View Full Version : Worried about SM...

16th October 2012, 05:59 PM

Any help or guidance here is much appreciated. Our puppy, Pippa, just turned 1 and I'm nervous she is showing early signs of SM. She has been doing the head scratching a lot, a bit of biting at her feet and rubbing her head on the floor. We took her to the vet and he prescribed allergy meds as well as ear cleaner. We've tried both and the scratching is continuing, however it did appear to lessen a bit when she was on the meds.

A question about the head scratching: I've read that it's common for Cavs to air scratch, she's not actually doing this but she is scratching at her face/chin area. It does appear that she's actually itching something and she's not yelping.

With dogs with SM, does yelping usually occur and does actual skin contact occur when scratching?

We have not seen any air hopping.

We're really at a loss with what to do next....I suppose we should maybe change her food and take her back to the vets to see if they could prescribe allergy meds?

Thanks. :(

16th October 2012, 06:07 PM
Has she been checked for mites? Or other skin parasites?

16th October 2012, 06:17 PM
Has she been checked for mites? Or other skin parasites?

Is this something that I could check or something that a vet would need to see under a microscope?

The vet did do an ear culture and noticed excess yeast in her ears, so we are cleaning them with the provided solution.

murphy's mum
16th October 2012, 06:34 PM
To answer your questions, no, not all dogs with SM yelp. Murphy has CM, with a pre-syrinx, and has never yelped, Misty has a large syrinx at her neck and has yelped in the past before we got her on the right meds. It really depends how severely the dog is affected, and how it responds to the pain. Both of mine make contact with the skin when they scratch, they both tend to scratch their ears, and Misty scratches her elbow on the side her syrinx bulges out. Misty only bunny hops when she's on the lead and trying to keep pace with Murphy and scratch at the same time.

The thing is to try and not worry, and not to assume it is SM, I know it's easier said than done, most of us have been there. I'd finish the treatment for the yeast infection and see how she is. If she's still scratching, then go back to the vet and get them to check for mites, and to make sure her ears are better. Does she have any red, sore looking skin under her chin? Is she up to date with her flea treatment?

When did the scratching start? Has anything in the house changed? Has her food changed, or treats?

There are lots of things that can cause a dog to scratch unfortunately, so try and rule them out before going down the SM route :)

16th October 2012, 08:23 PM
I agree with Paula you need to rule out everything else. Sounds like there may be something to her ear issue have that checked out also have the vet check for mites and or fleas. Go over her very carefully!!!!! Go to http://www.cavalierhealth.com/psom.htm but I believe PSOM looks like SM sometimes.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong but when cavaliers with SM/CM head rub or air scratch it is not a symptom but rather a reacting to their pain I would only guess the dog is trying anything to relieve the pain weather that is actual scratching or not. Either way keep looking for an answer cause something is bugging your little one.

16th October 2012, 10:57 PM
I've a brief summary of symptoms here:


It's important to note that any single one alone, or any mix can be a symptom opf CM/SM. But they are also symptoms for many other common and uncommon conditions.

Scratching in response to CM/SM can involve air scratching (and then it is almost definitely a sign of it as neurologists say air scratching is pretty much exclusive to the disease as a symptom). But I have three SM dogs and only one sometimes air scratches -- SM dogs probably more commonly, simply scratch -- at head, chin, neck, ears, shoulders, sides, or belly -- can be anywhere, one place or more than one place, depending on the dog and how the syrinx or the flow of CSF hits which nerves in the spinal cord. Most commonly, SM dogs will contact scratch around the head, shoulders, ears or neck. Some may yelp. Some dogs never yelp. Around half however do not have scratching as a symptom. This makes diagnosis difficult and frustrating for owners and vets and is why it generally takes a specialist -- a neurologist.

You will want to carefully eliminate other possibilities. However, one of the most common misdiagnoses is allergies -- not surprising as it can be very hard to determine the precise cause of an allergy problem so vets, who are not specialists, will keep experimenting around to try and find an allergy cause. Meds given for allergies will often help SM symptoms too, postponing a correct diagnosis.

