View Full Version : Death sentence?

Kate H
25th January 2010, 11:31 AM
Maya's recent posts on this forum (headed s.m, and about her recently-diagnosed 2-year-old) prompt me to start a topic I feel strongly about. Although we need to push/shove/encourage those who breed Cavaliers to be aware of the dangers of SM and take measures to minimise it in their dogs, it worries me that the general public is getting a very skewed idea of SM. Their only contact with it is through film/video footage which shows dogs in the last stages of the disease, rolling around in uncontrollable pain. Maya mentioned that several people reacted to the news of her dog's SM by saying she wouldn't have her for very long then, as if SM is automatically a death sentence. We know that for many (if not most) of our affected dogs, it isn't any such thing. This is not to minimise that we are dealing with a very serious disease, which for some dogs can be very traumatic and painful, and the Cavalier-owning public needs to be educated to watch out for symptoms. But I meet people who are really worrying about their Cavalier having SM and having to immediately be put to sleep; they are amazed when they see my Oliver - and I'm sure others on this forum have had similar experiences. It's tricky - how do we increase awareness of the symptoms, but also make people aware that there is life after an SM diagnosis for both dogs and owners?

Kate, Oliver and Aled

25th January 2010, 12:16 PM
It's certainly tricky.There's a fine line between providing information and scaremongering.
Sadly the people I personally know who have had cavaliers diagnosed with SM,in all three cases it has been impossible to save the dogs.One suffered paralysis,it's littermate screaming fits, so the family had no option.The third was where the family assumed it was a behavioural issue,that the dog was throwing itself on the floor,rolling around yelping and then would get up and run off behind the couch.The dad found this behaviour hilarious and very entertaining:mad:This 6 year old has since been euthanased.
I think it's virtually impossible to identify specific symptoms of SM in it's mild/moderate form.In spite of being clued into SM and what to look for,I still don't know if Daisy is symptomatic or not...and therein lies the problem.PSOM will cause the same scratching as will a regular ear infection and indeed allergies and other conditions and even the most educated and practical owner will watch and wonder...
Most people I meet comment on cavaliers as having "weak hearts" as opposed to SM.
However as with any health issue, many buyers believe this will never happen to them or their dog.These are just things that happen to other people and will not take the time to do any research or to quanitfy the risk.
Margaret's idea of having the Kennel Club provide a factsheet on cavalier health with the transfer of ownership has some merit.I'm not too concerned about the general public having an opinion on SM.A lot of people are just not interested in dogs anyway.
What matters is that people who buy the pups are aware of what may arise in the future...when I was looking for "Holly" I phoned a few UK breeders and in most cases I was given a lecture on cavalier health whether I wanted one or not:thmbsup:...
On this side of the Irish sea,most cavaliers are sold via BYBs.Club breeders produce only a tiny minority of litters. When Hollyhunting, at one stage the breed registry had three litters on it,so it's not possible to meet the demand for pups via club breeders.
So to be honest a few tales of exploding brains and even spontaneous canine combustion might be in order to dent the sales of the chancers who sell cavaliers over here.
Things are different in the UK and there's an ever increasing choice available to genuine owners.

25th January 2010, 12:39 PM
wish to thank you for putting this on because it has frighten us finding out
that our girl as s.m
but in the way we did not want to let our very very dear cavalier go from our lifes yet .
but comeing on here as showed us a different light on here on how we can help her .
we never thought we would be getting told our girl as s.m
you always think it wont happen to us.
back last year we went out for a day and this was before we found out .
and we had people passing us and saying look at thos nasty people
they have got one of thos dogs that live in pain .
it up set uus that cavaliers was being given a bad name or should i say there owners were being blamed for some thing that had nothing to do with them ,
cavalier are the best dogs in the world .

25th January 2010, 02:28 PM
I have thought how I can answer this Thread.

So here is my view.

The only way was for the Pedigree Dogs Exposed TV Film was to Show the wee Cavalier suffering from SM.

How else could this Problem have been brought to the Notice of the Public, and make them aware that Cavalier Breeders should be MRI Scanning their Breeding Stock.

Now because of this information Prospective Cavalier Buyers will ask to see a Health Certificate ,showing that this has been carried out on the Cavalier's Parents that they did'nt have a Syrinx at the time of Mating ,also because of the Information that the Cavaliers should'nt be being mated before 2.5 years of age.

25th January 2010, 05:53 PM
As with most things, the answer lies in educating people. I've had several people ask me about Guinness, and if he was "one those dogs on the BBC documentary". Which is when the opportunity to tell people more arises, when they are curious.

I think it's harder here because cavaliers are not a common breed, so people think that since cavaliers were focused on they must be the most messed up dog breed, and don't realize that one reason for focusing on them is that they are one of the most popular breeds in england.

25th January 2010, 05:55 PM
This is a complex topic.

Actually, I have many of the existing SM videos together in one place (not many more are on YouTube for example), and permission to use some other bits that I haven't yet added, and of the several that I have, only one shows a dog that is severely ill and writhing. The others make a very clear point that these are dogs managed through medications. That really sad video was NOT made by the PDE team by the way, it was shot by the dog's owner when trying to capture on video a then misunderstood problem.

The videos are the most viewed part of my SM site so actually I don't think people get a skewed version of the problems from videos. PDE showed the same bad case video I have but also a pet cavalier who scratches on the lead all the time -- pretty much the norm for many of us with affected dogs. My longest video shows a pet owner doing all sorts of normal activities with her elderly, affected dog, and explaining his issues quite clearly.

