Canine Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia (CM/SM) is a neurological condition found in dogs that is caused by a structural abnormality in their cerebellum (the lower part of their brain). This causes an obstruction at the base of their skull, resulting in increased pressure on their brain stem and spinal cord.
Symptoms of Canine Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia
Symptoms of Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia can vary significantly, but they typically include:
- Neck pain
- Ataxia (incoordination), and a characteristic “scratching” at their neck or shoulder area, known as “syringomyelia-induced behavior”
- Weakness in their limbs
- Excessive panting
- Difficulty swallowing
Dogs can also have chronic pain, sensitivity to touch and noise, and behavioral changes.
Diagnosing Canine Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia
The most effective way to diagnose Chiari malformation and syringomyelia is with an MRI or CT scan. These scans can help identify the underlying structural abnormality in their cerebellum, as well as any changes in the brainstem that could be causing increased pressure.
If you think that your pet might have CM/SM, it’s important to get veterinary care right away. With early diagnosis and treatment, CM/SM can be managed successfully.
Stages of Canine Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia
Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia can be split into three stages:
No clinical signs yet, but imaging reveals the malformation.
Mild to moderate clinical signs and symptoms.
Severe clinical signs and symptoms that can include paralysis or even death.
Treating Canine Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia
Treating Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia is aimed at relieving the pressure on their brainstem and spinal cord, as well as alleviating pain. Treatment can include medication, surgery to correct the abnormality, and lifestyle changes. Medications used to treat CM/SM can include NSAIDs, gabapentin, pregabalin, amitriptyline, and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Surgery is often recommended to correct the malformation, but this is not always possible.
In addition to medical treatments, lifestyle changes can also help reduce the severity of CM/SM symptoms. The lifestyle changes can include reducing exercise activities and feeding them a low-calorie diet to avoid overfeeding and obesity, because these can increase their risk of CM/SM.
Preventing Canine Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia
The best way to prevent Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia is to avoid overfeeding and obesity. Feeding your dog a low-calorie diet and reducing their exercise activities can help minimize their risk of developing CM/SM. Avoiding breeding dogs with an inherited form of CM/SM can also help reduce the condition in future generations.