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Syringomyelia - October 2003

Could I please take this opportunity to try and get a proper perspective into the problem of Syringomyelia which is appearing in the Cavalier breed. Could it possibly be linked to the fact that those genetically susceptible Cavaliers had skull bones which were still forming at the time of vaccination including the occipital bone which is known to be underdeveloped and has been given as a possible reason to be the cause of Syringomyelia, and may have been subject to shock at this sensitive time of vaccination which may have in some way damaged the proper growth of the occipital bone.

Also could I remind you that looking at a Cavalier scratching in the Show ring is no proof of this condition, ALL littermates must be followed through. Looking at pedigrees could perhaps also be giving a false impression of culprit Cavaliers since a Cavalier who has been doing well in the show ring or has many of the qualities that many Cavalier Breeders are looking for will undoubtedly appear very often in pedigree backgrounds.

So it is time for the Cavalier world to step back and think about the future of the breed since perhaps some Cavalier lines who have lived to a normal old age and have good genes may be lost to the breed because of witch hunting in trying to identify affected dogs.

Veterinary Record August 30, 2003

In a recent paper published by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College into researching Cavaliers with Chiari type 1- like malformations, it mentioned that of 40 dogs sampled, the occipital bone was misshapen. By Analogy with what has been described in people with Chiari type 1 malformations, this abnormal shape may indicate that the caudal fossa in Cavaliers is smaller than in other breeds as a result of misshapen occipital bones.

Even though Cavaliers may have a misshapen occipital bone, the R.V.C. paper goes on to say that whilst common to Cavaliers it does not mean that it is necessarily the cause of problems.

It would be useful to examine more clinically normal Cavaliers, including individuals representative of different lines, to determine what other variations in brain anatomy there may be.

This does add more food for thought in the Syringomyelia debate since some Cavaliers suffering from the condition had variations in their brain anatomy and it maybe that which is causing the problems. The paper also comments that scratching may be related to syringomyelia but as observed in their study it is not a consistent sign in dogs with syringomyelia.

Really more research like this is needed.

Update January 2004

Further thoughts on Syringomyelia and possible links with a mercury based preservative called Thiomersal in vaccines which can cause brain and nerve disorders. One of the brain disorders can be brain inflammation. Now that it has been generally agreed by researchers into Syringomyelia that many Cavaliers can have misshapen occipital bones and be unaffected, could it be possible that it is those Cavaliers who have this common misshapen occipital bones but perhaps have a slight variation in it and because of this the mercury preservative in the vaccine could be causing them a brain disorder leading to Syringomyelia.

Update February 2004

Having been involved with Cavalier pedigrees for many years can I say as Claire Rusbridge says in her Syringomyelia newsletter that it would be absolutely useless to give names of Cavalier ancestors in pedigree backgrounds since some of those ancestors, because of popularity, could be in many of today's Cavalier backgrounds.

Surely the way forward at the moment for the future of the Cavalier breed is for Cavalier breeders to remove from their breeding stock any Cavalier who has Syringomyelia, or Epilepsy, until such time as when Cavaliers will be blood tested and those found to be carrying the genes causing the health problems in the Cavalier breed.

Update March 2004

I am not belittling the problem of Syringomyelia in any way but would like to pose some thoughts and comments on the subject. Why was the problem not rife in the 1960?s and 70?s? Could one of the reasons be that, at the time, Cavaliers did seem to be of a bigger size, so, presumably, their skulls would also be bigger? However, by the mid 1980?s, a good number of Cavaliers seemed to be getting smaller and that would include their skulls. Since it is now being agreed by many neurologists that many Cavaliers have a misshapen occipital bone yet live a normal life, could it be that for some Cavaliers, the downsizing had damaged the misshapen occipital and be linked to the Syringomyelia problem?

Another query I have is how widespread is the Syringomyelia problem? Nobody can give any figures on this. Would it not be helpful to carry out a survey to try and find out? I have spoken to a geneticist about the witch-hunting which has been going on recently in the Cavalier breed and was told that the bottom line in researching hereditary diseases is that, without specific documentation, it is impossible to decide whether specific ancestors were responsible for the genetic problems today, or whether subsequent line breeding and in-breeding promoted the opportunity for genetic mutations in the presence of increasing environmental influences. This could link in with what a researcher said at the Animal Health Trust, that looking at pedigrees could give false information, since a popular Cavalier?s name which had been used a lot, would appear often in a pedigree background and the best way to find the mode of inheritance is to have blood samples for DNA research and find a pattern for the same funny looking genes.

