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There is no better description of this defect than that written by Clare Rusbridge and published on the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel website. (

Syringomyelia is an INHERITED genetic defect. Transmission takes the form of an autosomal recessive gene with incomplete penetration. Therefore, an affected dog if it is line bred, then the defect takes on a more severe form and occurs earlier in the dogs life.

Visual symptoms are the earliest indication of this defect. Accurate diagnosis is confirmed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, but clinical symptoms may be sufficient for diagnosis.

Pedigree analysis of current confirmed cases, indicates that the gene for this defect was present in one or more of the original foundation stock. Syringomyelia and similar type defects are found in various breeds of dogs. In humans a similar defect is caused by the Mhox gene of genes belonging to the Hox family which control the development of the final shape of the occipital bone

Cases have been confirmed worldwide. It can be safely assumed, with the breed descending from such a small gene pool which has been repeated in/line bred the defective gene has the potential to be found in ALL Cavaliers and ALL lines. At this stage it is impossible to gauge how many Cavaliers are or have been affected with this condition. Accurate diagnosis has only been possible in the last seven years and more cases are coming to light. Unfortunately a number are still being misdiagnosed.

The earliest visual symptom is that of neck & shoulder discomfort. It happens most frequently when the dog is excited or on a lead. In a very young puppy there is a reluctance to lead training, a puppy will cry out when the lead is tugged, as this action causes pain and discomfort. The term "scratching" at the shoulders is often used. As the pup becomes a little older, it will develope an odd gait as it often tries to "scratch" whilst on a lead. The dog will often cry out in pain either for no apparent reason, particularly if excited, if it has been touched or after changes in its head position. As the condition deteriorates further, the animal developes neck twisting and limb weakness. It is very distinctive and once you have seen a dog with this condition it is unmistakable.

The simple answer is VERY. The condition can be so severe that the only solution for an animal in extreme pain is euthanasia. The symptoms of syringomyelia can present themselves at ANY age, and appears to take 3 main forms 1. Puppies with hydrocephlous 2. Juvenile form between the ages of 6 months to 15 months. 3. Adult form 1-10 years.

Yes, with time, resources and the co-operation of all who have the good of the breed at heart. As a priority it is important to raise the awareness of this condition, as a practical step, print the article mentioned in Question 1 and send it to every Veterinary practice in your area. The sooner a dog is diagnosed and the correct medication administered the better chance an animal has of having this condition successfully managed.

DNA tests are available for certain conditions, but only if the responsible gene has been identified. As yet, the gene or genes associated with Syringomyelia are unkown so major expensive research is needed. Therefore a DNA test will take time, finance & the co operation of breeders. Time & finance are something the breed doesn't have. Steps to eradicate this defect need to be taken now.

BE HONEST- Although all lines could produce it, it does not mean that EVERY Cavalier has the defective genes. It is imperative to know of animals that have NOT produced syringomyelia, (& that means old stud dogs who have been used on a variety of bitches) even if the pedigree suggests obvious carriers.

STOP using dogs/bitches BEFORE the age of 2 and a half years. If by this age your animal gives you no cause for concern then use that animal sparingly. If you have ANY nagging doubts or suspicions then DON'T use the animal at all. Dogs kept in a household environment and walked daily on a lead are going to be observed far more closely than those kept in kennels and allowed out into a paddock or field for free exercise. It is therefore extremely important that kennels undertake regular lead training in order that affected animals can be identified, before they are used for breeding.

Remove ALL affected animals from the gene pool. If this is actioned it is possible with an autosomal recessive to half the incidence of the defect in 7.2 generations. It would also be possible to produce a animal free of the gene for this defect within 3 generations. However it MUST include ALL affected animals there are NO exceptions.

If your dog or bitch produces ONE case of syringomyelia it is at least a CARRIER. It is possible that either parent of an affected animal are infact AFFECTED animals which do not yet show any clinical symptoms. For this reason these animals should also be removed from the breed's gene pool. If you MUST retain a line go back one generation or use a brother/sister of the animal which has thrown the affected dog (they may not have picked up the gene) and outcross to what you believe to be sound line.

Before commencing a mating ask to see the stud dog or brood bitch on a lead to assess its movement and if the animal is showing any visual symptoms do not proceed with the mating. Once the mating has taken place, restrict the Kennel Club registration documents of all puppies produced, these can always be lifted at a later date IF the litter & both parents show no symptoms of developing this defect.

As a member of the pet owning public, only buy from a suitable establishment. If you are unfortunate enough to have pet who is diagnosed with this condition then you must inform the breeder, the stud dog owner & the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Health Committee.

As a breeder, if you are contacted because a puppy you bred has this condition, inform the stud dog owner of the situation do not use the bitch again & offer what support you can to your puppy purchaser.

As a stud dog owner, if your dog has thrown a case of syringomyelia, withdraw him from stud.

All those involved in this breed need to be open & honest with each other. This is a problem we ALL need to deal with, and as such we need to be pro active & positive, if the originators of the breed had fallen at the first hurdle the breed would never have come into existence.

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