If you have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or Weimaraner, you’ll want to pay close attention to this. These two breeds are particularly prone to a condition called syringomyelia, which also (less frequently) affects other small dogs and, rarely, feline friends.
Syringomyelia is a condition of altered cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) flow. Normally, CSF circulates through the structures of the central nervous system, providing nutrients, removing waste and cushioning the delicate system from bumps. When the flow of CSF becomes altered, usually by malformation of the bones in the skull or spine, it can build up in fluid pockets and cause pain.
However, signs of pain may be subtle. A classic presentation is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who persistently scratches at her neck or shoulder for no apparent reason. Weimaraners may show weakness in their hind limbs or a “bunny hopping” gait in the rear. And some dogs may show no signs, or appear uncomfortable only when they’re excited or situated in a particular posture. If you suspect syringomyelia is affecting your pet, consult your veterinarian right away.
If clinical signs seem consistent with syringomyelia, your vet will likely refer your pet to a neurologist, who may perform an MRI to definitively diagnose the condition. Some pets can be managed with medications meant to decrease the production of CSF or control the pain associated with altered CSF flow. Surgical intervention is possible in some cases to correct the underlying cause or decompress the area where swelling is occurring. Pets who don’t show symptoms may not need treatment at all.