What is Chiari-like Malformation and Syringomyelia?

A neurological condition, Chiari-like malformation (CM) and syringomyelia (SM) occurs when there is an abnormal growth in the bones of the skull. This puts pressure on the brain itself, and alters the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), forcing it into the spinal cord. This then causes fluid-filled sacs, or syringomyelia, to develop on the spinal cord.

What causes Chiari-like Malformation and Syringomyelia in dogs?

When chiari-like malformation occurs, the brain is put under immense pressure, as the skull cavity is too short to contain it, meaning it obstructs the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which is needed to protect the nervous system, cushion the brain and spinal cord and act as a shock absorber to protect against injury.

Are certain breeds affected by Chiari-like Malformation and Syringomyelia?

Common in small-breed and brachycephalic dogs, both chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia are inherited disorders. Syringomyelia seems to affect certain breeds more than others. These include:

  • Pugs
  • Pomeranians
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Chihuahuas
  • Griffon Bruxellois
  • Maltese
  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers


What are the symptoms of syringomyelia in dogs?

Syringomyelia symptoms in dogs are relatively obvious. However, it’s important to know what to look for in your dog so you know when to seek help.

For dogs suffering from syringomyelia, the most common symptom is pain. An early signal that your dog may be suffering from Chiari-like Malformation and syringomyelia is if they experience pain or crying when jumping down or being picked up.

This pain presents itself in a few different ways and common symptoms include:

  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity
  • Agression
  • Scratching or pawing at the chest, ears, neck or shoulder
  • Unwillingness to wear a collar

In more serious cases, your dog may present with weakness or numbness in the limbs, nerve paralysis or an inability to regulate their own body temperature. It’s also important to note that symptoms may appear worse when your dog is exercising, late at night or first thing in the morning, and in extreme temperatures.


vet holding a dog


How is syringomyelia diagnosed?

First, your pet will be examined, and their medical history, along with any recent symptoms, evaluated. Your veterinarian will likely take some blood tests, along with urine and stool samples for further testing.

The most effective way to diagnose syringomyelia is to use an MRI scan to gain a clearer picture of the brain and spinal column, during which your dog will be placed under general anaesthetic. MRI scans give us the opportunity to produce the detailed images needed to make an accurate diagnosis. If your dog is suffering from SM, this scan should show spinal fluid-filled sacs present on the spinal column.


How is chiari-like malformation treated?

There are a few different ways to treat chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia in dogs, but treatment depends entirely on the specific case, the age of the dog and what stage the condition is at.


Typically, veterinary professionals will recommend treating your dog with medication first, to see how they respond. Medications such as steroids and anti-inflammatories are used to reduce swelling and the production of spinal fluid, while neuropathic medicines are normally administered for pain management.


If your dog does not respond to medication, surgery may be advised. During surgery for CM and SM, the bone malformation will be removed to restore the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid and to give the brain more space.

Physical Therapy

CM and SM can cause neurological problems that may decrease your dog’s mobility, and so physical therapy is often recommended to improve functionality and regain strength.


Will my dog recover from chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia?

The severity of chiari malformations and syringomyelia in dogs can vary from case to case. However, while it is a serious condition, with the right treatment, it is not life-threatening. It can, however, be very painful for your dog and so owners should make sure they’re correctly managing any pain or mobility issues.

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia, get in contact with our specialist team today. If you are a referring vet, it’s easy to start a referral case.