Syringomyelia is a painful condition affecting the spinal cord of dogs, found most commonly in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. It has also been diagnosed in Brussels Griffons, Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Maltese, Miniature Dachshunds, Pomeranians, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs, and other breeds. Pain results from pressure generated by the fluid that collects within pockets called syrinxes within the spinal cord. Symptoms associated with the disease include scratching, scooting, chewing, yelping, resistance to touch or grooming, lameness, reluctance to jump or climb, and neck or back pain. Unfortunately, many dogs are improperly diagnosed with allergies due to the scratching and chewing. Intervertebral disc disease and other neurologic conditions may also be diagnosed when SM is the true culprit. Diagnosis of the disease may be made based on breed and symptoms, but true diagnosis is made with MRI.
Medical therapy for syringomyelia may include management with steroids like prednisone or dexamethasone, pain medications like gabapentin, pre-gabalin, or tramadol, and medications to decrease fluid production like furosemide, omeprazole or cimetidine. Number of medications needed will vary with each dog and may change over time. Barometric pressure changes in the atmosphere can cause changes in pressure within the syrinx, necessitating short-term increases in pain control medications.
Alternative therapies that may be helpful include chiropractic adjustments (make SURE the veterinary chiropractioner is familiar with SM prior to allowing this), cold laser therapy, acupuncture, aquapuncture, electroacupuncture, and massage if the dog can tolerate it.
Supplements that may be beneficial include CoQ10, natural anti-inflammatories like hyper-immunized cow colostrum, omega 3 fatty acids, green lipped mussel, deer antler velvet, the enodcannabinoid palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), CBD oil, MSM, ginger, turmeric, and devil’s claw. You should work with a holistic veterinarian before using herbal supplements to make sure there are no contraindications for use in your pet.
Food therapy add-ons that may help drain the fluid include Shiitake mushrooms, celery, lemon juice and lemon zest, radishes, turnips, garlic, and barley. To get the fluid moving, foods that will resolve stagnation include carrots, parsley, radish, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and vinegar. More information on food therapy for dogs can be found here.
The brain and spinal cord are considered to be part of the TCVM “marrow system” which is controlled by the kidneys. That means we need to provide kidney support. The kidneys like moisture and “baby” or “immature” foods. This includes small fish like sardines, seeds like ground sesame seeds or almonds, and eggs. Bone broth is a great supplement to the diet for a dog with SM, as this supports the marrow system. Watch this video for a simple bone broth recipe.
Golden Paste has become very popular as an anti-inflammatory and pain relief supplement. Watch this video for a simple Golden paste recipe. Small doses of turmeric are beneficial and may reduce chances of stomach ulceration, but larger doses can interfere with the ability of omeprazole and cimetidine to decrease stomach acid production and may actually cause increased stomach acid production and upset stomach. It is unknown how the addition of turmeric affects the ability of these drugs to decrease fluid production in the central nervous system.
All my Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and my English Toy Spaniel suffer from this disease, however they have a very high quality of life. Many dogs live comfortably with this diagnosis when managed with medications, supplements, and food.