Syringomyelia Awareness: Why Rescues Need to Understand the Disease

Today I am going to be devoting several posts in Memory of Charlie as I know his legacy is education for Rescue Organizations. In order to help dogs in their care who are suffering from Syringomyelia / Chiari Like Malformations Rescue Organizations need to understand why it is so important to learn about the disease and how important it is to treat it as soon as possible. I will let Charlie’s Story speak for itself and hope that it makes an impact for other Cavaliers that find themselves turned over to Rescue. 
Guest Series by Colin and Cathy Moon
Charlie will be two years old on December 11, 2007. We adopted him six days ago.
We were given a file folder containing his medical records since he was a sixteen week old puppy. His first vet visit was for vaccinations, and he had a slight case of gastroenteritis. His vet noted that Charlie was a “picky eater”. One month later, Charlie was dropped off at the vet to be neutered, and it was noted that he was having a harder time walking. “Ataxic, seems to have a hypermetric gait” was the description. “A: Syringomyelia.” “P: Per discussion with neurologist, MRI is needed to confirm diagnosis. Treatment options are limited and it is difficult to determine if the disease will progress.”
At nine months of age, Charlie was brought in for an exam. “Client feels that Charlie is having a harder time getting around. Charlie also urinates and defacated all over the house and cries out in pain every night.” “S: Ataxic but otherwise very active.” “A: Syringomyelia.” Charlie was given Gabapentin, Omeprazole and Prednisone.
One month later, the vet’s comments state, “Client is unable to give Charlie the medical attention that he requires. They relinquished him to _-_ Hospital to board him until a suitable home is found.”
When Charlie was ten and one half months old, he was taken to a foster home. He remained in foster care for one year.
Before I brought Charlie home, I made a few private vows to him. He was wetting his bed at night and laying in it, presumably from taking Lasix, a diuretic. He wasn’t getting rinsed or bathed each morning. He smelled, and his tummy was inflamed and covered with small sores. His ears were red and sore, causing him to growl and snap at anyone trying to handle them. Syringomyelia is painful enough; these added problems were making it worse.
My vows were to always give him his medications on schedule and to manage him so that he would not soil his bed or the house. I promised to keep him clean and comfortable, and find a way to heal his skin and ears. I realized we’d be on a strict schedule and would have to struggle with ear drops, etc.
Additionally, Charlie was pudgy around the middle and was a very bossy and frustrated little Napolean! He had a number of behavior issues such as poor impulse control and uncontrolled barking during his family’s mealtimes and while in the car. I watched as his family gave him treats and attention to curb his misbehavior, knowing that it was really being reinforced. I had my work cut out for me. We would at least understand why Charlie is so difficult to train. I vowed to slowly and gently help him learn manners and lose the extra weight.
Last but far from least, Colin and I promised each other to get help for Charlie’s pain episodes. Charlie’s Syringomyelia was very early onset, he was exhibiting neurological problems and extreme pain at a very young age. Decompression surgery for Charlie was recommended by a neurologist one year ago. We prayed it would not be too late for Charlie to have the surgery now.
Charlie was actually being shared by two rescues, because his medical bills were too expensive for one rescue to handle. The first rescue paid for Charlie’s MRI to confirm the diagnosis of SM, and Charlie was seen by a neurologist who recommended referral to a neurosurgeon to perform decompression surgery. That same rescue had already received donations to help pay for his MRI and to fund part of his decompression surgery, which he desperately needed. The second rescue got involved, and somehow a decision was made to put decompression surgery on hold indefinitely and instead to have orthopedic surgery done on each of Charlie’s knees.
Evidently the people from the rescues did not understand the term ‘early onset’ with regard to SM. They thought it meant the disease was in early stage, rather than understanding that it meant the disease started at a young age and therefore required immediate treatment. The earlier the onset of SM the more severe the disease is likely to be. Neurosurgeons prefer to operate sooner rather than later in a case like Charlie’s, where he had very early onset SM. Our neurosurgeon told me that Charlie was the most severe case he had ever seen, and Charlie was just under two years of age at the time.
After Charlie’s decompression surgery, both rescues did contribute money towards his surgery bill. They believed they helped him receive the treatment he needed. They didn’t understand his pain episodes either; they believed he was having “seizures”. No dog should suffer as Charlie did. By the time he had his surgery it was too late; there was already too much damage to his spinal cord. There was some improvement for a short time, but then our vet could only provide palliative care to Charlie. And finally we had to give him his wings.

To read Charlies full story please visit his Blog:

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