Most of you know we recently had a health talk in Wimbledon. One of the speakers is a Chiari sufferer, this lady (Lynn) travelled all the way from Yorkshire and describes her struggle with daily life. I spent a lot of time with Lynn and was able to gain a good basic understanding of the pain and discomfort our dogs are feeling.

This has changed my view of my dogs.

The majority of dogs that have sm will also have cm.

Thankfully there was a lot of media coverage from PDE that brought sm to the attention of the public. Therefore some pet owners were able to obtain the correct treatment to bring sm pain under control. The way I understand it, sm causes pain because of nerve pain caused by a syrix or syrinxes.

Very early on my Dog Molly was diagnosed with sm, her pain was finally controlled with the correct medication.

My other dog Dougall did not show any signs of pain or discomfort, despite this I had him mri'd. Dougall was diagnosed with cm. Eventually it became apparent he was suffering from head/neck and back pain and has always been the focus of our attention.

In the background, Molly has remained stable and not shown any signs of extreme pain. However, she has always remained quiet, doesn't particulary play and is certainly exercise intolerant.

I always looked at Dougall as my CM Dog and Molly as my SM Dog, (by the way, Molly has never scratched or shown any of the classic signs!)

I never took Molly's CM problems into consideration, I only ever thought of her SM.

Cavaliers very quickly learn to adapt to pain, they are more tolerant than most dogs because of their high levels of serotonin. How much pain are they in when they finally show us they are suffering?

I believe, I have made a mistake with Molly!

Lynn has given me permission to post her description of daily life and symptoms plus her account of the weekend. When I watch my Molly bumble around, I see her very differently.

The following is written by Lynn Burton.

I tried to explain about 'zero Chiari' on Sunday, which means there is no herniation of the brain down nto the spinal cord. But there is overcrowding at the Foramen magnum which means that there is still a blockage of Cerebral Spinal fluid,CSF, which cases pressure. So yes dogs walk on all fours, do not have cerebellar tonsils, but this does not mean CM does not affect most definitely does. I myself have gently stroked the neck of a CM dog, this lovely dog didn't move his head, wasn't aggressive but gave a low growl to let me me know he wasn't comfortable being touched, I didn't realise at first what this meant but when my hand gently brushed his neck again the same happened. He had been running around, jumping excited to see me in his home, but then as in humans this activity has a price.... pain. His owner settled him with pain medication and he had a good night. But the pain was there , as someone with Chiari I knew exactly why he growled on being touched at the back of his head, there are many days when I feel the same way, although a growl may scare the family!

Dr Clare Rusbridge has shown in video films how dogs with CM are affected by pressure after defecating, running and even barking! How they need to sleep with their heads raised, as to lie flat causes pain in the head. If Chiari affected dogs differently why do dogs show the same symptoms as CM in humans? Balance problems dogs after defacating, barking. Humans after laughing, straining, coughing, leaning forwards, these actions cause horrendous pain as straining etc causes the CSF to 'shoot' from the spinal cord through the Foramen Magnum into the brain, the CSF rushes past the CM or overcrowding but then as the CM or overcrowding is blocking the exit back to the Spinal cord this cause huge CSF pressure build up until the CSF eventuall trickles back through. LIke shaking a bottle of Champagne with the cork in, if the wire has been removed the cork will explode at force from the bottle, however if the wire is left on the pressure is there to see in the form of 'bubbles' the pressure cannot escape but eventually the bubbles subside and settle.
The pain this causes is horrendous, for seconds I cannot move, see, hear just a thumping pressure in the back of the neck and head.

Weather changes also affect head pain low pressure can cause low pressure pain and many fellow patients with Chiari have voiced how the changes in the weather can cause them to feel worse. Heat can also cause pain, in my case a lovely hot sunny day has me reaching for fans. cool drinks anything but overheating as this makes my head feel as though it will explode!
I am in pain every single day, blurred and double vision, tingling and numbness in my arms hands and legs. Loud ringing in my ears. loss of hearing Choking, I dread catching a cold as coughing and sneezing causes tremendous pressure pain. I can't walk far because of the pain in my spine and head, fatigue, the list goes on.

Even in humans doctors do not know a lot about Chiari, every day I receive calls to the charity helpline from patients diagnosed with Chiari but told, " Chiari will just give you a bit of a headache, all your other symptoms are nothing to do with it". but once directed to a surgeons who specialises in Chiari they are usually offered surgery to try to halt the progress, in some cases to avoid paralysis.
Chiari is a rare and complicated condition of the brain and spinal cord which should be taken seriously, in dogs as well as humans. The charity of which I am a trustee, takes CM in dogs so seriously it gave Dr Clare Rusbridge a grant of 6.000 to collect and research DNA from affected dogs to try to find a gene responsible.

I have morphine patches which release morpine into my blood stream 24 hours a day 7 days a week, I also have oral medication for breakthrough pain and while I accept that not all with CM will be as badly affected nearly all will experience some level of discomfort every single day.

I can understand why many of those with Cavaliers will not want to acknowledge that CM can cause such problems in dogs, if CM affects the dogs so adversely where do they go from here?
But if warnings about Syringomyelia/CM had been listened to and acted upon years ago when concerns where first aired and breeding form affected dogs had been stopped maybe this beautiful breed would not be in the dangerous state it is in now. With registrations down by thousands soon it will be impossible to insure these amazing dogs this will put off prospective owners, if the demand for puppies goes down there is a real danger for the breeds survival. Maybe instead of shying away from some kind of 'clear dog ' breeding programme it should be embraced, there is no shame in admitting that 'your' breeding dogs have CM/SM, no shame at all. Shame is when a breeder carries on breeding knowing that their dogs will pass on these horrendously painful conditions.

A lady with Chiari Malformation put the following on our facebook page today in response to a post about breeding from CM/SM affected dogs, it really sums everything up:

"Your comments made me nearly cry. One of our main concerns is can we pass this horrid condition on to our children. The fear of inflicting this pain and torment plays on all our minds. To think that any one would breed an animal knowing they will possibly have Chiari is so sad. I would not wish this on my worst enemy, never mind a dog who can not express their pain.

I hope your good work spreads the word, and people out there listen. Thanks for taking the time to work with the Trust, only positive steps can come out of it."

We know this pain we live with it daily, dogs can't tell you what they go through........we can.