Ella was diagnosed with Syringomyelia and taught me more in her short life about how to live life to the fullest, love with all your heart, and learn from each other.

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The moment I first held Ella, my world changed. She has touched so many people giving love as a therapy dog but now it is time to give back. No matter how hard she tries to give, her eyes show sadness and pain.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Syringomyelia. What is it and Why should I care and How knowing the answer saved Ella's life

When you go to the doctor when you have something wrong he may ask you what is going on and then probably will ask you about your family history.  When you have a dog, they can not tell you when something is bothering them, but if you were aware of what symptoms to look for then it would give you a clue.  Certain breeds are prone to certain inherited health conditions.  This is also why a family doctor will ask for details of your family medical history.  They will want to know what to look out for to have better knowledge of inherited conditions.  A lot of Cavalier owners have never heard of Syringomyelia (SM) which shocks me.  The reason it is estimated that 95% of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have Chiari Malformation (CM) and out of that roughly 50% have SM.

Syringomyelia is a condition where the skull is too small for the brain and there is blockage to the flow of the CSF cerebrospinal Fluid.  http://www.veterinary-neurologist.co.uk/ gives a better description and answers to common questions but since the fluid can not flow normally, there can be pressure that can even go down the spine. This is why some dogs may become paralyzed. Some researchers believe that SM is the leading health issue facing Cavaliers along with Mitral Valve Disease.  Many Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have SM but never show any symptoms.  They may scratch a little bit but overall they are mild.  However, there are more severe cases, like Ella, that the pain becomes unbearable and they eventually need to be euthanized.  There are two reasons I feel that it is important to bring awareness to this condition.  The first is, each generation the severity is increasingly getting worse.  There are researchers and breeders that are trying to eliminate or help the progression of this condition in this breed. Without knowing the family history, you don't know if this could be passed on to your puppy.  The second reason I feel this is important is because I read about Syringomyelia so I knew what symptoms to look for.

One thing about Syringomyelia is that many of the symptoms can be misdiagnosed.  Notice any change in behavior.  These are some of the symptoms of Syringomyelia but not every dog has all of these symptoms.
This was taken from
  • Lethargic. Does not want to play like they used to. Maybe seem older than they are
  • Scratching at their shoulders or neck.
  • Scratching on their side. Usually on one side
  • weakness in limbs
  • painful when touched, especially in neck area. Does not seem to want to be touched there
  • yelping for no reason
  • lip-licking, feet licking,
  • dullness in eyes
  • head shaking, face rubbing
  • prefer to have their head raised
  • (bunny hop)
  • withdrawal in a corner, under a table or bed
  • gnawing or scratching at the bedding
  • restless nights
  • loss of bladder
The only way to diagnose Syringomyelia is with an MRI.  Syringomyelia (SM) varies with each dog as far as severity, progression and treatment. 

There are different treatment options, medical management, surgery, acupuncture.  For more detailed information on Syringomyelia including please visit the websites  http://www.cavalierhealth.org/

There are other breeds to be known to develop Syringomyelia but to a lesser extent and they should be mentioned: Bichon Frise, Boston Terrior, Brussels Griffon, Bull Terrier, Chihuahua, French Bulldog, Havanese, King Charles Spaniel (English Toy Spaniel), Maltese Terrier, Miniature Dachshunds, Miniature and Toy Poodles, Papillon, Pomeranian, Pugs, Shih Tzu, Staffordshire, and the Yorkshire Terrier.  There is a website set up for stories for different breeds http://www.friends-of-lola.com/

Ella's Story

When I received the call in January 2010 from Ella's neurologist with her MRI results telling me she had a severe case of Syringomyelia with a large syrinx my world stopped. I thought I did not hear it right. I was the one who read about Syringomyelia and knew all the symptoms and demanded she be seen by a neurologist. I started to notice something was off with Ella probably when she was about 2 years old. She was almost 4 when she was diagnosed. It was nothing major, it just seemed like she scratched more than usually.  I tend to notice everything about her. Her vet said that it was probably food allergies so we changed her food and I didn't really think anything about it.  Then several months later she just looked funny walking up the stairs. I can't describe it but no one else could see what I saw. I even took her to see her vet to watch her go up the stairs.  I felt like someone taking their car into the shop and it works only when you are their. People thought I was crazy. She would put one paw in front of the other and she always seemed to walk on one side. She always seemed to scratch at her ears, which was diagnosed as an ear infection.  All of these things may sound like typical dog behavior and some of it could be but looking back on it, they were pieces to a puzzle.

It was probably in April 2009, I noticed the lack of energy. I would think she was just tired from day care. I would laugh and say what is wrong with you? In April a Cavalier Meet-Up group began in Charlotte and I said I would write a newsletter and I included some health information.  It was there that I read about Syringomyelia. My heart stopped. I immediately bought the book For the Love of Ollie and donated to SM research. I don't know, maybe deep inside I knew that something was wrong with Ella.  All of my friends could not see it and the only way to really diagnose it was with an MRI which for me cost $1700. 

The other things I noticed was the restless nights. She seemed to never get comfortable. Always making a bed or rubbing her face on the covers.  I heard about the "phantom scratching" and I didn't really see that. I started to look to see if she was scratching on one side.  She was always scratching on one side.  I paid close attention to all the things she was doing.  It then went downhill real fast.  In about two weeks she was hiding under the bed, under the table, laying on the floor, shaking her head constantly, hardly able to walk up the stairs, dullness in the eyes. Again I went to my vet and he said not to jump to any conclusions it's probably an ear infection and allergies and we still want to rule those out before I recommend her go to a neurologist.

I knew she had Syringomyelia.  That weekend I took her to my cousins house and the thing Ella likes to do more than anything is run after the ball.  I threw the ball and she was did not move.  I started to sob. I called and demanded for them to let me see a neurologist.  She went that following Monday.  I thought I caught it before anyone.  My friends did not even think she needed to see a neurologist so when it was severe I was shocked.  I think it was because of the rate of her progression.

Now that I knew she had it, the hardest part of anyone that finds out their dog has Syringomyelia is knowing what treatment option to take.  I can not recommend which is the best option because it is different for each dog.  Her neurologist said he could not tell me she would be around in 3 months and I couldn't live with that. She had a severe case and it was progressing fast. She was first put on medication but she had surgery a couple of weeks later.  She continues to be on several different medications and I am blessed to have her with me each day. I am constantly reminded of how lucky I was to know about this condition because if I didn't I do not know how much damage to her spinal cord would have been done.

Now it has been over six months and she is doing great! Please see the links on my blog because they offer valuable information and I also included support groups. If you have a dog with Syringomyelia and would like to be added to Ella's prayer list email me at www.acavaliersvoice.com


Miss Kodee said...

You did a wonderful job writing this clearly.

Here is to better days with proper treatment, continued research, more informed owners and support of reputable breeding programs.

Theresa Siegfried said...

This is a beautifully written story, Anne. Thank you for sharing it, and educating all of us about the breed we love. xx