View Full Version : How do I go about having my puppy tested for Syringomyelia?

21st November 2011, 03:18 AM
Our little guy is 4 months old today and we would like to have him tested for Syringomyelia and was wondering how we would go
about it and what testing involves. Can a pup be tested for the condition with accurate results?
We have an appointment with our regular vet this week, as Jessie is being desexed, microchipped and having a hernia removed,
and we would like to bring the testing up with our vet.

Are most vets well versed on the condition, or should I perhaps provide her with some information?
He's displaying a few of the common symptoms, the collar scratching, paw licking, head shaking, which I'm certain is just normal
puppy behaviour, as he is not doing these excessively as such, just regularly. We would like to have him tested anyway,
for our own peace of mind mainly. For those with SM diagnosed pets, do you remember what the first symptoms were that you
noticed that made you initially take your dog for testing? I've sat through countless youtube clips of dogs that have been diagnosed,
but they symptoms seem fairly well advanced.

Just hoping for a little advice about how to go about approaching our vet and what should I expect from the testing.

21st November 2011, 04:41 AM
You would need to get an MRI. Our pup was MRI scanned at 6 months. He did not show SM yet but showed significant CM. Due to his sever symptoms and the malformation we were started on medication. His 1st symptom was scratching at his neck/collar. At first I thought he just didn't like the collar but that continued for 2 weeks. Finally he had a bald patch. He also chewed his feet/hindlegs a lot. Eventually chewed patches of fur off his butt. He also would yelp occasionally for unknown reasons and rub his head ALL the time.

Here are some videos from 4-6 months of age:






We MRI scanned young and my pup had not developed the syrinx yet but his pain is caused by malformation alone. Our neurologist expected he would develop a syrinx pretty quickly. We have not had him rescanned to do financial reasons. Make sure you have insurance. It is a very costly condition. An MRI in the USA runs around $2500. Our monthly medications run us around $100. We have insurance but it's not always possible to have $$$ on hand to pay the vets upfront. If you scan now it will likely show you the malformation that almost all Cavaliers have. It may not show SM at the moment. That does not mean your pup will not develop it at a later date. They can develop it at any age. Our neurologist said he sees Cavaliers coming in to the clinic as young as 4-6 months with symptoms but a majority are 2-5 years of age. Like my pup, some dog show pain from CM alone . In our case we were not treating the MRI scan but the symptoms my pup had.

If I were you, I would be looking for a vet familiar with Cavaliers and SM. I know here in the US most vets have not heard of SM. We had to battle with several vets in order to my pup seen by a neurologist. Everyone believed my pup was just fine. Thankfully our neurologist was able to set our vets straight. :p

Do you know if your pups parents were MRI scanned?

21st November 2011, 05:02 AM
Also, as a side note...make sure you get insurance before you even bring up the conversation with your vet. If you even talk about it, it will be recorded and insurance will then see that as "pre-existing" and you will not be covered (this is what happened to me). So get insurance as an MRI is very expensive and so in continued care. If you think at all that your pup might have SM, get insurance, can't stress that enough.

Also, my neurologist said that even if we scan Brooklyn now for instance (she is 1) and she is clear, that does not mean she will be clear at 2 1/2 or later. It is not that black and white unfortunately.

If you do bring it up with your vet, she/he will refer you to a neurologist and they will help you move forward with the process, maybe trail some meds, maybe go right into an MRI.

Have you ruled out allergies? Skin issues? And other thinks that might cause these symptoms? Best to rule those out first just to make sure and then move forward with SM investigations.

21st November 2011, 05:43 AM
I wouldn't scan unless you have a reason to be worried. The MRI is expensive, and, like any procedure, has risks.

I intend to scan both of my dogs for research purposes (I hope I won't be scanning because of symptoms), but those scans won't be done until they are closer to 5 years of age.

And, yes, don't mention SM to your vet unless you have insurance, and are past the intro period.

21st November 2011, 05:47 AM
Thanks for your replies, greatly appreciated.
He isn't currently insured, but have the forms here, just haven't got around to filling them out, but will make it a priority now.

I had thought allergies as well, as every time we come in from outside, his nose sniffles with a clear discharge, which the vet
checked on our last visit at 12 weeks. He is flea free, but some of the itchiness may come from living in a semi rural area and small insects
in the grass, which we keep short.

It's hard to assess what would be excessive traits of SM, but going by those clips, those seem pretty severe compared to Jessie's.
He's been scratching at his collar since he was 7 weeks when we first brought him home. Each scratch only lasts around 5 seconds, but
he's does it regularly. Could his collar just be irritating him, as It's a little looser than it should be and recently we bought him
his first big boy collar, which he isn't scratching as much as he would his puppy collar. He licks his front paws mainly, hardly ever his
back paws, but he does lick towards his rear end, mainly his tiny testicles, but not obsessively either. He was randomly yelping,
but at 12 weeks the vet checked his anal glands and found that one was full and needed expressing, since then, the random
yelping has stopped. He does enjoy rubbing his face and runs along the length of our couches rubbing it as he goes, but that's every
once in a while, he'll go for weeks without doing it.

