Promoting structure, health, and temperament in performance dogs.

Posts tagged ‘Syringohydromyelia’

Maya – her story – the middle years

After Maya’s successful decompression surgery everything seemed to progress like a dream for the first few months. I remember close to the end of her 4 weeks of confinement and drug therapy that she started tearing around the backyard with Lucy like we hadn’t seen her do for months. Of course we were cautioned that the outlook would be uncertain. SM could return and the damage that had already occurred that we could see as tissue death on the top left of her spinal cord in the MRI would never heal. After that she walked on leash, ran, played, and even restarted in agility. Sean Sanders our neurologist was supportive of trying agility again and moderating activity based on symptoms. Others told us Maya should never do agility again. We began our life of post-operative uncertainty.

Maya progressed in her agility career going from an uncertain beginning to starting to be competitive in the highest class in AKC Agility. By this point I’d fallen hopelessly in love with the Cavalier breed and looked to find a strong and healthy girl that I could do agility with in the future. We became friends with Sandy Robinson, a local Cavalier breeder, with the most beautiful Ruby Cavaliers I’d ever seen. With their fantastic bone structure and beautiful flowing red locks I felt certain they were the dogs for us. Sandy kindly entrusted us with one of her boys Kyle, who I trained in agility.

Lucy, Kyle, and Maya 2003

Our original Cavaliers Lucy (left) and Maya (right) with Kyle (middle), a long term visitor in our house from 2003 - 2004.

In late 2003 a litter arrived a Sandy’s house – 3 ruby girls born to Dazzle. We had been holding out for a ruby boy, convinced that would be the way to have a successful show and agility career. However Sandy called us up in January 2004 and said I think you should come over and look at one of these ruby girls. There’s one who is running so fast around the house that she’s jumping over the backs of the adult Cavaliers.


Beth our ruby Cavalier girl at 8 weeks in grandpa's arms.

Thus Beth entered our family. She quickly learned that Maya was boss and cuddled up to her to see what she could learn from “the master.”

Beth and Maya cuddled up

Beth and Maya cuddled up

Maya did not have the classic SM neck scratching before the operation but did have afterwards, and the scratching wasn’t too bad for the first year. However in the early summer of 2004 it became clear that the other SM symptoms were returning again. She started slowing down in agility and just seemed to withdraw a bit from life. I remember driving to agility trials at the time wondering if this would be her last one.

I took Maya back to Sean Sanders, who did another MRI that showed the fluid had returned. He prescribed a low dose of Prednisone, which I had been so happy to avoid after surgery, but now seemed our best option. I didn’t want to go to gabapentin as I knew that could make her quite groggy, so we persevered with the Prednisone and added MSM. We played with the dosage to mitigate the scratching as best we could but it was always there when she got excited but never when she ran in agility. We also tried Omeprazole and Cimetidine at different times but those seemed to make her tired and out of sorts. We stabilized with Prednisone and things felt good. Shortly after Maya’s medication was stabilized Jim and I remember her just taking off one day after a trial and chasing down a flock of birds down at Vancouver Park and loving it.

Maya in the snow

Maya sees her first snow in the winter of 2004

Knowing that SM progression was unpredictable I only planned one goal at a time – first it was Maya’s Master Agility Championship, which we achieved in March 2005 at Seattle Kennel Club in the Exhibition Center in Downtown Seattle.

Maya's first MACH

Maya's first MACH

In the summer of 2005 I had another MRI done that showed the syrinx had subsided again. I was cautiously optimistic knowing how the condition could wax and wane depending on the weather (always worse when a cold snap hit) or just randomly change. Next we went to Agility Nationals in 2005, thinking that we might not get another chance, and then we just kept on competing and competing with 5 MACHs by 2007 .

Maya and Karen at AKC Agility Nationals in January 2005

Maya comforting me after a disappointing run at our first nationals.

Over the years we got used the modified routine of a dog with SM – medication in the morning and suppliments in the evening and maybe an extra Prednisone every once in a while when things seemed bad. Maya couldn’t do regular walks on a leash. After a short while any type of collar or harness was too irritating and believe me we tried every one on the market. From time to time we’d insist she walked because it seemed inconceivable that she’d train hard in agility but couldn’t go for a walk, and then she developed an alarming spasm in her front right leg if she walked too long, so we lowered our expectations about walking.

During these middle years Maya enjoyed life. She traveled to Florida, California, and Arizona for dog agility.

Maya relaxing on a couch in Florida

Maya relaxing on a couch in Florida between competition days

She was my constant companion. I could not close my office door without Maya needing to come in and sit curled up in my lap as I typed. We were a team in every sense of the word. She snuggled with us on the couch in the evenings and generally kept our growing herd of dogs in line.

Zoe with Maya and Beth

A very young Zoe tries to muscle in on Cavalier territory with Maya and Beth.

Maya with Jim at Dinner

Never one to be out of the action in those days, Maya would install herself at the table every night after dinner was eaten.

She was the undoubted boss of the family guarding the house and the car from unwanted and wanted visitors. The other dogs took their cues from her and never dared cross her especially if she had a rawhide or food.

Do not approach

Do not approach, I repeat do not approach

She was fearless and she especially like to rush at men in big black coats, including one of our VPs at work 🙂 She was the queen and we thought we had her health under control.

The Queen

The Queen in her finery.

After perhaps our most exhilarating moment in agility ever where she was televised in the finals of the AKC Agility Invitationals, I remember sitting with Maya in the stands. She was ecstatic standing on my lap wagging her tail furiously and licking my face. She interacted with her adoring fans in the stands who just saw her fun and they thought she was incredible. I remember thinking that she was taking a while to catch her breath, but who could tell in such an exciting moment. Also, I remember being worried before the event that she was slowing down just a tad from the fastest she could run but she was still brilliant.

At Maya’s annual exam in early 2008 her heart murmur was first found – grade 1 – 2 but nothing that required treatment at that stage. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing that’s what would get my special girl in the end, not SM.

Maya – her story – the first year

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 …


Maya in her first year

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.

Maya and Lucy as Puppies

Maya and Lucy as Puppies

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.

Maya in her sweater

Sheepskin and sweaters, oh my.

Maya and Grandma

We joked that Maya had grandma wrapped around her little finger/ paw. While Jim and I were in Japan Maya insisted that she snuggle with Grandma each night despite our "no dogs in the bed rule." I believe Grandma spent some nights on the couch ...

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.

Maya's first MRI

Maya's first MRI

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.