View Full Version : Symptoms of sm

27th February 2012, 08:04 PM
Hi all, I am a proud owner of a 14 week old female cavalier, she's gorgeous and the whole family have fallen completely in love with her. My husband grew up with a cavalier king Charles which is why we decided to get one. I did some research before and was aware that cavaliers have several health issues, the main which which concerned me were the heart problems. However, since having her I have learnt more about sm and fear that I am becoming completely paranoid and constantly checking for symptoms! Whilst my husband has owned several dogs, this is all completely new to me so I am not sure what the 'norm' is with regards to itching etc. So for those of you who have dogs with sm, how frequently was your puppy/dog scratching to cause you alarm? How old was your dog when he/she started to display symptoms and how quickly has it progressed? Thanks so much in advance


27th February 2012, 08:46 PM
Unfortunately with this breed, there are extremely high general incidences of both MVD and SM -- current figures from a 555-dog CKCS sample with no symptoms were that around 70% MRI with SM by the time they are over 6 (and this will be highlighted on Pedigree Dogs Exposed 2 tonight on the BBC). Some symptomatic dogs also are affected by the skull malformation (CM) alone, without a syrinx (SM). At the same time, even though this level of incidence is grotesque and horrific and MUST be addressed, thankfully most dogs with CM/SM seem to either have few to no symptoms or learn to live with the discomfort without showing any obvious outward compromise. So for MOST cavaliers chances are 1) that yes, your dog may ultimately have SM just as she will almost surely eventually have MVD (50% have it by only age 5... :( ) -- BUT that 2) that even if your dog does have SM (and nearly every cavalier has CM), she will not be likely to have severe SM and probably won't have symptomatic SM.

Unfortunately that is about the best that can be said as both conditions are so prevalent -- a caring and informed owner learns the signs, keeps an eye out for possible symptoms, but also enjoys their dog and tries as best as they can not to become obsessive about looking for signs. If a dog is gradually, seriously affected, signs will become more and more obvious -- so panicking at every small thing really is counterproductive as it is upsetting to the owner of course but also dogs pick up on these anxieties. That said we all as informed owners end up -- if we choose this wonderful breed -- to choose to also live with this terrible uncertainty for the entire life of our dog. That has caused some to choose to no longer own cavaliers -- and some to stop breeding because of the uncertainty of outcomes now.

These concerns for our individual dogs as well as the breed as a whole is why it is critical to support health testing, MRIing breeder and cardiologist-testng breeders to give every pup the best chance -- and also the breed its best chance of surviving this serious crisis. :thmbsup: There are some guidelines for testing and breeding which are CLEARLY showing results now, so a puppy buyer can make informed and wise choices of a breeder. :)

There's lots of info in the Health Library section which addresses some of these issues and also on my website www.smcavaliers.com as well as several videos.

In short -- young puppies are extremely unlikely to show symptoms as this is a progressive disease. Most early onset cases are unlikely to be symptomatic til at least 6 months to a year. Most more seriously affected dogs will be showing symptoms by age 2.5, but even then there's no definite prognosis, good or bad, for any dog as the disease is so poorly understood and strange in manifestation -- this is just a general observation from researchers/neurologists. A dog can become symptomatic at any point in its life, including old age, but dogs without symptoms still at age 6 or so are far more unlikely to ever have symptoms or serious problems.

"Excessive" and "unusual" are what to watch for in terms of behaviours. Excessive scratching where you cannot distract the dog, where there are NO other causes that can be determined by your vet. Or if a vet thinks 'allergies' but signs persist -- it needs to be explored further (a very common vet misdiagnosis that can go on for years of suffering for the dog). Excessive face rubbing (rather than that kind of brief joyful rolling and facerubbing after a meal or walk that some dogs do -- I have had 2 SM-clear dogs that do this). Unexplained yelps of pain. Sensitivity when touched around the neck, head, sides, or hindquarters. Hiding away, listlessness, avoiding being touched. Bunny hopping/air scratching -- both very telltale for this condition alone.

Puppies all tend to yelp occasionally, scratch at collars, often have fleas/earmites when young, roll and facerub. All are very unlikely to be SM. :) A vet should always investigate if there's a lot of unexplained scratching -- most likely the issue will be fleas, mites, maybe mange.

Just be informed and aware, and enjoy your dog each day. I know we all wish we could say you will probably never have anything to worry about, but the reality with the breed is almost all of us will deal with either SM or MVD and many of us, both. Both can be managed as well in many dogs; many with either condition will never need treatment. Most will eventually die of MVD, not SM. (I have a dog diagnosed at just over age 1 with SM, signs by age 2, on meds since 2.5, now leading a fairly normal life on meds age 8.5. He also now has a heart murmur which is likely going to be what most seriously affects him in his senior years, not the SM. So like many other individual dogs, an early diagnosis is not necessarily a hopeless prognosis at all.)

But not for one second should any of us support the breeders who won't scan or properly heart test and follow breeding protocols. We all want a future for this breed and puppy buyer pressure for REAL health is more powerful than anything else. If no one bought a single puppy from any breeder not properly testing and using the protocols starting tomorrow, I can guarantee the majority of breeders would be health testing in a *meaningful* way within 6 months.