If you cannot find any source of the scratching, you probably will want a referral to a neurologist. Sometimes a clinical exam is enough to give a pretty confident diagnosis for CM/SM. Sometimes people will try some of the SM medications while working with a neurologist to see if they help (if they do, it is likely, SM).

Like others say, with this limited range of possible symptoms that are also common to other causes, I would not get overly worried right away and would look for other causes, but I also would not ignore potential signs and assume it is something else. Just keep working through possibilities with your vet right now. If you are really worried you could arrange a clinical exam with a neurologist. You can specify that you do not want to schedule an MRI.

17th October 2012, 04:01 AM
Excellent information Karlin..thanks so much for sharing this !

22nd October 2012, 02:56 PM
Thanks everyone for the responses.

We are keeping an eye on her and will make an appointment with a neurologist accordingly. She was scooting and biting at her rear-end recently and we took her to the vet to get her anal glands depressed - they were very full. This appeared to stop that problem.

About the scratching, it's definitely both sides of her head. She will do it for 5-10 seconds, but usually can be stopped when when we call her name. She also rubs her head on the floor and in the couch, but usually only when she comes in from being outside.

We take her outside a lot and have noticed a few fleas. She uses Frontline. We are taking care of the yeast in her ears and the fleas and then will follow up with neurologist if the scratching does not stop.

22nd October 2012, 03:14 PM
Given those things I really don't think I'd be worrying right now. :) Just enjoy your dog and feel reassured that you are now familiar with information about SM and can take action if you feel you need to.

My two non SM dogs were/are the biggest face rubbers and would often rub their heads after every meal and when coming in from walks. One has PSOM and one did not. Both unlike the others, always liked to have a good roll and happy writhe/stretch on their back after a walk. My SM dog that face rubs tends to do it only at times when it is pretty obvious his SM is bothering him, often around the time of his next medication dose.

SM dogs can scratch to both sides but most often scratch more often to one side most likely as most of the time, syrinxes are larger to one side. Symptoms really vary with each dog and some have only 1, some have a lot! Makes it all the harder for people wondering if a dog has SM -- and leads to some unnecessary worry but unfortunately we all love a breed that has these issues quite widely and it is important for all owners to be familiar with signs for both MVD and SM -- just as any responsible owner will want to know the signs of common genetic diseases in any purebreed they own. :thmbsup: Just common sense and good care for our doglets! :)

15th November 2012, 03:56 PM
Just a quick update, we found a few fleas so we're taking the necessary steps to get rid of this problem. On a better note, the vet did prescribe Zyrtec for the scratching (obviously possibly due to fleas) and the scratching has significantly lessened.

3rd January 2014, 10:52 PM
I am new to this site. Please tell me what SM is?

Bentley and Chloe both bite at their sides and tummies, no lesions so far. I have heard that it is helpful to wash their feet everyday because they pick up allergens and chemicals outdoors and this helps prevent allergic reactions.

3rd January 2014, 11:37 PM
It is a neurological condition which is unfortunately, fairly widespread in the breed (though thankfully, many with it have few to no symptoms). There's lots of information in the Health library section, and also on www.smcavaliers.com, www.cavalierhealth.org, and at Dr Clare Rusbridge's website's SM pages, http://www.veterinary-neurologist.co.uk/Syringomyelia/.

One goal of this board is to provide information and support for those with cavaliers with SM. In one large research project with over 500 cavaliers, it was estimated that 70+ will likely have the condition eventually. It is generally a progressive condition. It is often misdiagnosed by vets as allergies.

It's a good idea for every cavalier owner should make sure they are familiar with the signs of the condition, and also to be aware of signs of heart disease in the breed, as this is also very widespread, with most cavaliers eventually having it.

We hope by raising awareness amongst pet owners, especially in how to pick a health-focused, health-testing breeder, that it will help to eventually lower the incidence of these and other conditions. :thmbsup: And also, that greater awareness amongst owners will help ensure our dogs do not go without any needed medical care, as (too) often vets know little about proper diagnosis or care for these two main breed health conditions.