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Chiari Malformations in Dogs

Chiari malformations or Chairi-like malformations is a term used to describe a variety of neurological disorders or symptoms that are caused when the hollow portion of the occipital bone known as the posterior fossa does not develop properly.

Portions of the skull that create the craniocervical junction may also be affected as a result of this condition which would include the occipital bone, the foramen magnum and/or the first two cervical vertebrae making up the spinal cord.

As a result…

The “under developed” posterior fossa isn’t large enough to properly house portions of your dog’s brain (mainly the brain stem, the cerebellum and portions of the spinal cord), causing portions of the affected dogs brain to be compressed or “squished”.

It is this…

Compression that can, in some dogs create a wide variety of symptoms some of which can be very serious to your dog’s overall health and well-being.

Common symptoms associate with Chiari Malformations may include:

  • Neck pain and/or headaches,
  • Persistent scratching of the neck and shoulders,
  • “Air” scratching of the neck and shoulders,
  • Vision problems,
  • Difficulty walking or painful walking,
  • Loss of balance (ataxia),
  • Hearing loss,
  • Failure to thrive or meet developmental milestones.

That said however…

Some dogs who suffer from Chiari malformations may not experience any symptoms at all.  In fact, it is believed that nearly 95% of all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (AKA King Charles Spaniels) will suffer from Chiari-like malformations to some degree however only 25% of them will go on to experience any symptoms of the disease.

Because of this…

Many researchers who originally believed that Chiari malformations was a very rare condition are now beginning to re-think this belief as more and more dogs seem be diagnosed with “symptom” free cases of Chiari-like malformations due to the increase in the availability of technology which can be used to screen for this condition.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In most cases, diagnosis of Chiari malformations will be made by your veterinarian based on the symptoms that he or she observes your dog demonstrating and also by testing your dog’s vision and reflexes.

The most telling symptom that your veterinarian will be looking for is a “persistent scratching” of the neck and shoulder area along with what many vets will refer to as “air scratching”.  This is a behavior whereby your dog will attempt to scratch his or her neck but will “miss” and simply scratch the air alongside his or her face.

In some cases…

You veterinarian may also request to have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test performed so that the posterior fossa portion of your dog’s brain can be view.  However due to the cost, and the fact that it’s results really won’t have any bearing on the treatment plan prescribed, most vets will tend to avoid taking an MRI when possible.

Which reminds us…

It’s important for you, the reader, to understand that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, medical professionals or veterinarians.  All we are is a bunch of folks who are passionate about animals and like to take pet ownership very seriously.

This is why…

We choose to write about medical conditions that could affect the health of one’s pet so that we can stress just how important it is for anyone thinking about adopting an animal that this decision is an important one.

Because not only are you agreeing to feed, house and love your pet, you’re also agreeing to take care of your animal if he or she ever gets sick.

And guess what?

Pets get sick and injured all the time!  So, while we would love to just talk about all the “fun” things about owing a pet, we also want to talk about some of the “crummy” things too so that “our” pet owners are the good kind.  The kind that are there for their animals in both good times and in bad.  Which brings us back to…

Treatment of Chiari malformations in dogs

When it comes to treating a dog that has been diagnosed with Chiari malformations, its really going to come down to how “severe” the Chiari malformations is, whether or not your dog is also suffering from syringomyelia.

What’s syringomyelia?

Syringomyelia is a rare neurological disorder that is often associated with dogs suffering from Chiari malformations where the affected dog will develop cysts within the spinal cord.

These “fluid filled” cysts or syrinx will slowly expand and grow larger over time creating increased pressure within the spinal cord of the affected dog often times causing these animals to develop pain in further neurological disorders as the dog ages.


As we’ve already stated, most dogs who suffer from Chiari malformations will remain asymptomatic and likely go their entire lives without ever diagnosing their condition.  This is particularly true with the:

Dog breed which have a much higher risk of developing this condition due to their genetic makeup.

Now for those…

Dogs who do develop symptoms, treatment options will typically consist of prescribing medications that will help alleviate the symptoms or in some cases surgery.

Common medications that may be prescribed can include:

  • Analgesics or pain reliever used to minimize the neuropathic pain associated with this condition,
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs and steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,
  • Anticonvulsant medications,
  • Antidepressants,
  • Etc, ect…

In extreme cases…

Your veterinarian may also recommend that you dog undergo a surgical procedure designed to either:

  • Increase the size of the affected skull area:
  • Repair injured brain tissue areas: Duraplasty.
  • Or to install a syringosubarachnoid shunt to help reduce the pressure created by the cerebrospinal fluid as a result of the developing cysts or syrinx within the spinal cord itself.

All of which…

Will have their own set of unique risks associated with them.  In fact, the only true thing that all of these different surgical procedures will have in common is that they’re all going to be pretty expensive.

Which brings us…

The final point that we would like to make which is this.  If you are considering becoming a pet owner, be sure to take a moment and find out what it would cost for you to purchase a pet insurance policy.  This way if you ever find yourself in a situation where your furry little loved one does develop a serious medical issue, you won’t need to burden the cost of treating his or her condition on your own.  Instead, you can rely on your insurance to help you pay for his or her care and spend more time focusing on what really matters which is the care and well being of your loved one!

For more information about how much a pet insurance policy would cost you, we would recommend that you check out our article titled: Best Pet Insurance Companies.

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