View Full Version : Press release: CAWC report and SM in cavaliers

29th May 2008, 08:42 PM
Released today:

From the


28th May 2008

Genetic disease, breeding and welfare of companion animals

Two years after the publication of its first Report on this subject, CAWC held a workshop at the House of Lords on 29th April to review and look in more detail at the sorts of measures that are being undertaken to tackle genetic diseases that can compromise the welfare of companion animals.

The focus of the workshop was the condition of syringomyelia in the Cavalier King Charles spaniel. This disease is caused by a hereditary mismatch of brain and skull size, that can occur in these and some other toy breeds, and that can cause chronic and sometimes severe pain. It was hoped that focusing on this example, would have two benefits. First, in identifying further steps that can be taken to tackle this specific problem. Second, that review of the strategies being used to tackle syringomyelia, and the roles of the various players involved, may be helpful in highlighting important principles and approaches relevant to tackling genetic welfare problems in companion animals in general.

Among those attending the workshop were veterinarians, geneticists, representatives of the national and regional breed clubs, the Kennel Club, breeders and owners. Recent research findings were discussed and various actions were proposed including:

• There should be further debate about the relative merits of each of the three possible approaches to tackling these kinds of welfare problems. These are: breeding to reduce prevalence or eliminate within the breed, outbreeding (crossing with other breeds) to reduce prevalence or eliminate, or ceasing to breed at all from potential carriers;

• breed clubs and the Kennel Club should work more closely together further to find ways to make more health and welfare information available;

• scientists studying the epidemiology and genetics of syringomyelia in CKCS should get together with breed club representatives, facilitated by the Kennel Club, to devise a scheme for collection of data on the epidemiology of the disease (including systems for assessing MRI results), for use in pursuit of its control or elimination.

CAWC will be exploring ways to facilitate the first of these and looks forward to hearing of timescales for and progress with the other two initiatives and also of progress with other initiatives outlined at the workshop, including: development of genetic tests, development of web-based mate-selection advice, and initiatives for education and provision of better information on health and welfare for prospective owners.

Copies of the Report of the Workshop are available from:

CAWC Secretariat
The Dene
Old North Road
Cambridge CB23 7TZ

Regrettably, due to web site reconstruction, the report will not be available on line.


Media contacts:

Dr James Kirkwood, Deputy Chairman of CAWC and Chair of the Breeding and Welfare Working Group.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, Chairman of CAWC.

Note to Editors:

The Companion Animal Welfare Council (www.cawc.org.uk) was founded in 1999 to provide independent advice and to inform public debate on matters relating to the welfare of companion animals. It pursues its objectives through undertaking independent and objective studies of companion animal welfare issues, identifying where further action is required, and preparing and publishing reports thereon. The Council is open to requests for objective views, advice and the carrying out of independent studies on issues concerned with the welfare of companion animals. CAWC is funded by the Welfare Fund for Companion Animals (registered charity No 107058 )

29th May 2008, 11:36 PM
The full report may be read here (http://www.thecavalierclub.co.uk/CAWC%20Report%20Breeding%20and%20welfare%20Worksho p%2029.4.08.pdf).

30th May 2008, 10:26 AM
May I mention that the CAWC Report confirmed what Dr Marino , a Researcher into the SM Problem at LIVS ,America recently said ,and also yesterday when I contacted James Kirkwood ,Chairman of CAWC,that SM is not only affecting the Cavalier Breed

It is affecting other Small Breeds as well .

In fact Dr Marino ,further said ,that SM is now known as a Small Breeds' Disease

I know that it has been mentioned that the Figures of SM are higher in the Cavalier Breed , than other Small Breeds ,but this doesn't alter the fact that other Small Breeds also have this Disease .

The question must be being asked .

WHY,is it in those other Small Breeds ?

Where is the connection ,?


