What Is Syringomyelia in Dogs: Teddy’s Story

Syringomyelia is a terrible condition that affects mainly Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. 

However, dogs of other breeds can also be affected, particularly miniaturized breeds and breeds with pushed-in noses. The only answer to preventing this horrible suffering is responsible breeding.

Breeders should follow the SM Breeding Protocol. The aim of the breeding protocol is to reduce the incidence of symptomatic syringomyelia in the cavalier breed. The chance of producing an affected dog cannot be predicted without knowing the inheritance.

Teddy’s story is courtesy of Two Little Cavaliers, shared by Nicki from Rupert’s Fund.

What Is Syringomyelia in Dogs: Teddy’s Story

Teddy’s story

Teddy came to live with us at 19 months of age. He was not house trained, but he quickly learned about indoor life. He was a gentle, soft boy and a wonderful companion for Rupert – they were very close.

First signs of trouble

I soon realized that something was not right. However, my vet could not believe that we would be so unlucky to have TWO affected dogs. Little did we know…

At first, Teddy was scratching on one side only—he wasn’t making contact with the skin—and just behind his front leg. It soon became bilateral, and eventually both ears too.

Teddy hated grooming. Yet he was generally such an easy dog, happy to do anything you wanted him to do. I knew it was not naughtiness. The veterinarian suspected allergies.

The strategy included treatments for:

  • parasites
  • skin irritation,
  • and put him on exclusion diets for food allergies

None of that made any difference.

Teddy’s diagnosis

Teddy was MRI’d a year later – and we were shocked to discover that he was indeed moderate to severely affected.

When we obtained Teddy, we had impressed upon his breeder that we desperately wanted a healthy Cavalier. We had recently been through Rupert’s bad pain episode and feared he would not be with us for long; And our other sickly little Cavalier had to be euthanized at the age of 7, shortly after we got Teddy.

We were looking for a healthy Cavalier who would be with us for many years…

After Teddy’s diagnosis, we wrote to his breeder. We explained what had happened and asked if she was prepared to help with the huge vet bills we were facing. She replied, wishing him well and refunded Teddy’s purchase price.

Teddy started a program of treatment, having medication every 8 hours.

Fortunately, when Teddy deteriorated, we found or were told about a new treatment or supplement that helped him. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but when you love them so very much, you do everything you can to help.

Teddy’s symptoms


Initially one side, later both. Behind the front legs and later both ears too. If you touched his chest, that would trigger a scratching episode. It was hard for him to stop scratching, even if you called his name or touched him.


Teddy NEVER yelped or cried out. The pain was apparent, though, in his facial expression and demeanor. Eventually, he started to vocalize – moaning and groaning noises.

Intolerance of grooming

Teddy particularly hated having his nails trimmed and eventually had to be sedated for this and for clipping his coat.

Heat intolerance

Teddy sought cool areas to lie; he could not cope with heat/warm rooms.


During his worst times, Teddy could not stay in the same position for more than 30 minutes. He would wander around trying to get comfortable.

Excessive tearing

Teddy’s eyes were weepy all the time.

Haunted appearance

Teddy had haunted look in his eyes, and held his ears lower and back.

Coordination issues

His balance was initially good. Eventually, though Teddy started limping, his reflexes were affected, and he then started to stumble occasionally. He also developed mild urinary incontinence.

Teddy also dropped a lot of coat. His gorgeous bushy tail disappeared, and his belly and groin area were actually bald. This might have been a side effect of the Gabapentin. He was clipped under sedation at the vets, and his coat never grew again–an unsolved mystery.

Teddy declines

Teddy had a follow-up MRI 2 years after the first one as his symptoms were getting worse. There was some progression but not as much as we had expected, which gave us some hope.

However, symptoms do not always correlate to the degree of severity apparent on an MRI. The width of the syrinx is more significant than the length, also whether it is asymmetrical.

Teddy was on an extensive schedule of medication for over four years. We tried everything we could to keep him comfortable and happy. He also had natural supplements and homeopathy.

Teddy had regular blood tests to monitor the effect of the medications on his body. He had to take a liver support medication, as his liver was affected, possibly due to the drugs.

Sadly Teddy also battled with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. As a result, he had to have daily antibiotics. He also developed a heart murmur at the age of 4. The condition progressed with frightening speed and in just under 2 years became a grade 5/6.

Uncontrolled pain

Teddy started vocalizing showing that his pain was not under control, he was limping intermittently {neurological rather than injury}.

He was very restless. It became apparent that life was no longer enjoyable and Teddy did not even want to go for walks anymore. We could no longer keep him comfortable. Teddy was given his rest peacefully at home on at only 6 years of age.

We gave the gift of love and put Teddy through the Syringomyelia Cavalier Collection Scheme. It was a difficult decision to make, but it is a considerable comfort to us now. It gave value and meaning to his passing, and hopefully the tissues harvested from his body helped this critical research.

Teddy loved to be involved in whatever we were doing. He was very close to my husband, but he always wanted to be wherever I was – he was my soulmate.

Living with a syringomyelia dog

Dealing with chronic conditions such as Syringomyelia is very draining. It’s hard to take pleasure in and enjoy your dog when you feel like you are living on borrowed time.

Every day you worry about new symptoms you might be seeing. You tend to blame everything on the Syringomyelia but also have to investigate other possibilities.

Not only is it draining emotionally, but your whole life also revolves around the dogs, making sure you or someone responsible is around to dispense their medication. Teddy was on an 8-hour schedule for over 4 years—we never had an early night or a lie in. We never resented it. We adore all our dogs and would do anything for them.

It is also draining financially. Even with insurance, we were paying out hundreds of pounds a year. Not only on veterinary fees but also travel costs to the practice and specialists, supplements, and complementary therapies.

A considerable amount of time is spent nursing the dogs, also researching the condition and treatments and working with vets. It is tragic that this beautiful breed has to suffer from so many horrible problems, it affects so many lives.

Raising awareness

Our experiences have inspired us to help with raising awareness also with fundraising for Rupert’s Fund, which was named for our Rupert.

Supporting and donating to Rupert’s Fund is one of the best ways of helping our beloved breed. It funds research to find the genes responsible for Syringomyelia and produce tools to help breeders make appropriate breeding decisions. Obviously, it also helps us find MRI Grade A older dogs, which can only help the breed.

Related articles:
What is Chiari Malformation in Dogs: Syringomyelia Awareness

Further reading:
Chiari-like Malformation (CM) and Syringomyelia (SM) in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Categories: ConditionsReal-life StoriesSyringomyelia

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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