Update April 2004

In Mrs Booth's excellent book on Cavaliers, she mentions that Cavalier breeders in the 1930's may have concentrated too much on altering the dome shape of the King Charles spaniel heads to get the flat shape of head for Cavaliers. Is this where the syringomyelia problem could have originated? In the 1980's when the size of the Cavaliers did seem to diminish, and this would include the skull, from those of the 1960's and 70's and either, or perhaps both, because of those different genes coming together and the advent of the combined vaccine introduced in 1983 which contained mercury as a preservative and can give neurological problems since it is a highly toxic substance,and can damage the brain, have led to the rise of the Syringomyelia problem in the Cavalier breed for those which are genetically susceptible.

Most current vaccines for use in dogs do not contain mercury but it is still used in the liquid portion of the vaccine used as a diluent for the freeze-dried plug. This means, when all the freeze-dried plug portions require the diluent that does have mercury in order to be able to inject them, not all vaccines have mercury, but all vaccines do have if the diluent contains mercury. An emminent American neurologist has recently said that the skull of a puppy is not completely formed at 4 months. So is the mercury in the puppy vaccination at this sensitive time for some genetically susceptible Cavaliers involved in a link with Syringomyelia.

Perhaps this should now be seriously considered by the researchers into the problem. Finally, trying to find the faulty gene or genes for both the heart and Syringomyelia problems will take many years. In the meantime, because of the narrow gene pool in the breed, should breeders be only using stud dogs who have sired a limited number of litters?

Update June 2004

Hopefully this information may help to allay the fears of many Cavalier owners and breeders who are so concerned about the Syringo problem in the Cavalier breed at the moment. At first it had been stated that the problem was widespread, but now, on a Web page, it was recently said that, happily, the number of affected dogs while still growing, is relatively small.

This is also borne out by a conversation I had with the researcher into Syringo who said that there are not as many Cavaliers around with the Syringo problem as had been thought and that the neurologist researcher is seeing  Cavaliers who are scratching but it is not Syringo. Finally, a neurologist in America who does surgery for Syringo on dogs has said that he feels it is a disease of small dogs and that he does surgery on other dogs as often as on Cavaliers. In fact, he believes that other breeders may have more problems with Syringo than Cavaliers.

Has the time now come for the Cavalier world to get the Syringo problem into a proper perspective in that the numbers of Cavaliers suffering from it could be quite few. I know it is a distressing condition for both Cavaliers and their owners and has to be nipped in the bud, but, if, at the moment 100,000 Cavaliers are around and there are maybe 200-300 confirmed cases of Syringo (but this is just supposition since no numbers have been given) then it is not such a gloomy outlook for the Cavalier breed after all.

Update August 2004

Could the information from the British Government that mercury has to be withdrawn from vaccines and also, that mice researched at Columbia University, U.S.A. have been found to have damage in their brain as the result of being exposed to mercury, be of particular interest to Cavalier owners whose Cavaliers have been confirmed as having Syringo, which also can affect the brain? Mercury is a highly toxic substance which can damage all organs of the body, including the brain, and is known to have been used as a preservative in vaccines. Is it possible that some of these genetically susceptible Cavaliers, like the mice researched in America, have had damage to their brain because of the mercury in the vaccinations and had Syringo problems, especially now that many neurologists have come to the conclusion that most Cavaliers have a misshapen occipital bone and are living normal, unaffected lives.

Update November 2004

Could the latest study on Autism with information from researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in America which had revealed an immune system reaction leading to the swelling of the brain, be of interest to owners of Cavaliers with Syringo since it found high levels of cytokines in the cerebro-spinal fluid. The cerebro-spinal fluid is also present in dogs, but it is its obstruction around the spinal cord which can give the problem of Syringo.

The study also mentioned that their investigation had been narrowed to look at immune components inside the nervous system rather than at the immune system overall. Should this type of research now be carried out on Cavaliers with the Syringo problem, since the study suggested the swelling or inflammatory process of the brain could be an environmental cause. It has been noted that some Cavaliers with Syringo did have a swelling of the brain. In fact in a veterinary paper published 30.8.2003 by researchers at the R.C.V.S. of the 40 Cavaliers studied with Syringo, 26 had a swelling of the brain.

Update May 2005

A recent Arkansas study has shown that 80% of children with autism have remarkably low levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that helps rid the body of environmental toxins. Since low levels of glutathione are known to affect the brain and Clare Rusbridge has now said that at least 50% of Cavaliers have a degree of occipital hypoplesia, although only aproportion are severe enough to have syringo, should consideration now be given to those Cavaliers with SM in case they also have low levels of glutathione and this could be giving them problems with their brain, and that many Cavaliers could be living normal unaffected lives with a misshapen occipital bone, which could be due to the alteration of the dome shape of skulls of the K.C.S. to get the flat shape of skull required of the Cavaliers the low levels of glutathione could be a link with SM.

