, and why SM clear with only mild CM are in extreme pain. Research your breeders :)My puppy folder is armed with all copies of health testing, and much more info like puppycare.

  3. Thank you for this information – I wish I would have known more when we adopted our Cavalier – we thought we were buying from the breeder but when I showed up to pick her up – she was with her mom and siblings. Looking at the papers the breeders name was not the person I purchased her from… As you know – they are not cheap pups… Right away our girl had a cough. took her to the vet several times – finally (after we were in love with her) they discovered an enlarged heart and within 2 years we discover hip dysplasia. She is almost 5 years old now and we love her a ton but it's sad that she had to go through so much…
    Love to you
    I've Become My Mother

  4. i wished i had known this when getting bailey from a kennel club registered breeder on his papers it said father heart and eye tested i thought bailey would be ok healthwise but didnt realise or know about breeding under two and a half baileys mum wasnt even two years old, i had the generation certificate and noticed there was champions in his pedigree so thought he would be safe bailey is now over four years old and has heart problem, eye problem and slipping patella when he was a pup every time we picked him up he would yelp? which i had not experienced with a dog before!! as he got older i noticed he would lay in the dark under the table or on cold concrete he seemed very restless pacing the floors and rubbing his face and neck on the floor plus flipping round to bite himself constantly, last year he had a pain episode where he screamed in pain for a while i was very worried as i had just learnt about sm and did some research on the internet, i took him to the pdsa and luckily the vet i saw had some knowledge of sm and said bailey would be kept an eye on he was given steroids and tramadol the steroids made bailey pile on the weight so the vet took him off them, since that time bailey hasnt had anymore pain episodes still likes to lay in cold and dark places tho, i am watching him like a hawk but touch wood he will be ok and seems to have mild symptoms so far thank goodness, i wouldnt of known about sm without the internet and have learned quite a bit,just wish i had done more research on the breed altho i wouldnt be without my cavaliers such a lovely breed of dog i am so sad they suffer with all these health problems and its not fair to the dogs or their owners, thank you for giving me more important knowledge on sm. [email protected]

  5. Jan Tennyson says

    I need some advice regarding a breeder who only does a heart check on the dam and sire. She says doing an MRI for SM is unnessary as her dogs are robust and live a very healthy lifestyle in her licenced kennels with no genetic defects. No eye examination, CC, MRD, EFS, DE. Should I walk away.

    Thank you

    • Hi Jan,
      My first question would be why this breeder? Is it a geographical reason or have you heard wonderful things about the health and overall wellness of her lines. I would check the registries to see if the parents and grandparents were tested and their results or the results from brothers or sisters of the bitch and sire. My bigger concern would be SM not that anyone would want their dog to go blind but a blind dog can have a very high quality of life. A dog suffering from SM is living in pain, will need surgery to help, and has a shorter life expectancy. I am not saying run but I am saying a lot more research on your part is in order before taking a puppy. See if you can speak with other club members about the breeder and find out what they think of her dogs and puppies.
      Felissa Elfenbein recently posted..Customized Dog Food Is Now A Reality #pawTreeKickoffMy Profile

  6. Fiona Robertson says

    Hi, can anyone tell me if a sibling of my cavalier has SM does it meant she will have the condition also? I have also just recently learnt that their mum also has SM and the breeder keeps breeding from her!

    Kind regards
    Fiona R

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