30th May 2008, 02:58 PM
As always, Karlin, thanks for sharing. :thmbsup:

30th May 2008, 07:02 PM
Bet, just to note, in case anyone is wondering: all the researchers have always said that SM affects a range of small breeds. Even five years ago when I was first on the Arnold Chiari discussion list, a number of other breeds were already there, so this mix of other breeds is very known to anyone following the research papers and presentations, or participating is the support groups (though perhaps it is rarely discussed on the SM discussion list for some reason -- you'd have to ask the breeders!). But the average cavalier owner may not know this. Still, several researchers (including Clare and Dr Marino) had noted at conferences that they expected to start seeing a higher percentage of other breeds showing up with SM as it was clearly present in other breeds, if at a far lower level of affectedness than in cavaliers (eg some of the listed breeds have only one or a few known cases, as opposed to hundreds of cavaliers). Clare Rusbridge actually lists all the other breeds in her dissertation and mentions them in papers published several years ago, as do Drs Dewey and Marino; and I have noted them on my SM site for over two years. :thmbsup: Maybe you also were not aware that Clare and Penny's DNA collection project also collected DNA from six other affected breeds several years ago -- as well as cavalier blood? I am sure they will tell you more about this. You can also see how many times other breeds were mentioned for example in papers given in London in 2006:


I just don't want people to believe that this was a secret or a new discovery. I also do not recall a single researcher calling this a cavalier problem, though clearly it is a BIG BIG problem for cavaliers in particular. :( Though maybe breeders or pet owners had heard only of the problem in cavaliers.

It might interest you to know that on the Chiari list four-five years ago, it already had several yorkie owners, a Boston terrier owner, a staffordshire owner, and a chihuahua owner, all of whom had dogs diagnosed with SM, and researchers were always aware of these owners and their dogs (some of them gave blood for the DNA research). I am sure there is still probably a mix of people and breeds there. If you are interested in the experience of other breeds, maybe join that list as well? :)

31st May 2008, 01:11 PM
This is the point I'm trying to make .

That even although there are more cases of SM in Cavaliers than some of the other Small Breeds ,there is this Disease in other Small Breeds ,maybe the Neurologists mentioned it in passing ,but I dont think that this Statement was really focused on .

For ,I think the Cavalier World to understand ,is that SM is affecting other Small Breeds

As James Kirkwood ,Chairman of CAWC ,after the Report was published ,and I contacted him ,said that ,this may be relevant to the observation that there seems to be some Predisposition to SM in Small Breeds .

This must be of great concern ,and it must be asked ,why is SM in Small Breeds

Where is the connection,that is causing this Disease ?

There are Small Breeds ,different Sized Heads and different Sizes

So how do they succumb to this Disease?

This is what I'm trying to get across.


Whether it is Rare in those other Small Breeds , they have the SM Problem

31st May 2008, 05:25 PM
though clearly it is a BIG BIG problem for cavaliers in particular. :(

Is that because Cavaliers are numerically much much higher than these other breeds?


31st May 2008, 06:04 PM
No, it won't be due to numbers, nor on any significant level of awareness of vets who might refer dogs to neurologists, certainly not in the US where only in about the last two years has the cavalier made any significant inroads in popularity -- yet most cases are diagnosed in dogs older than 5, not one or two. And the cavalier still ranks 35th in popularity there, with most gains made in the last two years.

Given that a significant number of other small breeds are also popular in the UK, and given the very low awareness of vets of the condition still, one would assume neurologists should see significant numbers of owners of oher breeds showing up with unexplained painful behaviours, but they don't.

My own vets are now very aware of this condition and have never seen it in a single other breed than cavaliers -- and now have numerous cavalier being treated after being confirmed with SM by the vet school (as it is the only place with an MRI).

Also: given the Brussels griffons are also believed to have a significant level of affectedness, yet it was quite easy to find totally clear dogs for the genome research while it was impossible for them to find enough cavaliers (meaning even six) that were totally clear -- that suggest a very serious problem to me.

Note for example the ACKCSC breed health survey in the US, where the breed is still rare (most vet practices across the US, especially beyond the two coasts, will likely never have even seen a single cavalier, as my own board members can report -- many have problems finding vets who have any familiarity with cavaliers). Even there, some 4% had cavaliers diagnosed with SM, which the eminent prof of vet medicine who wrote up the report indicated was alarming:

The report states on page 186:

"Nearly 4% of CKCSs were diagnosed with syringomyelia which is considered extremely high compared with other dog breeds."

