Syringomyelia Awareness: Poppy’s Story

Guest Post by Catherine Southwell

I have 8 cavaliers ( all girls)! I have had cavaliers for 14 yrs and my first experience of SM came when we got our first ruby, Poppy in 1999. Poppy was chosen as we had bought a puppy previously from the same breeder who was using some of the top studs in northern ireland, Poppy was actually the half sister of our older tricolour Rosie who was in perfect health. Poppy was showing the stereotypical symptom of neck scratching from 6 mths old. From the age of 2 the yelping accompanied it, as she got older the condition worsened. We took Poppy to several vets and were told she had earmites, infections, grass seeds to one vet saying it was just a bad habit!!

While Watching the BBCs “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” I cried as it was like watching Poppy on the screen in front of me!! I was so upset as i had never heard of SM before no vet had even hinted at it, I was distraught as I realised how much pain she was in!!
Following the BBC documentary “Pedigree dogs exposed” we sought out an excellent vet about 1hr from where we live (we live in Northern Ireland) the vet agreed straight away just by observing her that it was SM, no scan required! Poppy was put on a concoction of drugs that helped a bit but she still had an episode of scratching and high pitched yelping everyday.
As Poppy got older we did our best to make life more comfortable for her until November 09 when she got so bad that during an attack she was foaming at the mouth. We did the kindest thing and put her to sleep. Although it was devastating I think the biggest regret I will ever have in my life was not putting her to sleep years before that! I miss her everyday but it has been a weight lifted off my shoulders.
After Poppy I wasn’t sure if I would ever have a cavalier again but as I am sure you will agree they are the best little dogs in the world and of course I decided to get another.
This began a search that shocked me to my core!! In the whole of Ireland I could only find one wonderful lady, who has now become one of my very good friends, that was scanning her dogs for sm before breeding them. She has been a rock for me and I have learned so much from her, since Dec 09 I have adopted 4 of her beautiful puppies!!
My decision to scan had come about for two reasons. I still have Poppys older half sister Rosie who is now 12 and is still in fantastic health, she was scanned through Rupert’s Fund for research purposes. My other scanned dog is Lily and I decided to scan her for breeding purposes. As mentioned before I have never had my own puppies and would love the experience of it.
We decided to take our girls to Stone Lion Veterinary hospital in London as this is where Clare Rusbridge the veterinary neurologist who appeared on “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” is based. She is one of the leading researchers into the disease and she is a wonderful person who cares passionately about the breed.
We undertook the journey to London just a few weeks ago, it took 2 days,it was exhausting but worth it. The staff in the hospital were wonderful, the girls were put at ease and the whole process only took about 2 hrs. When we picked them up they were alert and happy cavaliers!
We got the results just a few days later and the results are great both girls were graded A! I felt like a proud mummy.obviously Rosie is much too old to have pups but I will consider breeding lily, although I need to discuss this with Clare as she has some central canal dilation and if there is any risk i will not breed her as her health is my number one priority. My friend has two beautiful boys who have also been graded A with no dilation so they would be perfect boyfriends for her!!
I will return to London later this year with two more of my gorgeous girls. Scanning has been expensive but I have lived with SM and having seen the effects I will do whatever it takes to improve the breeding of these wonderful dogs.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Catherine. It is good to know you found a breeder who scans and that you're scanning too. I think my own feelings of regret with regard to my Charlie might be similar to your feelings about your little Poppy. That is one facet of how devastating SM can be. I wish you the best, Cathy Moon

  2. A MilShelb Mom says

    Thank you for sharing your story. I cannot imagine your pain and heartache, but it is so important to get the word out. Again, thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you for sharing your story – what you went through with Poppy sounds absolutely heartbreaking. I applaud you for helping to spread the word.

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