We purchased Jessie from a couple that have Cavaliers (as pets, not for breeding purposes) and not being desexed, along came a
litter. Jessie's parents are well cared for, pampered pets with lovely natures and show no symptoms of SM, but they are
only 2 and 3 years old. Not knowing anything about SM before we bought him, to the best of my knowledge, they haven't been
scanned, but I will certainly ask.

It's just frightening the prospect of SM. I know many families deal with their furbabies living with SM everyday, but I don't think
it really strikes you until your own little buddy is faced with it.
Just thought I would throw in a photo of my little guy


27th November 2011, 02:01 AM
So sorry you are worried about this. :(

Just a few things... aside from your SM concerns: maybe there are special reasons for your decision or your vets wanting to neuter so young, but many wouldn't consider neutering a dog at only four months old without some really compelling reason. The best age that vets generally recommend is around 6 months and some people prefer to wait till the dog is about a year old and growth plates close. Four months is really young and generally is an age when only rescues would opt to neuter if they felt they absolutely could not trust people to responsibly neuter at an older age. I do understand such reaosning but even then, all the rescues I know, including me when I was involved in cavalier rescue, would not have neutered before 6 months.

On scanning for SM -- unless you are recommended to do so by a neurologist there's really no reason to do this, and it would be a process of going through a vet for each of the things you feel might be a sing of SM and eliminating all other possibilities. Most of the things you describe would easily be due to many other reasons in a puppy so young. Allergies would come to mind long before SM in a young pup. MRIs are very expensive and are not a once-off -- eg if he is clear now, as most puppies that age would be, SM can develop at any point throughout his life. A dog older than 2.5 is far more likely to show signs of a syrinx for example. So unless there are very strong reasons for doing an MRI, and absolutely nothing addresses the leg chewing for example, I wouldn't MRI a pup as young as this.

This is not to totally dismiss your concerns but to give some context. A lot of what you describe really could be due to almost anything. I have had two dogs totally clear of SM andonly very mild CM who face rub(bed) after every meal and every walk, both chew(ed) at their legs or licked their paws regularly, etc. Dogs do this for many reasons besides SM and sometimes it is hard to pinpoint exactly why. Most puppies will scratch on and off at their necks for weeks after they get their first collar. So yes, go talk to your vet :thmbsup:, but it would really be more for seeing what other answers there are more likely to be, than to investigate for SM, I think.

27th November 2011, 04:44 AM
Hi Karlin and thanks for your reply.
Our little guy is now recovering at home with his lamp shade on his neck, after undergoing his desexing and hernia operation,
both being successful and he was already back to himself the next morning, with a healthy appetite and still happy go lucky.
Funnily enough, the admissions nurse also asked why we were having him fixed so young. It was only on the advice of one of their
vets, otherwise we would have waited. They said the hernia was quite large for his age.

Since he's been home, the chewing and chomping has stopped and he hasn't even attempted to (wearing his e - collar, he cant really reach)
and the vet also trimmed his inner ear hair (for his desexing stamp, which incidentally, has stained not only both ears, but they cleaned
his ears after stamping, and the fur on the side of his head is green as well) but it's stopped the ear scratching as well.

We are currently wading through pet insurers to find one that includes dental, but it'll be a relief to have that cover, just in case.
Neither parent displays any of the symptoms, which is a small comfort.

I'm just thankful that we have CT to turn to for support and to seek advice.
Just for good measure, here is Jessie with his lampshade


27th November 2011, 04:14 PM
Is there a reason why he needs to have his collar on all the time? If you could do away with it for maybe a week and see if he's still scratching, that would really help.

I don't put collars on either of my dogs when we're indoors. Lyra doesn't even have a collar--I use a step in harness for her whenever we go on walks. But other than that, when we're inside or in the fenced yard, neither of my dogs wear collars or harnesses. But I'm also VERY vigilant, so I know for a fact that neither of them can ever get out of the house/yard on their own.

28th November 2011, 10:09 PM
It was mainly due to the drama of needing to put his collar on and off each time we ventured outside.
Due to the council, he needs to be wearing his registration tags at all times, otherwise we risk being fined.
They have been known to peek over fences, especially now that all dangerous dog breeds need to be declared.

Once his stitches are out, I'll try him without it and see how he goes. I've tried the harness and he doesn't much care for it unfortunately.
Thanks for the tip http://www.kolobok.us/smiles/he_and_she/curtsey.gif

29th November 2011, 08:37 AM
Yeah, I'd just try it for a week and see if he's still scratching. My dogs scratch their necks whenever they have their collars on, but when I remove it they stop completely.