The table information in the study is interesting. Apparently 8.5% of the 566 cavaliers in the survey are "believed" to have SM (including the 4% with a definite diagnosis), but a very large 26% of the dogs weren't able to be assessed on that question-- ie the owners did not respond to the question. That's a lot of dogs in the sample for which there's no reply.

39.1% of those believed to have SM were showing signs by age 2, and another 26.1% between age 3 and 4. However, 43.5% weren't diagnosed until between the ages of 4-6, indicating in retrospect, people had seen signs of SM early on, without knowing what it was.

Note that dogs needed to be at least 3 years old to be included in the survey. Given that so many dogs in the sample were showing symptoms at under 3, one might guess that many owners with symptomatic or diagnosed cavaliers are out there, but not part of this survey, and that in future those percentages will rise much higher.

However you look at it -- and research indications are that the percentages are actually far higher than 4% (even the most skeptical would have to accept only 4% isn't the case, otherwise it would be quite easy to find fully clear dogs (of malformation and SM) for research and for breeding) -- a lot of owners of a fairly rare US breed had diagnosed dogs during a period when they would have been even rarer.

(Just for an example of how unusual cavaliers remain in the US -- my parents live in a fairly upmarket area of the San Francisco bay area where the breed would be more popular than many regions. It would be pretty unusual to see a cavalier, compared to the truly popular breeds. I know of one woman in my parent's neighbourhood with a cavalier. By contrast, I know of at least 10 living in my much smaller neighbourhood in Ireland.

The levels of affectedness showing up in the US studies pretty much mirror the rates than are apparent in the UK and in Holland.

The fortunate aspect of the ongoing research is that if genes can be identified for cavaliers than it can also be identified in other small breeds and help breeders of those breeds avoid the situation that exists with cavaliers. No dog should have to live with a skull too small for its brain.

At any rate, I cannot see what difference it makes to accepting the serious problem in cavaliers if there are also growing problems in other breeds except to hope the problems already inherent in one breed might help breeders in other breeds become more aware of the condition and the associated breeding issues, and to raise questions about whether it is then ethical to breed dogs that keep reproducing serious genetic defects. If merely creating small breeds causes the problem, then there's a moral issue in breeding small dogs that most be addressed. The latter issue is the one at the heart of the CAWC report.

It would be interesting to find if there are breed studies in other small breeds where a significant number of head and shoulder MRIs have been done, as a point of comparison.

31st May 2008, 06:26 PM
That even although there are more cases of SM in Cavaliers than some of the other Small Breeds ,there is this Disease in other Small Breeds ,maybe the Neurologists mentioned it in passing ,but I dont think that this Statement was really focused on .

Sorry Bet, I meant to reply. Actually the statement has been noted at all the conferences (which I know you were unable to attend, so you wouldn't be aware of this), and it is regularly noted in the various research papers, but as the conferences have been sponsored by the cavalier club in the UK, the focus naturally has been on cavaliers. Dr Marino's emphasis has also always been on cavaliers in his own papers, again I am sure because the numbers in other breeds remain quite small, but he does mention doing the surgery on other breeds. He did note at Rugby that he was seeing an increase in some other smaller breeds, but I do not think numbers are more than a single case in some breeds, and fewer than 6 in most others on the list.

One hopes more MRIs might start to come in from other breeds as that would help research generally on the condition. :)

1st June 2008, 09:38 AM
Wer'e just going round in circles ,the big worry has to be WHY is SM in other Small Breeds

Heads are different, Sizes are different ,so where has this Disease come from to be afflicting other Small Breed Types .

Scared to mention the V WORD !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But do Adverse Reactions to Genectically Susceptible Dogs from their Vaccinations be affecting them ,and a link to SM?

I do know that in America ,a Vaccine Company ,is in the process of producing a Vaccine for Small Dogs ,so that they will not be being given the same amount of Vaccine as Larger Dogs .



1st June 2008, 09:55 AM
Sorry Folks,
Forgot to add this.

It is because of Research into Adverse Vaccine Reactions,and the results obtained from it,that the Vaccine Company has decided to produce a Vaccine for Small Dogs .


1st June 2008, 09:40 PM
Thanks for that info; I know a lot of us would like to see lower dose small dog vaccines if they only need a smaller dose. That is good news.