Update August 2005


It is so gratifying to notice the Cavaliers who have been recently tested and show no sign of Syringo that in their pedigree backgrounds are a number of long lived Cavaliers including :-
Ch  Albero of Kindrum   15
Harry of Kindrum (his son )  14
Grand-Sire Spice of Kindrum 14½
Ch Cinola Super Tramp of Deeriem  15
Ch Lymrey Royal Reflection of Ricksbury 13½
Ch Emsmere Royalist 13½
Ch Lymrey Top of the Pops 15
Lymrey Gypsy Rose 17
Ch  Homaranne Andy Capp  12
Ch Homaranne Caption  15
his Sire Aust Ch Homerbrent Henry  16
Ch Talark Jamie Lad of Lymrey  12
Kindrum Roulette  14
Ch Rose Mullion of Ottermouth  13 His Sire and Dam both lived to 13
Lord of the Dance at Chilsham  13
Ch Heidi of Homerbrent  14
Ch Craigowl Cashmere nearly  15
Leogem Traditional Miss  15
Tonnew Teddington  15

It will be interesting to see how many more Cavaliers with no sign of Syringo also have those long lived Cavaliers in their pedigree backgrounds.

Update September 2005

Has the time now come for both the researchers and the Cavalier world to consider the following facts? A list has recently been published of Cavalier King  Charles spaniels who have been MRI scanned and shown to have no sign of syringo, but the pedigree backgrounds of these Cavaliers and some of the Cavaliers MRI scanned and diagnosed with SM have many similarities. Could this fact now show that there is the possibility of another cause for SM, particularly because of an art icle published in The Mail On Sunday 28.8.05? I know it is about autistic children but could it not apply equally to Cavaliers as well, in that there can be an excess of mercury in the body?

It was stated that the first six months of life nobody paused to add up the doses of mercury being given to tiny babies (substitute this for Cavalier puppies). The compound which was chosen to keep multi-dose vials of vaccines free of infection was thiomersal, which contains 50% mercury. In 1999 in America it was found infants were receiving mercury in excess of Federal legal limits for an adult. Could the link for Cavaliers be the same as for infants, in that the blood brain barrier is not developed for the first six months and that there is bio-chemical evidence in autistic children that they have an impaired capacity to excreate mercury which is a heavy metal and retain it in tissues including hair and the brain? Current research has shown that affected children have a genetic pre-disposition in that they lack an enzyme called metallothionein which normally detoxifies and protects against heavy metals. Because of this, when mercury is given in vaccinations, there is no protection for brain, gut and immune system which suffer damage.

Could this be another piece of the answer for SM in Cavaliers? Are the possible similarities between damage to the brain through, perhaps, swelling of the brain being linked to heavy metal mercury now too obvious to be ignored by researchers into SM?

Update October 2005

Why I ask the question has it been proved scientifically in Cavaliers that Syringo is hereditary is because in a veterinary paper published in 2004, it was stated by the researchers into the problem in Cavaliers all the affected Cavaliers researched had at least 6 of 8 Gr-grandparents that could be traced back to a common female ancestor born in 1956, whereas only 6.6% of unaffected Cavaliers had this ancestry.

There has now been a list published of Cavaliers who have been M.R.I scanned and are showing no sign of SM but at least 6 of 8 of their Gr-grandparents also can be traced back to the same common female ancestor born in 1956. To add further doubt as to whether SM has been proved to be hereditary in Cavaliers, researchers at Duke University, America into the human form of the same condition for around 3 years, say that it will be at least several more years yet before it can be said as to whether it is due to genes or genetic factors. Because of this information, for the benefit of the Cavalier breed, should the first priority be to prove that SM is hereditary in Cavaliers.

Update November 2005

Following on from wondering whether SM is hereditary or the mode of inheritance has been found, I have sent a number of pedigrees of Cavaliers who had the condition or were clear of the problem to a geneticist. He has told me the most definitive way of determining the true mode of inheritance is by MRI scanning an affected Cavalier's sire and dam and also the litter maters and do this with ten different affected litters. This information could be so important, since it has been recently mentioned that SM in the Cavalier breed is polygenic, but could this be many, many years before the solution to the SM problem in Cavaliers is found.

