Overview of Syringomyelia In Chihuahuas

Syringomyelia (SM) is a serious health problem that affects a number of small dog breeds, one of which is the Chihuahua. Unfortunately, very few owners are aware of this condition and oftentimes mistake its symptoms for allergies or other issues. As a result, Chihuahuas suffering from SM aren't given the treatment and/or medication they require. Whether you believe your Chihuahua is affected by this condition or not, it's important to understand what SM is and what the proper course of treatment is if your Chihuahua develops it.

X-Ray of Chihuahua

X-Ray of Chihuahua

According to the Chihuahua Club of America, SM began showing up in the Chihuahua bloodline during 2006. A purebred long-coat Chihuahua named Deerus Flashmoon was the first to be officially diagnosed with SM. Since then, numerous Chihuahua organizations and veterinarians have worked to educate owners on this increasingly common condition. Although it's not considered a common condition, SM can result in result in some painful symptoms and even life-threatening complications.

What Is Syringomyelia?

Syringomyelia (SM) is a condition where fluid-filled sacs develop around the spinal cord where it connects to the brain. In a normal Chihuahua, the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) circulates to and from the brain with ease. However, those suffering from SM tend to have some form of obstruction preventing the flow of CSF; therefore, it pools up in the spinal column where it forms these fluid-filled cavities.

While it's most commonly associated with small dogs, the fact is that any breed can develop SM at any given time in their life. One such small dog breed, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is known for their high risk of suffering from SM. In fact, some estimates suggests that over 90% of CKCS' will develop the condition at some point in their life. This is a shocking statistic to say the least, but early detection and treatment can help your canine deal with this horrible condition.

Causes

SM is generally caused when the top of the spinal column is blocked, preventing the normal flow of spinal fluid to the brain. When this occurs, the characteristic sacs begin to develop and fill with fluid. You have to remember that spinal fluid isn't meant to remain in the spinal column. In healthy canines, and people for that matter, it travels back and forth to the brain. Dogs suffering from SM have a blockage that prevents their spinal fluid from moving, and as a result it causes the fluid-filled sacs to pop up. It may only be a single sac, or it can be as many half a dozen.

One of the most common causes of SM in Chihuahuas is a malformation or deformity where the brain is larger than the skull, such as chiari-like malformation (CM). Typically, the brain of Chihuahuas suffering from CM will push up against the narrow cavity of the spinal column, resulting in a natural blockage. When the brain is pressed hard enough, it becomes air-tight, preventing the flow of spinal fluid to and from the brain. Some Chihuahuas are born with SM, while others develop it later into their adulthood.

Chihuahua With SM

Chihuahua With SM

Symptoms

Symptoms can vary from a minor itchy feeling to excruciating pain and discomfort. It really depends on how severe your Chihuahua's SM condition is, as well as their body's reaction. With that said, here are some of the most common side affects associated with Syringomyelia:

  • SM is also known as the neck scratching disease because dogs suffering from it will scratch their neck excessively.
  • Pain around the neck and head (generally worse at night).
  • Sensitivity to extreme cold or hot temperatures.
  • Spinal scoliosis (spine bends in an abnormal shape).
  • Shaking and shivering.
  • Yelping for no visible reason (sign of pain).
  • Holding one or both of their back legs up off the ground.

If you've noticed your Chihuahua exhibiting one more of the symptoms previously mentioned, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. The will perform a more thorough examination of your Chihuahua to determine whether further investigation is required. Currently, the only way to 100% identify SM is through a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Some veterinarians may have these devices in their office, but chances are you'll be referred to a veterinary specialist, such as a neurologist.

Treatment

Chihuahua Pup Recovering

Chihuahua Pup Recovering

There are a couple different forms of treatment available for Chihuahuas suffering from SM, and only an experienced veterinarian can tell you what course of action is best for your specific Chihuahua's condition. It's important to sit down and talk with your veterinarian to weigh the pros and cons associated with each treatment option. Only then can you make an education decision to help your Chihuahua's condition improve.

In recent years, Chihuahuas and other dogs suffering from SM have been given drugs that inhibit the production of cerebrospinal fluid formation with limited success. Drugs like Prilosec result in lower spinal fluid production, which in theory would help to treat SM. The problem, however, is that use of fluid-inhibiting drugs only works as a short-term treatment option, and it also comes with its own fair share of unpleasant side effects.

Pain management is oftentimes the recommended choice of action by veterinarians. As long as your Chihuahua's condition isn't worsening, medication to help them deal with the pain may be advised. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as Rimadyl and Metacam, are useful for both reducing pain and inflammation associated with the condition. Opiates may also be given when traditional NSAIDs aren't enough t o subside their discomfort.

Lastly, there are surgical procedures aimed to treat SM and the unpleasant side effects it creates. Typically, surgical operations are only recommended for Chihuahuas with severe and/or late stage SM, as it's usually accompanied by extreme pain and discomfort. The primary goal of surgery is to release pressure on the foramen magnum so that spinal fluid can easy flow to and from the brain. This is oftentimes done by removing pieces of hypoplastic occipital bone or the surrounding area. Once the bone is removed, it should open up just enough space for the spinal fluid to flow freely.

References:

http://chihuahuaclubofamerica.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=136&Itemid=133

http://www.asap.org/index.php/medical-articles/canine-syringomyelia/

http://cavalierhealth.org/syringomyelia.htm


2 Responses to “Overview of Syringomyelia In Chihuahuas”

  1. Gordon Hammerud says:

    Question: What is the success rate for “surgery to release pressure on the foramen magnum” for Chihuahuas with severe/late stage SM? If we go ahead with this for our Chihuahua, can we anticipate a successful outcome, our Chihuahua back to normal?

    • Chihuahua Wardrobe says:

      Hey Gordon,

      Most surgical veterinarians report a success rate of approximately 80% with this procedure. However, some Chihuahuas may relapse with syringomyelia in the future due to the formation of scar tissue. Talk with your vet to gauge their clients’ success with this procedure.

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