Mylee’s Story – A little red dog and Chiari Malformation

Mylee means the world to me. She has taught me so much and is my constant companion and shadow. She is extremely loving to those she knows and is completely devoted to me.

What is most obvious about Mylee when you meet her is that she does not have the typical outgoing, friendly to all Cavalier personality. In fact she can be incredibly reserved to those she doesn’t know. She often shies away from a strangers touch, giving the impression she is not friendly or that she is apprehensive. To strangers who know Cavaliers this always comes across as very strange. Is her temperament off? Was she not properly socialized? Why doesn’t she want to say hi to me? Cavaliers should love everyone!

The truth is; Mylee is afraid that a strangers touch will hurt. She is afraid that you will touch her in the wrong spots. She doesn’t trust that you know how to scratch her on her chest and back and leave her head and ears alone. She is afraid that you will hurt her.

Mylee suffers from Chiari Malformation. Yes Chiari Malformation without Syringomyelia present. She has been MRI’d twice a year a part from each other with no changes on her MRI. In fact it was the opposite. Her second MRI was slightly BETTER than the first. She has no hydrocephalus and no central canal dilatation. As an update Mylee had her third and final MRI at almost 5 years old, it was also clear of SM.

Mylee having a very symnptomatic episode. Warning: Do not watch with sound or at all if you are incredibly sensitive. It is hard to watch.

Prior to arriving at CM as her only cause of discomfort, my partner and I spent a ton of money in diagnostics starting with my own personal vet and moving on through different specialists. Allergies, yeast, eyes, teeth, mites, fleas etc were all ruled out long before her referral to Neurology.

Both of her MRI’s were full diagnostic scans, not limited studies. Dr. Rusbridge was consulted with  and was a wonderful resource, taking time to look at her CD and her video of symptoms. Ultimately everyone ended up at the same spot. CM has to be her only source of discomfort and pain because *everything* else was ruled out.

She is now three years old and is only kept comfortable through the use of pregabalin and prednisone. Her symptoms started at 6 months of age with occasional crying out of pain. She quickly progressed to screaming severe pain episodes by a year of age and had her first MRI at one year old.

Her second was performed at just over two years of age. Before I go on in her story, the use of these two drugs does keep her very comfortable and happy the majority of the time. As much as I hate to use prednisone, it is working for us when nothing else has.

The amount of pain and discomfort my girl suffers from her Chiari Malformation is incredibly heartbreaking. She scratches bilaterally on her neck, ears, head, and face. She is a constant head rubber and will throw herself down on the carpet and roll all over. She vocalizes in pain through very high pitched screaming fits. She often retreats away from touch and is very withdrawn when she is not having a good day. 

One of the first things I notice is that on days that will be potentially “bad” her head, neck, and ears will radiate with heat. If there is snow outside she wastes no time throwing herself in it and rolling all over. 

The actual shape of her CM is not different from any other Cavalier. She is not herniated , nor does the flow of CSF seem to be extremely obstructed.  In comparison to other MRI scans I’ve viewed, I’d put her about middle of the road.  Not the best but certainly not the worst. 

I used to think that my dog was an anomaly. The normal ‘just my luck’ type of deal. How disturbingly funny was it that my girl with the beautiful clear scan was extremely symptomatic and my other girl who was and remains very non symptomatic was MRI’d as having SM. How does that happen?  Was I the only one in the entire world to have my clear scan girl be symptomatic and my “SM” dog not showing any sign of it whatsoever?

As time goes on and more people share their stories,  I now know that is no longer the case. My dog is not some random once in a lifetime occurrence. There are several of them who have clear scans but are very symptomatic with more and more popping up on public forums each day.

The first responses to our dogs diagnosis is always,  “we’re SO sorry but how WONDERFUL it is that your dog doesn’t have SM.” Well no, its not wonderful.  So much focus has been put on Cavaliers who are symptomatic with syringomyelia, the fact that they can be symptomatic from chiari malformation alone is not anywhere on the radar.  It doesn’t change the fact though that they are just as symptomatic and just as hard to mange.

The best you can say is that you are sorry. Most will automatically ask questions regarding diagnostics and care, assuming that there has to be an error and some obscure condition is lurking that has not been diagnosed properly.   I spent many months doing the same and finally came to terms with the fact that a label does not matter.  It doesn’t change our day to day life and whatever will be will be.  Comfort plus quality of life IS and always will be the focus for my girl.  I don’t care what her “diagnosis” is. 

SM is a very debilitating a serious condition, however for me physical presentation of symptoms and overall soundness will forever be of utmost importance. I’m one of the biggest advocates for scanning breeding dogs, yet it will forever be hard for me to put full trust in a piece of paper saying a dog is clear of SM.  They may be clear, but they may not be fully sound.