Update December 2005

Because I have traced the pedigrees of affected and unaffected Cavaliers with SM, and 6 of 8 of their gr-grandparents went back to the same Cavalier bitch born in 1956, mentioned as having been involved with the Cavalier SM problem. Is it possible that now SM could be traced further back to genetic selection in the 1930's when the dome shaped skull of the K.C S was altered to get the flat shaped head required for the Cavaliers, and that during the 1940's, 50's, 60's,and 70's Cavaliers lived with those genes, but because of environmental factors happening in the 80's and 90's, and if there is a genetic predisposition to the SM problem for Cavaliers, those genes involved but are controlled by environmental factors, came together to give SM. Also to help to try and allay the fears of owners of Cavaliers in Britain about the numbers of Cavaliers MRI scanned with SM, and since this is the most positive way, I believe there could be  around 1,000. Since there are approximately 100,000 Cavaliers alive today at 10 years of age, this could mean that there is about 1% of Cavaliers suffering from the condition.

Update February 2006

In Dog World,17.2.06, in an article on genetic breeding, it was mentioned that it was vital for information on the mode of inheritance of a disease be given and to be confirmed before the next stage can progress of possibly looking for the DNA marker Because of the doubt as to the mode of inheritance of SM, since geneticists have said that 5 generation pedigrees of affected Cavaliers with SM should only have been researched, is the DNA research for SM really many years away.

Also researchers are looking at how human syrinxes form. Autopsies have revealed that blood vessels around the syrinxes are enlarged with thickened walls and connective tissue in the nervous systemalso shows thickening.The research theory says that repeated expansion of blood vessels in the spine and the resulting stress, cause the capillaries to rupture and leak the blood into the spine.This collects and forms a syrinx.Has there ever been any autopsies done on Cavaliers to try and find out if this could be happening to them?

Update April 2006

Here are some facts that are now emerging in the debate of SM in the Cavalier Breed.   Many Neurologists are agreed that most Cavaliers do have a Malformed Bone.  Has this type of Bone originated from when the Dome shape skull of the King Charles Spaniel was altered to get the Flat shape type of skull required for the Cavalier Breed in the 1930s.  As was mentioned in the Royal Veterinary College  Veterinary Paper published in 2003 by Researchers,  who had Researched 40 Cavaliers suffering from SM  from 1999-2002,that it was possible that many Cavaliers could be having this type of Bone and be living normal lives.

This could maybe be the reason why for some Cavaliers, who have been MRI scanned, have the Malformation , but no Syrinxes. The question now has to be asked, if, for many, many years, Cavaliers have lived with the Malformed Bone with no ill- effects, what has happened recently for SM to appear. Zoha Kibar ,the Molecular Geneticist, who is in charge with the Fine Mapping and Identification of the Gene or Genes defective in SM in the Cavalier Breed, has said that, unfortunately, SM seems to be involved with Environmental Factors in the Cavalier Breed. Is there an Environmental Factor, along with a Genetic Predisposition in some Cavaliers to be the explanation for SM in some Cavaliers.

Also it was recently said at the Cavalier Club AGM,  that SM probably, was Hereditary, but since it hadnt been proved to be the case, at the moment it could only be an assumption that it was Hereditary in Cavaliers, Finally, many figures have been given as to numbers of Cavaliers suffering from SM, but until a Study publishes the combined total number of Cavaliers seen, and what % of the population is affected, the SM figures are based on speculation.  

Update October 2006

At first when the condition Syringomyelia appeared in the Cavalier Breed,it was believed that it was due to the Malformed Bone . Now NEUROLOGISTS are finding by MRI Scanning Cavaliers ,that they can have the Malformation but no Syrinx. The Syrinx is the description for the Fluid filled space in the Spinal Cord that defines a dog as being affected by SM.  

Since it's now being thought that many Cavaliers do have the Malformation, if that's the case ,could there be for some Cavaliers another reason for the Syrinxes to form in affected SM Cavaliers. There does seem to be many complexities about this condition,not least being,how really wide-spread is it in the Cavalier Breed ,because no Statistical Research has ever been carried out to obtain figures ,the numbers at the moment are only based on assumptions. As is the question whether it's Hereditary or not .

Update January 2007

Dr Marcus Stoodley,Professor of Neurosurgery at New South Wales University,Australia,has been given a Research Grant into Syringo Dr Stoodley has focused on Syrinxes,he says that there were lots of Arm Chair Theories on what causes Cysts( Syrinxes),but very little Scientific Research. He mentioned that the Chiari Malformation do cause Syrinxes ,but he feels that this is not the total explanation.

For example ,how does the Cerebro Spinal Fluid enter the Spinal Cord ,is it diffuse flow through the Spinal Cord ,or are there specific pathways. These could be causes for Syrinx initation and Syrinx enlargement . His Research Work is going to be finding out whether there is a contribution to Cyst Fluid from leaky Blood Vessels in the Spinal Cord. Dr Stoodley states that there will be no significant advances in treatment or prevention until it's known about the mechanisms of Syrinx formation.  

