Well youíre right to be concerned about SM. It IS an issue in the Cavalier breed. The only definitive way to diagnose it is by MRI. While the Cavalier is not for everyone, those who have them love them beyond reason and wouldnít want any other breed. All purebred dogs have health issues, some worse than others and you have to know what youíre facing before you commit to any breed. We also are faced with mitral valve disease (MVD) and that is a greater issue than SM.
Many breeders in Ontario, and Canada are screening for both but you have to ask. If you find a breeder who MRIís their breeding stock youíll know they are doing all in their power to produce healthy puppies. This only clears the sire & dam though, and there isnít any way to be sure your puppy wonít get syringomyelia down the road. Or that either parent wonít either one day. Itís a progressive disease with various symptoms. The most noticeable being scratching at the neck area. All dogs scratch, but with SM they tend to do it more often and it isnít caused by fleas or parasites. And itís a frantic scratch, sometimes they make contact with their body, other times they donít. With more severe symptoms they may cry out as they do it.
Having said all this, I know of many Cavaliers who have been diagnosed, by MRI, with SM and have no symptoms. Many live long and normal lives with minor scratching. Others have symptoms controlled by drugs. Few need the suggested surgery. Studies are underway to find a DNA marker and weíre told this is closer to fruition now. It may still be a year or two, but research is making progress. The disease is the same as Arnold Chiari syndrome in humans and research is being done to help both dog & person.
MVD is a greater challenge in the breed and more Cavaliers die from heart disease than SM. MVD is found in all breeds, but itís an old-age disease. In Cavaliers it affects them younger. Some think there is a relationship between SM & MVD. Time will tell.
Youíre right to do your research but donít stop there. If you think you like the breed, go and visit a couple of breeders and meet the dogs in person. See how they react to strangers and talk to the breeder. Ask about what health testing they do on their dogs. Ask if theyíve ever produced a dog with SM or MVD. I have. Iíve also had dogs die at relatively young ages with MVD Ė the most recent was not 8 years old. Iíve had them live to the ripe old age of 14 though too. None have died because of SM, although several have had it. Most die because of MVD.
Cavaliers are a wonderful breed and I wouldnít want to live without them. I truly hope an answer is found soon to these two health issues. I, myself have lost 4 Cavaliers over the years to MVD Ė the first two were just short of their 13th birthday and the other two were 9 & 10. I miss them still, all 4 of them, but they all brought so much love and enjoyment to us that not to have had them would have made the last 20 years of our lives so much less fulfilling.
If there is anything else I can help you with, or any other questions you have, please donít hesitate to ask. Where are you located by the way? If you would like to visit and meet our girls, we could arrange something.
One more to go.