You could try training him to get used to a harness--my dogs didn't like it at first but now they get happy when they see me taking their harnesses out because that means we're going out for a walk!

29th November 2011, 11:02 AM
You can't reliably test a puppy for SM.
The only test is an MRI scan under general anaesthesia and will tell you if SM is present or absent.
Current research indicates that SM is a progressive condition and even if a cavalier is clear at a year or even two years,this may not be the case at 4 or 5 years.The likelihood of an early onset of SM in a puppy is very remote and you would be wasting your money if you were told he did not have it.
His symptoms sound like allergies or dry skin.A young puppy cannot effectively regulate oil production and can often have dry skin.This will pass as he matures.Chances are that he's still very young and acclimatising to his environment.
The vast majority of vets are utterly useless when it comes to SM.
If the nose is running clear he may have a slight allergy and if he scratches his head or ears he may have an ear infection or earmites.It's so easy to get them in long eared breeds so if you can set up a good ear cleaning regime it might help a lot.Personally,I wouldn't entertain the idea of scanning a cavalier before a year and not for such a common thing as scratching.

29th November 2011, 04:10 PM
Thanks, that's a helpful clear post Sins. :)

I'd only scan a dog under a year if there are serious signs of a problem accompanied by pain (and if a neurologist recommended it). If young dogs do have severe SM, early intervention may mean all the difference and in such a case, a scan will give critical information to the neurologist and owner.

In this case, all the signs sound like they would be far more likely to have other origins in such a young puppy, when symptomatic SM is very rare, and at any rate, not serious enough to warrant a costly scan under GA.

It takes time for puppies to get used to a collar -- or a harness. If he needs to wear a collar I'd just leave it on but make sure it isn't too loose or too tight and not too irritating in other ways.

Hernias are extremely common in this breed and almost always disappear on their own by 6-9 months, whether large or small. They can be a serious concern... but just FWIW I'd have wanted a second opinion. Some vets are quite enthusiastic about procedures that are not really necessary, especially in breeds they don't know much about. Never feel intimidated or uncomfortable about asking for explanations and a defense of a recommended plan of action. Personally,even if a pup needed a hernia op, a lot of vets would not also have neutered that young but waited til much older. A lot of vets also push for teeth removals under a GA when pups don't lose a last tooth or two, yet these will almost always also come out of their own accord, especially if encouraged with some hard chews/kongs/marrowbones etc.

29th November 2011, 07:16 PM
Thanks Sins & Karlin.
I was concerned that perhaps there were somewhat preventative measures if diagnosed early, if that makes sense. I always tend to
unnecessarily worry, having not had a pet since I was a child (it's been 20 years). It's just a case of, I would rather ask about it,
than stress about something that really shouldn't be a concern. I really appreciate the advice.

With his hernia, they were concerned as it kept getting bigger as he was growing and was protruding by almost an inch just before it
was removed. Not a very flattering photo, but here is his hernia a fair few weeks ago, and it was a fair bit bigger than that.


It was becoming firm to touch as well.
After his procedures, we are now looking at other veterinary clinics to take our little guy to. We wanted to find a regular vet,
but although he likes the staff, he really likes anyone and both hubby and I felt that we were practically shoved out the door
almost after picking Jessie up and not given any aftercare advice as such, not even confirmation that he has been microchipped either.
Just a copy of the paid invoice. We will take him back late next week for his follow up and to remove his stitches, then will be seeking
another practice.

While on the subject, are there any complications or concerns with his recovery that we should be aware of, being so young?
He's really well, he's still bouncing around with light play and trotting (more like prancing actually) and he is now even eating meals
without fuss.

Thanks again for your replies, I feel so silly having worried about it.

Kate H
29th November 2011, 08:09 PM
Jessie's mum wrote: I feel so silly having worried about it.

Don't feel silly - everyone on this forum started out stumbling around in the dark about SM and having to learn about it. And a lot of vets aren't much help because they don't know much about it either (though they do have several hundred other animal diseases they are expected to know about as well!). We prevent disease by vaccinating against it, so it's quite logical to think that SM could be approached in the same way - unfortunately it's a bit more complicated than that! But at least if you continue to learn from the forum, you will know better than most what symptoms to look out for, if you ever need to.

Kate, Oliver and Aled

29th November 2011, 10:30 PM
That's just it. :)

The thing is to find a balance between being informed and not constantly panicking. We need to be able to enjoy the day to day lives of our dogs. We also need to be aware so that we can spot possible issues early. Experience over time helps a lot!

