Maya was our second Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Born on 6/30/2002 she lived over 9 years with a debilitating disease, Syringohydromyelia, that we had no idea existed until it hit in May 2003. She was also diagnosed with the ubiquitous Cavalier malady Mitral Valve Disease in 2008 and lived with it for over 3 years. But first the story of who she was and why we loved her …
Lucy our blenheim girl born 3/6/2002 and brought home on 5/20/2002 was our first Cavalier and quickly it became clear that she needed a companion. I had seen both ruby and black and tan puppies in our initial search and was very much in love with the idea of a ruby girl but also intrigued by black and tans. At the very beginning of September we located a local litter with black and tan girls and visited them. Two of the 3 girls were running around and chewing on Jim’s shoe laces. At that point with Lucy in the house we had determined we needed a “sensible” puppy. We noticed one little black and tan girl hanging back but when Jim approached she stood up and gave him a lick. From then on she became our girl Maya.
In the beginning there was no indication of any problems – Maya romped and played like another other puppy and enjoyed life. She was smart, loving, paid attention and loved to please. Her nickname was Magoo and she wagged her tail so vigorously wiggling her whole body that we joked she must be in the band “The Wiggles.” Maya took to dog agility and loved to snuggle with us in the evenings. We took the puppies everywhere – on walks through the neighborhood, into Downtown Seattle, to friends’ houses, and out to parks. Jim and I laughed recently as we remembered how washed them every week using special shampoos and conditioners. Maya had such thick black fur in those days and really needed the grooming.
She enjoyed her first winter with sweaters (sometimes) and quickly became a favorite of grandma, who looked after her while we were in Japan for our winter vacation.
Lucy suffered from luxating patellas from about Sept 2002 onwards and had surgery at the beginning of 2003. That was an ordeal for us to diagnose and treat and she was in such a lot of pain until surgery. At that point we breathed a sigh of relief that Maya was in good health. We started to see some early signs of SM in spring 2003 – neck pain during grooming and bathing and then a reluctance to chase after her favorite toys. I also remember some early scratching when we tried to use a slip collar on walks. It culminated in May 2003 with scoliosis of the neck.
At first our local vet thought it was a muscle strain and prescribed muscle relaxants but that didn’t help. I was desperate for answers and started searching online. My main source of data was a Yahoo group for what seemed to be a Chiari-like malformation in Cavaliers and the emerging research of Claire Rusbridge in England. No one was exactly sure of the cause at that time but it was becoming clear that fluid filled cavities in the spinal cord near the brain seen via MRI were causing extreme pain in some Cavaliers. Caudal Occipital Malformation (COMS) where there is malformation at the back of the skull was also theorized to play a role as was the relatively large size of the cerebellum (back part of the brain) in many Cavaliers that seemed to cause the brain to squeeze out the bottom of the skull and obstruct the flow of spinal fluid.
I took everything I found to our vet at the time Valerie French and she referred us right away to Veterinary Neurologist Sean Sanders. Luckily he had just come back from a conference in New York where Syringohydromyelia was discussed and he saw Maya’s symptoms right. An MRI confirmed the diagnosis and she had decompression surgery in June 2003 to remove the suboccipital bone and allow the spinal fluid to move freely. Conservative treatment through Prednisone alone was considered not likely to be successful long term and the recommendation was that early surgery was more successful than waiting.
I’ll never forget seeing Maya for the first time post surgery. She was dazed, wobbly, and unfocused. I wondered if I’d ever get my old Maya back but then I saw that look in her eyes and realized she was.