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cramp in their style: petplan pet insurance discusses scotty cramp

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


Scottish Terriers are great dogs--they are instantly recognizable by their upright ears and full beards, and are happy go lucky dogs with boundless energy and huge smiles to match.  They are a generally healthy breed, but there is one medical condition unique to their breed: Scotty Cramp.

Scotty Cramp is an inherited condition in Scottish Terriers resulting from a defect in the pathways that control muscle contraction.  This defect is caused by a lack of serotonin in affected dogs.  Serotonin serves many functions in the body, and one of these functions is as a neurotransmitter, relaying messages to your dog’s muscles.  Affected dogs seem to have normal levels of serotonin at rest, but the reserves are quickly used up during exercise or excitement, leading to clinical signs.

Clinical signs of Scotty Cramp occur as early as six weeks of age and as late as eighteen months old.  Owners may notice a stiff or altered gait during exercise or excitement, coupled with an arched back.  Patients typically display a “goose stepping” gait when clinical signs are present.

Clinical signs can last just a few minutes or may persist for up to half an hour, however, they do subside with rest or once the affected dog is calm.  Dogs with Scotty Cramp are always normal at rest, so if clinical signs are evident throughout the day, Scotty Cramp is likely not to blame.

The severity of clinical signs varies widely between affected dogs, as does the amount of stimulation needed to induce the signs.  Some dogs can exercise normally for extended periods of time while others develop clinical signs within the first few minutes of exercise.  Individual dogs also vary in their response to exciting stimuli, so while one dog may show symptoms when their favorite person rings the doorbell, others will be unaffected.

Diagnosis is typically made by considering the clinical signs in Scottish Terriers, though there are some specific diagnostic tests that can be run if necessary.  The good news is that Scotty Cramp is usually a mild condition that does not need treatment.  In general, modifying the environment to reduce stress and excitement is all that is needed.

Because this is a disorder of serotonin, severely affected dogs can get relief medically through the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac).  When given one or twice a day, fluoxetine limits the clinical signs of Scotty Cramp.  Other medical options include diazepam (Valium) and vitamin E supplements, which seem to reduce the occurrence of clinical signs, though not their severity.

Because Scotty Cramp is inherited, affected dogs should not be used for breeding, and the parent dogs should not be bred again.

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Pippa ElliottGuest Blogger of Petplan
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