Chiari-like Malformation with Syringomyelia (CM)

Chiari-like Malformation with Syringomyelia (CM)

What is Chiari-like Malformation with Syringomyelia (CM)?

A Chiari-like malformation is when the skull is too small to accommodate the size of the brain. This causes the area at the back of the brain (the cerebellum) to be pushed down out of the skull. This can block the flow of spinal fluid to the spinal cord, causing pockets of spinal fluid to build up, called syringomyelia. This can lead to compression of the spinal cord resulting in spinal cord damage.

What are clinical signs of CM with syringomyelia?

Depending on the severity, symptoms can include neck pain, abnormal sensation to touch, neck scratching, tail chasing, paw biting, fly catching, head shaking, head rubbing, head tilt, limb weakness, and paralysis. Symptoms can progress over time if the pocket of fluid gets larger. Breeds that commonly have CM include King Charles Cavaliers, Brussels Griffon, Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier, and Chihuahuas.

How is CM with syringomyelia diagnosed?

The only way to definitively diagnose a chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia is an MRI. An MRI requires anesthesia. We can provide treatments for suspected Chiari with syringomyelia, but a definitive diagnosis will help better guide treatments. 

How do we treat CM with syringomyelia?

Medical treatment for this disease focuses on pain management, decreasing inflammation and swelling, and trying to improve the flow of spinal fluid with medication, therapies, and stretches to the neck. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended to relieve pressure, but recurrence is prevalent after surgery. 

Rehabilitation for this disease first focuses on decreasing pain and swelling in the spinal cord. We utilize electrotherapy, acupuncture, laser therapy, ultrasound therapy, and pain medications to get pain under control. We specifically focus on decreasing nerve pain that these dogs often experience. We then focus on relaxing the muscles surrounding the spine. If muscle weakness or paralysis is present then we focus on bringing back sensation, balance, and strength through targeted exercises. In our sessions we teach guardians a routine of head movements and neck stretches to try to relieve compression in the area to allow spinal fluid to flow better.


At Walking Paws Rehab we have treated many patients with CM. The majority of our patients with CM are french bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles. These are often some of the most rewarding cases. Guardians report their dogs having scratching episodes and face rubbing less. Guardians have seen improvements in their dogs balance, gait, and position of their head. If you dog has CM we would love to teach you techniques to help your pet today!


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