27th February 2012, 09:38 PM
Hi karlin, thankyou so much for your very thorough and informative reply. It was just what I needed to hear,especially your experiences with your own dog/s. I am, as you say going to try my best to just enjoy my pup ( as I'm sure, like children, I'll blink and she'll be all grown up!) I just find so hard to believe that potentially this gorgeous little dogs will suffer at some points in their lives . Thanks again for your quick response.

28th February 2012, 09:41 AM
Hi Tracey, not to scare you or anything, but I guess I'm the exception to Karlin's post. My pup was diagnosed with CM and SM (beginning stages w/a small syrinx) at 4.5 months (got her at 13 weeks and saw symptoms immediately). My thread about this journey is "My puppy was just diagnosed with SM" if you want to read through what I've been dealing with. I kept writing off the symptoms of me being paranoid, but deep down, I knew something wasn't right. The scratching is not normal relief scratching like if you yourself had an itch and it feels good to scratch it. The pain/weird feeling they're trying to get at is so deep that no scratching will relieve it and I think the dog knows that on some level. The scratching is frantic and may only last a few seconds, but I feel that if you look in their eyes, you can see the difference between a scratch to get an itch and a painful/why do i feel this way mom kind of scratch of the SM variety. Same with face rubbing (not pleasurable) and paw biting, etc.

My dog didn't do weird stuff every day and at first, she'd do a quick yelp and turn around to bite her butt as if a flea bit her. And then go back to being 100% normal. It just progressed from there. Young puppies DO get SM and pups from breeders who DO health test. There's no DNA test as far as I know for SM, so even if a breeder screens his/her breeding dogs and they are clear via MRI, they can still pass the condition to offspring. It all just really sucks. But things in life happen for a reason, so we're taking it one day at a time.

Best of luck to you. I really hope your pup is fine. I wouldn't wish for my worst enemy to be in my shoes right now.

28th February 2012, 08:03 PM
Hi, I've read your thread and I am so sorry to hear about little dagnyI can't imagine how awful this is for you,but it sounds like you are doing a wonderful job looking after her and you can rest easy knowing that you got the best help as soon as your little lady started showing symptoms of pain, What mote could she ask for! I hope the medal work for her and you spend many happy years with her. You said on one of your post that it was totally consuming you, that's how I feel at the minute and I'm not even sure my pup is showing any signs, the occasional scratch and paw lick, this is my first dog, but these are things i would see as normal puppy behaviour, had I not recently read so much about sm, I am starting to feel that I can't enjoy my puppy because I am becoming completely obsessed with looking for symptoms and reading more and more info. I have to say I adore ruby as do my husband and children, but if I had known as much about sm as I do now, before I got I think maybe I would have thought twice :(

28th February 2012, 09:30 PM
I hear you Tracey, trust me I do. And thank you for your support.

Let me preface this by saying I'm not a veterinary professional and I know each case is different, but I wouldn't let the occasional scratch or paw lick worry you too much. Really, dogs do this! It's just that you have SM in your mind and you're freaking out about it. Like I was, but in my case, it became a reality. I think your gut will tell you. I knew something was wrong. I swore I saw it in her eyes (and still do). What would worry me is if she somewhat frequently (maybe 2-3 times/week) does a little yelp as if someone pinched her butt and turns around to bite it (sometimes not making contact bc the pain goes away). And then goes back to being normal. That was the major red flag that worried me, then I noticed the paw biting and weird walks and scratching... Go with your gut. If you're the type of person who knows this will eat at you until you have confirmation, try to videotape her symptoms and get a consult with a neurologist if you have money to throw around. If not, just try to enjoy your dog. Like the saying goes, if it ain't broken, don't fix it. Your gut will tell you.

29th February 2012, 09:06 PM
Thanks so much for the reply, your right! So, I am going to take a step back, stop constantly reading up on sm and try my best to enjoy my pup! I am now aware of the symptoms and if rubys do seem to progress I will, without hesitation consult a neurologist ( I am the sort of person who does need to know one way or the other!) in the meantime, I hope little dagny does well on her meds ( which I'm sure she will!) and you too enjoy your gorgeous little girl!

29th February 2012, 09:33 PM
There are always exceptions, but it is important to remember these are exceptions -- quite unusual (while not at all dismissing how devastating for each owner :( ).

And as is so rightly noted, not just occasionally behaviours but ones where things just really do not seem right. Being informed and reading to understand this condition and others like MVD is one of the best things any cavalier owner can do. Just as with any owner of any breed -- as pedigree dogs DO have far narrower gene pools and every breed has its known problems -- sadly in some breeds like the cavalier, some far worse and more painful and debilitating than other things in other breeds. Trying to convince yourself that nothing is of concern, and avoiding seeing a vet or specialist when you truly know there is something to worry about, is really the real problem -- not worrying that maybe you are NOT seeing something that is there -- when all the statistical chances right now are that you are needlessly worrying. :flwr:

We all have been there, believe me. I think wise owners try to reach a level of balance -- watchfully wise, but not needlessly panicky. Easier said than done for many of us! But I wasted a lot of time panicking over one of my cavaliers who MRId clear (at one and five), only to find the one I thought was clear had SM. It is just not worth worrying needlessly over things that may never happen. And instead I put the energy towards the one that eventually needed help, and ultimately to trying to raise awareness about these conditions and push for more healthful breeding, and running a forum where people can advise and support those who own affected dogs -- or worry about the condition :).