Does Your Dog Scratch At Its Neck? What You Need To Know About Syringomyelia, AKA Neck Scratcher’s Disease

When dogs scratch in the air near their necks, it could be a sign of a chronic and debilitating condition called syringomyelia, which is also known as the neck scratcher's disease. Syringomyelia is a condition in the spinal cord that affects the central nervous system and could potentially lead to paralysis. If your dog regularly scratches in the air near its neck, especially when on a leash or when excited, you should have your pet evaluated for syringomyelia. Here's what you need to know. 

What is syringomyelia? 

Syringomyelia occurs when small cavities in the spinal cord fill with cerebrospinal fluid. These cavities are called syrinxes and can put pressure on the spinal cord, which can disrupt the central nervous system. It's caused by blockages and different pressures inside and outside of the spinal column. The spinal column is the bony structure of the spine. The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves inside the spinal column. A blockage can occur due to Chiari malformation, which is a condition in which brain tissue blocks the spinal cord opening at the base of the brain. Different pressures of the spinal column can be caused by back injuries. 

What are other symptoms of syringomyelia? 

A dog's back legs can be weakened and it may be a bit wobbly when standing if it has syringomyelia. It may try to bite its back legs due to these problems. You may notice signs of pain in the neck region, such as yelping when you put a collar on your dog or lead it on a leash. Should the condition be allowed to progress, it can lead to scoliosis, deafness, seizures, and paralysis, including in the face. 

How is it diagnosed? 

Your dog will need to have an MRI done of its spine in order for a syrinx or syrinxes to be seen. Imaging from an MRI is the only way to diagnose syringomyelia. In order to obtain clear images from an MRI, your dog will need to be given anesthesia to stay immobile.

How is it treated? 

If a Chiari malformation is noticed in the imaging, it will need to be surgically removed to allow for proper flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Treatment for syringomyelia would then have a better outcome. Treatment for syringomyelia can consist of medication to reduce the production of cerebrospinal fluid, corticosteroids to reduce pain, and chiropractic care to improve neurological function of the spinal column and the spinal cord. Chiropractic adjustment can be done by a veterinary clinic that specializes in alternative pet therapy. 

For more information, talk to centers like Downing Center For Animal Pain Management.