Given the choice,  I would pick having all my dogs be MRI’d with SM and live their lives pain free and not symptomatic like our Zoey, instead of having “clear of SM” MRI scans yet be in so much pain and discomfort.

What do I hope to accomplish by sharing our story? Awareness more than anything.

Maybe some thought that non symptomatic “D” dogs who remain that way for years deserve some thought and credit, and that “A” to “A” breeding’s may not hold all the answers. 

After all isn’t it the same goal we aim for in regards to MVD? Late onset or extremely slow progression? Clear and symptom free is what we are to aim for, however people need to be more understanding that an A grade on a breeding certificate, does not mean that a dog is symptom free.

In the future I hope to breed healthy and sound Cavaliers under the Canadian Kennel Club registered affix “Embee”. Although Mylee has passed all required health clearances and was to be my foundation breeding girl, she will never be bred. When people are looking for “A” grade Cavaliers, somehow I do not think that this is what they are looking for.

Do your research before purchasing a Cavalier puppy. There are many great responsible breeders out there, doing everything they can to breed healthy and sound dogs. Seek them out and support them by buying a puppy from them. It does not guarantee that something will not go wrong with your puppy, but it does ensure the best chance of having a healthy companion.

Make sure you trust them and that you can go to them for advice and expertise. Spend some time with their dogs at their home. It certainly wouldn’t take anyone visiting my home long to figure out that I have one symptomatic Cavalier and two who aren’t.

Then, when you do end up taking that beautiful healthy puppy home and they grow into a beautiful sound, and healthy Cavalier, keep your breeder up to date. That is information that they want to have for making future breeding decisions.  We are all the keepers of this wonderful breed and owe it to them to do the best we can for the future of the Cavalier.

Make sure you are doing your part.

Let it Snow

I started a post graduate course in public relations at Humber College this week.

I started a course this week that I think I am going to love.

I started a course this week that I believe I am going to be good at.

I started a course this week that I need to be catching up, and moving ahead on my work this weekend.


I have been doing this…



Hurry Up and Throw it Already!





and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

After all public relations is about using social media and creating an online presence. If procrastination from course work involves social media and a slight blogging/photography addiction I think I am off to a great start.

Cavaliers Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia – What Makes Sense and What Doesn’t

When you type “Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and health” into Google or any search engine it doesn’t take long to come across the terms Syringomyelia and Chiari Malformation. From there it takes no time at all to realize that this is *the* hot topic of discussion across many publications, forums, blogs, and email lists. There is *so* much information, research, debate, and yes controversy that many are often left more confused than when they started researching. There has also been a large divide that has been created between some breeders, researchers, and pet owners..always over the same things. What is being done, what isn’t, who is in support, and who isn’t.

I have been involved in working with Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia for several years now. I have seen research studies start, and be completed. We have come a long way in understanding both conditions, yet we also still have a lot to learn. Research is continually evolving and changing. We are very lucky to have Professionals that do care enough to research and study our breed.

My involvement with our scanning program here has given me the unique opportunity to be in contact with many Cavalier owners and breeders all over the world. I have engaged in both debate, and discussion regarding many opinion and thought. I have viewed a ton of MRI images. I have listened to many heartbreaking stories. As I continue to view more MRI’s, talk to both breeders and pet owners regarding results, discuss symptoms, and scan my own dogs, the more questions I have.

I will *always* be a huge supporter of research, MRI scanning, and following protocols, however I also believe in good old common sense.

The supporter of research, MRI scans of dogs, and following protocols part of me absolutely loves that there is being awareness and education brought to both CM and SM. I’m the first to step up and say donate to research. Scan your dogs. Talk about those dogs who have been impacted. Be transparent regarding MRI results. Without discussion and research there will never be any answers.

What we have found so far that does make sense.

* MRI scanning provides much needed support of research, and a greater understanding of breeding dogs. It enables breeders to make responsible breeding choices, and follow set out breeding guidelines in the attempt of reducing Syringomyelia in our beloved breed. The preliminary stats do seem to be favourable in improvement.

* MRIing is the only way to properly diagnose dogs showing symptoms. Neurological symptoms can be very similar between conditions and to know what really is going on with a dog having problems you have to MRI it.

* Much education and awareness has been brought to CM and SM. Pet owners are encouraged to do their research and support responsible breeding practices. Don’t go out and buy that cute cavalier puppy in the pet store, or become involved in getting a rescue if you aren’t ready to deal with a Cavalier who is likely going to have severe health problems.