We also need to work in whatever way we are comfortable with to try and change the future for this breed so that a shortened lifespan and pain are not significant risks for every cavalier. Researchers are working to learn more -- and we can all help by being sure we talk about these conditions with our vets (who as others note typically will know LESS about SM than most of us with affected dogs!). And of course by only buying puppies, once we know about this condition, from health focused breeders who scan (perhaps the single most effective thing every puppy buyer can do for the breed). And also, putting pressure on breeders, clubs and KCs to take action and not let this issue get hidden away. :thmbsup:

1st December 2011, 06:06 PM
I first started noticing symptoms in my Lily, when she was 3 months old. Had I not joined this forum when I first got Lily, I would have never known what was going on. The first symptoms I noticed was her yelping for no reason, or when picked up, or touched around the neck. She also face rubbed on the carpet, licked paws excessively, and scratched around her neck and head. She never exhibited the classic bunny hop on leach, and still doesn't, to this day, at 5 years old.

The first thing I did was remove her collar, and put her into a harness, which is much easier on their neck, if they do have SM. When she was about a year old, a lot of her symptoms disappeared, so then I thought it had all been just normal puppy behavior. At about 3 years old, the symptoms started coming back, and progressively worsened. I had pet insurance on her, from when I first got her, because I had researched, and joined this forum, so I was familiar with SM and other health problems in Cavs. I had also discussed SM with my vets from the time she first showed symptoms, so they were familiar with it too. So that when it came time to refer her to a neurologist, there was no push back from my vets, wanting to test her for everything under the sun, wasting time and money, and they immediately gave me a referral.

She did have SM, and I opted for medication treatment, in lieu of surgery. She is 5 now, and we have had to increase her meds only once, since she was diagnosed at 3. She has good days, and bad days, but many more good than bad, and for the most part, she is a very happy, healthy, and active dog. It is not a death sentence, and many dogs can live a very happy and active life for many, many years.

Like others have said, I would wait until your dog is a little older. I still don't know if what I saw in Lily when she was 3 months old, was actually SM symptoms, or regular puppy behavior. Had I done an MRI then, perhaps it would not have shown up.

Good luck, and try not to worry too much. Take it from me, I worried so much about Lilly as a puppy, that it took a lot of the joy of having a new puppy away. If your puppy has it, the symptoms will show when she is older as well, and then you can get the MRI. Just try to enjoy her for now!

1st December 2011, 09:44 PM
She did have SM, and I opted for medication treatment, in lieu of surgery. She is 5 now, and we have had to increase her meds only once, since she was diagnosed at 3. She has good days, and bad days, but many more good than bad, and for the most part, she is a very happy, healthy, and active dog. It is not a death sentence, and many dogs can live a very happy and active life for many, many years.

This is the same for me and my girl with SM. The only difference is that with her, probably bc of where her syrinx is located, she absolutely cannot tolerate a harness or anyone scratching her chest (which so many people want to do when they pet a dog). It sends her straight into a scratching/bunny-hopping fit. I know most SM dogs do better with a harness than a collar, but for us a wide, flat, loose (not too loose) collar has worked much better.

2nd December 2011, 01:02 AM
This is the same for me and my girl with SM. The only difference is that with her, probably bc of where her syrinx is located, she absolutely cannot tolerate a harness or anyone scratching her chest (which so many people want to do when they pet a dog). It sends her straight into a scratching/bunny-hopping fit. I know most SM dogs do better with a harness than a collar, but for us a wide, flat, loose (not too loose) collar has worked much better.

Hi Holly, when we first got Lily, we didn't have a fenced in yard, so I had to take her out on leash to potty. That's why I got her a puppia. We have had the yard fenced in for about 3 years now, so I never put a harness on her anymore, except when we go for walks. Like you, I just keep a collar, a little thin one, very lose on her any other time. I think Lily did better with the harness, becasue she has never done the bunny hop. That is the one symptom she has never had. Lily mostly can't tolerate her ears, or neck being rubbed. But with her, the docs don't know if it is her PSOM, or the SM, that bother her the most. I think it is the PSOM mostly that bothers her ears and neck, because when I first give her a does of gaba, all scratching everywhere except for ears and neck stop, as does the paw licking, and face rubbing.

12th February 2012, 12:56 PM
You can't reliably test a puppy for SM.
The likelihood of an early onset of SM in a puppy is very remote and you would be wasting your money if you were told he did not have it.

Hi, I'm new here and just wanted to weigh in. My pup who is barely 4.5 months old was just diagnosed with SM this week. She had a norrible screaming episode (see my post on the SM part of the forum "My puppy was diagnosed with SM" for more details) and we rushed her to a neuro specialist who didn't even give us the option to NOT do an MRI. Devastating to say the least. It does happen, so if you're going to worry yourself sick, get the MRI. My dog was purchased through a breeder who seemed to be doing everything right (not a pet store or anything like that). Just wanted to add my two cents.