Could Myelation have a link in this. Myelin is the tough white fatty water proof substance that coats the nerves like insulation on an electric wire and has the same funtion. Myelin developes in children after birth,so I suppose it will be the same for Animals. In some nerves it doesnt start forming until 8 months of age,in others it continues to form till the person is 45.   Vaccines can cause inflammatory reactions in the nervous system and interrupt that Myelation . The result cases is Encephalities(inflammation of the Brain)and other reactions. If inflammation of the Brain has occurred ,has this stopped the flow of Cerebro Spinal Fluid and caused Syrinxes to form.

Is it more than a co-incidence that the combined Vaccine was introduced in 1983 and the first cases of Syringo were seen around that time? Also according to H H Merrit, Professor of Neurology at Columbia University ,America ,Encephalaties can affect the Spinal Cord ,that is where most Syrinxes are seen. 

Update March 2008

I did think that perhaps the Smaller Heads of the Cavaliers could be linked to the SM Problem , do you explain this as a possible reason, when Vets are just not seeing many Cavaliers with SM , since many Cavaliers do seem to have Smaller Heads The Brains of some Cavaliers being bigge , yes, perhaps this is due to Genetically Susceptible Cavaliers having an adverse reaction from their Vaccination causing a swelling of their Brain, but how do you prove this. I still feel that the talk of the Malformed Bone/CM, could be a bit of a Red Herring, maybe this type of Bone originated from when the Dome Shape of the King Charles Spaniel Head was altered to get the Flat type of Head required for the Cavalier Breed in the 1930's

It will never be known whether the Cavaliers in the early days had this Malformed Bone unless they were to be exhumed , and this will never be done. In the Heart Problem in the Cavalier Breed, it has been suggested that a certain Protein could be lacking at the Heart Valve, is it possible that a Protein could also be lacking in the Brain of those Cavaliers with SM. Finally, it has been said about Cavalier Numbers suffering from SM I've found out that if Cavaliers at one location were suffering from a disease from medical records, those figures could analyzed and extrapolated to a larger population. It was recently mentioned that about 600 Cavaliers were, with their medical records held at one location, around 100,000 Cavaliers could be living to-day here in Britain, at 10 years of age this could give around maybe 1% of Cavaliers with SM. Hope this has given food for thought for the SM Problem in the Cavalier Breed.

Update May 2008

May I be allowed to pass on this quote which has just been made by Dr Marino,I have been given permission by the Cavalier Breeder to do this. This Cavalier Breeder has just taken part in a CHIARI/COMS Project at LIVS, America. I really think what Dr Marino has said will give some comfort to many Owners of Cavaliers.
Dr Marino stated that ,that CHIARI/COMS is CLEARLY not a Cavalier Disease ,and that the medical community needs to stop classifying it as such. IT IS A SMALL DOG DISEASE ,and CAVALIERS are only ONE of the BREEDS that have a problem. He actually sees more serious problems with YORKIES PUGS and CHIHUAHUA

Hopefully now ,because of Dr Marino's comments ,as he has said that SM is NOT A CAVALIER DISEASE it is a SMALL DOG DISEASE, that the speculation that only Cavaliers have SM will now stop, and the SM Resaerchers will be allowed to find out why SMALL DOGS are being so affected by SM. Finally Dr Marino was so definite in his comments which were, WE HAVE TO CHANGE OUR WAY OF THINKING AND STOP CALLING THIS A CAVALIER DISEASE. THERE are many other SMALL DOGS involved in the SM Problem

Update September 2008

May I tell you more about the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and the Syringomyelia  Problem in the Breed. Here is the other side of the coin which has never been mentioned by Carol Fowler
1 She never mentions that SM is not confined to the Cavalier Breed, it is now recognized as a Small Breed Disease. This was recently told to me by Dr D Marino ,Neurologis , a Collaborator of Dr C Rusbridge. He is Chief of Staff at LIVS ,America.

2 In the TV Film Pedigree Dogs Exposed, Dr C Rusbridge said that a Third of the Cavalier Population were suffering from SM. Now Dr Rusbridge has stated that it is a third of Research Samples of Cavaliers. This statement gives an entirely different Picture !

3 Also Dr Marino has recently told me that there is NO Scientific Information that Cavalier Brain Volume is Larger in the Cavalier Breed than other Small Breeds. That there is Research taking place at the moment at his Hospital between Cavaliers and other Small Breeds to find the answer to this.

Finally, I am not down playing the SM problem, but just trying to state that perhaps now it should be being put into a proper perspective.