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Chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia

In the dog, syringomyelia is characterised by fluid filled cavities within the spinal cord. Syringomyelia occurs secondary to obstruction of the cerebrospinal fluid – the fluid in which nervous system is suspended and which protects the nervous system. The most common predisposing cause of syringomyelia is Chiari-like malformation (see ). In this condition there is a mismatch between the capacity of the skull (too small) and the volume of the brain (to big). The brain literally cannot fit and consequently blocks the hole at the back of the skull interfering with movement of the cerebrospinal fluid. The primary clinical sign of Chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia is pain, either due to obstruction of the cerebrospinal fluid causing increase of pressure in head or a pain syndrome due to damage to the spinal cord and/or brain. Chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia is particularly common in Toy Breed dogs in particular the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Griffon Bruxellois.

The condition in the dog is analogous to Chiari malformation type I (CMI) in humans and causes similar clinical signs. Like the canine condition CMI is often associated with syringomyelia. However Chiari malformation in humans is complex heterogeneous disease with a variety of different causes including genetic factors. Consequently identification and characterization of disease genes and molecular pathways is difficult. By contrast the disease in the inbred dog population is more uniform and as a consequence the dog model represents a powerful tool for better understanding the disease in humans. As a model of central neuropathic pain (pain due to damage of the spinal cord or brain) the dogs also represent a powerful resource for understanding and improving treatment of this disease. These pets are much loved and expected to live full and active lives. We have a duty of care to improve management of this condition and information gained can be shared with those treating humans with the analogous condition.