Rory has Syringomyelia
I've been holding off posting this for a while but Jen and Karlin convinced me that people need to be aware of how widespread this disease is. Current statistics indicate that 83% of Cavaliers have SM in some degree - whether or not they show symptoms. In fact, 70% of 70 clinically unaffected dogs had syringomyelia, 17% had occipiptal dysplasia and only 13% MRId clear.
We took Rory to NC State for the MRI study they're doing out there and he did in fact come back as affected by Syringomyelia. I had feared this for a while as he seemed to be scratching an awful lot, especially over the summer. (But besides itching at his ears and head and a few unexplained yelps, he has no other symptoms that I can tell.) My fears were further confirmed when I found out that his father and at least one littermate are affected with symptoms (no MRI, that I am aware of).
He has the occipital dysplasia, the herniated cerebellum and one large syrinx in his spinal cord running almost the entire length of his cervical region (neck). He also has primary secretory otitis media in his right ear.
We have seen a few neurologists and have decided to start him on Prilosec to try to decrease the CSF production and hopefully decrease the syrinx or just relieve some of the symptoms. Considering how big the syrinx is and how severely affected he seems, his symptoms are very mild. But this only supports the current research which indicates there doesn't seem to be any correlation between size of the syrinx and the symptoms. Some dogs w/o syrinxes at all are showing worse symptoms than Rory -- scratching constantly, crying, headaches, withdrawing from their owners and hiding, weakness in the limbs, etc.
Rory is only a year and a half, which doesn't bode well for his prognosis, but honestly - we don't know what will happen. He could deteriorate rapidly. He could never get worse. We'll just have to wait and see. But I'm very glad that we got the MRI done and can begin treating to hopefully prevent or decrease further deterioration and help him live as comfortable a life as possible for as long as possible.
I'm not sure if we'll continue to show. We were both enjoying it tremendously and I hate to give it up just because I fear what people will think. But honestly -- if the statistics are correct, 8/10 of the dogs in the ring have it! Just because people don't MRI and therefore don't have a definitive diagnosis, doesn't mean their dogs aren't affected.
The Cavalier community MUST realize how serious and widespread this problem is. I honestly have very little hope for this wonderful breed and I fear their future is bleak at best. Given the overwhelming preponderance of diseases that afflict these precious little dogs, I do not see myself getting another Cavalier in the future, unfortunately. Even as a future vet with all the best resources available to me. And that breaks my heart. But not as much as it is breaking my heart to know my dog has this disease and to see him scratching and yelping and wondering just how bad it will get and what we will have to deal with in the future. Wondering how we will make choices about treatment, surgery, quality of life...
Please take the time to educate yourself about SM. Karlin has set up a wonderful site ( http://sm.cavaliertalk.com/ ) with lots of info about SM, including Clare Rusbridge's current newsletter which includes their current statistics and suggested breeding protocols. Know what to look for, because the signs are vague. Even at UC Davis Vet School I had to fight to get him seen by a neurologist. They made me take him to the dermatologist first because my complaint was "scratching at the ears". This is so new and so serious, but lots of vets are just not aware because of how quickly it seems to have exploded in prevalence.
It is up to us - the responsible, concerned Cavalier owners -- to push this issue and spread the word - to other Cav owners, to people interested in getting a Cav, to vets, and breeders. We can't hide this anymore or pretend it doesn't exist. The only hope for saving this breed is if breeders are doing MRIs and supporting research, and this won't happen unless the puppy buyers demand it.
Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.