The common sense and balance part of me knows that only the popular aspects of CM and SM are continually discussed, and that several of the questionable areas are always quietly swept under the rug.

I’d like to share some of what is hardly ever discussed, yet is happening all the time. Some of what just plain doesn’t make sense.

* Clear of Syringomyelia dogs, or Cavaliers with a Grade of A on breed screening reports can be EXTREMELY symptomatic from Chiari Malformation pain.

Some of the most symptomatic Cavaliers I have met, are ones that have had beautiful clear MRI’s. Yes even their CM is fairly mild. This is a subject near and dear to my heart as Mylee is one of them. When I first went through this with Mylee I thought she was a rare case. I now know that she is not, and that as we MRI more we are finding more Cavaliers just like her. She is a challenge to keep comfortable and pain free on the best of days. Yet both of her MRI’s were beautiful with her second being *better* then the first. Would you like to buy a puppy from my A grade clear Cavalier who is on a combination of Lyrica and Prednisone and screams in severe pain some days?

* Cavalier’s who scan WITH Chiari Malformation AND Syringomyelia, can and DO remain symptom free their entire lives. Just because they scan with SM doesn’t mean they will develop symptoms from it. Some do yes, however there are many who don’t. If a breeding dog has SM, yet never shows symptoms from it, and produces dogs that have SM yet never show symptoms from it, what can be said for that?

* D to D breedings of Cavaliers CAN produce CLEAR Cavaliers. I know several examples of this.

* A to A breedings of Cavaliers CAN produce severe Syringomyelia. Sadly I also know several examples of this.

* Clear Cavaliers and ones with severely symptomatic Syringomyelia can come out of the same litter. Yes a Boy who is an A clear and a popular breeding dog, can have a sister who scanned with severely symptomatic SM.

* Reports and gradings on MRI’s can differ greatly depending on who has read them. A dog can be interpreted as a Clear by one expert, and be graded a D with Syringomyelia by another.

* It is not just pet owners who have dealt with the heartache, helplessness and distress, of seeing a beloved pet suffer with severe neurological pain. Breeders are *just as* heartbroken and devastated when their own dogs, or dogs they have bred are impacted with severe CM or SM symptoms. I have yet to meet a Cavalier breeder who is involved with their breed Clubs who do not care about the dogs they produce. They are all extremely passionate, and devoted to their dogs. They may not think the same way, or be supportive of all research or breeding protocols but they do love and care about their dogs.

* Many other dog breeds have been identified as having Chiari Malformations and Syringomyelia. Friends of Lola illustrates some of the breeds impacted. From those breeds you will only find CKCS breeders, and Brussels Griffon breeders MRI’ing their breeding stock.

* Only a very small percentage of Cavaliers are bred by registered Breeders. Almost all are produced by puppy mills, and backyard breeding. No matter what protocols are followed by those of us breeding responsibly, those who aren’t are producing WAY more puppies.

I think I will end this list here as it could go on and on.

As you can see this is a topic that I care deeply about. I would love to see the day that CM or SM is not a problem in the breed but I also know that outlook is unrealistic. No matter what breeders do, or don’t do, these will be two major areas of concern that they will continually deal with.

Breeders who MRI every dog they own, and breed will produce Cavaliers with CM and SM.

Cavaliers with SM need wonderful unique homes, so some owners and breeders will experience the heartache of owning a symptomatic Cavalier. We will cuddle them when they are ill, pay for their ongoing prescriptions and specialist appointments, love them unconditionally and do the best we can for them.

I also hope that the vast majority can and will experience owning a Cavalier who is healthy. One that we can take anywhere without worry, does not require daily prescriptions, and lets you truly experience how wonderful this breed is. In my house I have experienced both.

What I do hope that some of you will come away with after reading is maybe an understanding of what goes on “behind the scenes”. Why questions are asked, and why debate and controversy takes place. Some “food for thought” if you will.

For me I will continue to advocate MRI scanning, research, and breeding to protocol. You have to start somewhere, and work towards a common goal. I also will continue to ask questions, and be both critical and objective in my thinking. Nothing in regards to CM or SM is black and white. Shades of grey is a much better fit.

On to the fun stuff..

I have an awful habit of leaving my camera connected to my computer with it on. Hence draining the battery completely and pissing me off the next time I go to use my camera and the battery is dead due to the same reason again. Iphone 4 to the rescue.

Some pretty girls in my kitchen tonight.




Embee Cavaliers

Embee Cavaliers is a small hobby breeder located in the Greater Toronto Area. We breed in equal parts for health, temperament, type and conformation. This blog was created to promote purebred dog ownership, preservation breeding and to celebrate living every day with royal spaniels.