What Is Syringomyelia? | PetFirst Pet Insurance
Pet Care & Health

What Is Syringomyelia?

by PetFirst Pet Insurance
4 years ago


Syringomyelia is a condition which causes fluid-filled cavities to develop within the spinal cord near the brain. Syringomyelia is known as “neck-scratcher’s” disease in dogs due to the common symptom being scratching near the neck. Syringomyelia was first discovered in the 1990’s and has been found to be similar to a human disease known as Arnold Chiara Type I Syndrome.

Breeds at Highest Risk of Developing the Disease

Syringomyelia is a rare condition in most breeds but has been found to be prevalent in two breeds in particular:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Brussels Griffon

Although, not as common, there are several other breeds that have been found to be at a lower risk of developing SM including:

  • Bichon Frise
  • Boston Terrier
  • Bull Terrier
  • Chihuahua
  • Affenpinscher
  • Maltese Terrier
  • Miniature Dachshund
  • French Bulldog
  • Pomeranian
  • Staffordshire Terrier
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Miniature Poodle
  • Toy Poodle

Syringomyelia is most commonly found in dogs six months of age or older.

Symptoms of SM

Pain is the most common symptom associated with Syringomyelia. Other symptoms include:

  • Phantom Scratching: This is often the earliest symptom associated with SM. The dog will begin to be sensitive in her neck resulting in the urge to scratch at her neck excessively. This is most commonly seen during exercise. This is due to the high pressure placed on the spinal column from fluid buildup.
  • Screaming: The screaming from your dog is due to the pain associated with the disease. Severe pain around your dog’s head, neck and shoulders result in screaming, moaning and/or crying. As the disease progresses, it destroys your dog’s spinal cord which also results in extreme pain and your dog may begin to sleep with his head up and contort his neck randomly.

Graph showing the effects of syringomyelia in dogs

Causes of the Disease

The most common cause of Syringomyelia is the improper and harmful breeding of pedigree dogs. In order to remove the disease from affected breeds, those who carry this disease should not be permitted to breed.

Treating Syringomyelia

When treating Syringomyelia, the primary goal is to relieve pain. Drugs are prescribed to provide pain relief and surgery may be recommended. The surgery for Syringomyelia involves the removal of the occipital bone to ease the pressure of the skull and the spine. Surgery also allows the cerebrospinal fluid to flow normally which not only reduces pain but also prevents further deterioration.

Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.


Amber Drake, Canine Behaviorist and PetFirst Pet Insurance guest blogger
Amber L. Drake, a Professional Canine Behaviorist and Adjunct Professor of Biological Science, has extensive experience in the Animal Science Field. She has worked with dogs professionally for over ten years. Her clients range from private pet parents to large canine rescue organizations. In addition to accepting clients on a regular basis, Drake serves as an Adjunct Professor at Jamestown Community College and Kaplan University. Drake has earned a Doctor of Education (ABD), Educational Specialist Post-Masters, Master of Arts in Education and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She has completed coursework at Cornell University for Pre-Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science, Biochemistry at UC Berkeley, Veterinary Technology at Penn Foster and a number of Continuing Education courses to remain up-to-date in her field.

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