A new RVC VetCompass research initiative has revealed 1 in 60 cavalier King Charles spaniels are affected by the inherited condition syringomyelia.

spaniels
Syringomyelia is believed to affect cavalier King Charles spaniels most commonly. Image: RVC.

Until now, little reliable evidence has existed on the frequency and severity of syringomyelia in the overall dog population and this has limited vets’ ability to diagnose and manage this condition.

However, according to the RVC, VetCompass’ work has “revolutionised the ability of scientists to investigate the health of companion animals”.

The knowledge hub collects anonymised clinical data from first opinion veterinary clinics across the UK, which can be analysed to answer a variety of previously unanswerable health questions.

Higher frequency

A VetCompass study published in Veterinary Record highlighted, for the first time, the frequency and severity of syringomyelia seen in general practice in the UK.

At an overall dog population level, syringomyelia is not that common, affecting 1 in 2,000 dogs. But among cavalier King Charles spaniels, the frequency of syringomyelia is much higher, affecting 1 in every 60 of the breed.

VetCompass data revealed almost 2,000 of the breed suffered from clinical syringomyelia in the UK at any one time.

VetCompass logoAir guitar

Many affected dogs show “phantom scratching”, where they try to scratch at their necks with their hind legs, but without making contact with the skin. Some people refer to this action as “playing an air guitar”.

Holger Volk, professor of veterinary neurology and neurosurgery at the RVC, said: “These VetCompass data are an eye-opener; we very frequently see Cavaliers with clinical signs of syringomyelia at RVC’s referral hospital but now we know how common it is in the real world, outside of the referral world.”

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