If anything, the problem is that I think many owners of dogs with symptoms, far from worrying overly that they have an early death sentence (which statistically I'm afraid is the case for many diagnosed dogs with a serious degree of SM, regardless of treatment) assume the dogs experience little pain unless they are highly symptomatic whereas humans with SM will state this isn't true. So I think there's a real problem with undertreatment of those dogs that do get diagnosed, and they continue in pain. And there's a big problem with owners/vets not realising the dog has SM and treating for nonexistent conditions instead.

If dogs have a tiny syrinx at an older age then yes, most of those probably have a reasonable chance of a decent lifespan and mild symptoms at worse. But not that many scan with only a tiny syrinx, when they do have one; and very often, those keep growing. Larger syrinxes, and asymmetrical (more common) almost always correlate with pain, as one study shows. Dogs adjust to tolerating increased levels of pain so lack of outward signs also does not indicate a dog is not suffering if it has a syrinx.

* 55 of 74 CKCS had syringomyelia
35% SM were painful
27% SM had scratching behaviour
* Comparison pain SM and no pain SM
No correlation sex or age
Strong association with maximum syrinx width (p<0.0001)
Dogs in pain - mean maximum width 0.58cm
Dogs without pain - mean maximum width 0.32cm
95% of CKCS with SM greater/equal to 0.64cm were painful

There is a very strong association between maximum syrinx width and pain:

* Asymmetry of syrinx is only found in the dorsal half of the spinal cord, and is associated with pain. 79% of dogs with pain had such a syrinx.
* syrinx length is also associated with pain.

Results – dorsal asymmetry:
* Syrinx asymmetry only found dorsal half spinal cord
* Dogs in pain more likely to have dorsally asymmetrical syrinx
15/19 (79%) - dogs with pain
16/33 (49%) - dogs without pain (p=0.0419)

Clare Rusbridge noted that in a small study, about half of dogs that have had surgery gradually decline though most were still alive at the time of the study, and about half treated with medication alone were euthenised early, eventually.

So: though I have long argued that there are many outcomes of a diagnosis, and many dogs will do well or OK on medications at least for a time, and sometimes for many years, the problem is that no one can predict how any one dog will do. The general understanding is that dogs with symptoms under age 4 are early onset cases that tend to get worse. Of those, some may decline quickly and others more slowly. Those that go on medication tend to need increased levels of medication over time to manage pain. Those showing noticeable signs and early pain do not usually have a good prognosis and their best chance is probably surgery or else need to be viewed as palliative care cases.

Personally, I think too many are mistakenly led to believe that medications will manage their dog really well and perhaps will halt progression where the reality is far more likely to be the opposite -- and that all needs to be weighed up in a realistic way when making treatment choices. And: I think despite some believing vets misdiagnose all the time as SM because they hear about it constantly, that most vets and owners still have never heard of SM and as Sins and Maya note, don't realise what is going on so it can be a while before the dogs get the help they need. All of us with affected dogs play a waiting game where as Margaret has so rightly noted, you can never fully enjoy your dog in a relaxed way as you always are aware they have this condition and never know what may happen next. You learn to take things day by day and do the best you can by your dog, whatever treatment approach is taken. :flwr: But certainly there are choices that can enable management of the condition, sometimes for a full lifespan.

Margaret C
25th January 2010, 07:47 PM
It's tricky - how do we increase awareness of the symptoms, but also make people aware that there is life after an SM diagnosis for both dogs and owners?

Kate, Oliver and Aled

Yes, It is tricky and I think that it is an individual decision how you deal with this.

I read Maya's post, and I felt her distress, but I still feel better a worried owner than a suffering dog.

If Maya's cavalier, at only two years old, has symptoms that need a visit to a specialist, then that little dog must have been in considerable discomfort.
Thank goodness she is lucky enough to have a caring owner who noticed there was a problem.

I have too many phone calls about young dogs in considerable pain, too many calls from owners that have spent two years seeing different specialists, changing to new vets to get a diagnosis and the appropriate medication for their pet, to feel that pussyfooting around about this inherited condition is acceptable.

Once the diagnosis is made, I would support and encourage owners to be optimistic. Some dogs do well once the right combination of drugs are found, but let us be honest, some do not.

Publicity alerts owners of symptomatic but undiagnosed dogs, warns new buyers to be careful who they buy from, and hopefully informs breeders that they need to MRI their breeding dogs.

Karen and Ruby
27th January 2010, 09:44 PM
It is a very complex situation and with everything there are dogs doing well and dogs that arent. Eventually Ruby will deteriorate Im sure but right now she is doing fabulously well and is living her life as she should. This is all thanks to finding the right level of medication for her, for now.

Its distressing for any owner to find their dogs carrying this dreadful, painful disease and for some who havent as much experience as others automatically feel their dogs will die very soon. I have come to terms with the fact that any day could be my last with Ruby (and possibly Charlie too), im not saying that by coming to terms I am in anyway OK about it BUT I cannot do anything more than appreciate every loving minute I have with my beautiful fur babys. I let them live life in a way that they would if they wernt sick!

I am glad for the documentry as it did what it had to do- with out it im sure many dogs would still be living in pain whilest their owners still lived confused as to what was wrong with their dog.
And yes for every person who comes over and says "OH THATS ONE OF THOSE DOGS WITH THAT BRAIN THING_ OH ITS CRUEL TO MAKE THEM LIVE IN PAIN!!"
There are 10's more that have found a resolution for their dogs 'funny habits' or come over and ask meaningful and heart felt questions about my dogs and what we go though!!

I have to live in hope that one day there will be an answer for our problems but until then we have to do what we have to do and for every day I cry there are many more where I laugh with my dogs and enjoy them for what they are... PERFECT IN EVERY WAY!!