Maria (GBC Health Co-ordinator)
At the end of 2007 cases of Syringomyelia were reported in the Griffon Bruxellois. The GBC organised a Symposium and in March 2008, the Club held a very successful event where Dr. Clare Rusbridge, was the principal speaker on Syringomyelia. Dr. Rusbridge is a Specialist in Veterinary Neurology, and although concerned in the research into Syringomyelia in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, she gave a lecture on the condition with particular reference to the Griffon Bruxellois.
The event was attended by representatives from other breeds who were able to bring their experience to bear for the benefit of Griffons.
It is clear that this condition has been affecting Griffons for some time. Several people attending the Symposium confirmed that their dogs had been diagnosed, one as long as six years ago when the dog was 10 yrs old. Although this is anecdotal evidence, we can deduce that SM is not a new condition in our Breed and one which has probably been mis-diagnosed by some of the Veterinary profession.
In part this is understandable as symptoms are very varied. An early sign is that the dog is hypersensitive in the neck area, with an uncontrollable urge to scratch at its neck and shoulders although not making contact with these areas. It may be that the dog finds it difficult to lower its head to drink and eat and is more comfortable if food is placed at a higher level. The neck becomes stiff and slightly bent leading some to diagnose disc problems.
Currently the most reliable method of diagnosing the condition is by MRI scanning, and requires either an anaesthetic or sedation. Dr. Rusbridge reported that worldwide MRI scanning on 55 Griffons (all over two and half years old) had shown approximately 50% clear and 50% having SM. The true incidence of SM in the breed in this country is far from clear but Dr. Rusbridge was aware that of 5 scans so far carried out, three were shown as having SM and two were clear. In her opinion the top 10 most popular stud dogs should be studied since they have the most genetic influence. Ideally brood bitches should also be scanned. SM was not easily detected in young puppies as symptoms usually do not become evident before the age of 6 months. A list assembled by the CKCS Club of centres where low cost MRI scans are carried out is available from the Club.
Research is ongoing into finding possible DNA markers so that a blood test could replace MRI scanning as Dr. David Sargan (Canine Geneticist) our second speaker on the day, advised. Dr. Sargan is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology in the Dept. of Vet. Medicine, at the University of Cambridge. He said that a genetic test recognising a mutant gene does not mean that you cannot breed from the animal concerned. A carrier with good traits can be mated to a non carrier. Unfortunately SM may be a genetically complex disease, there is no easy answer and there is a long way to go.
Dr. Sargan’s input on the day confirmed to many of us that Genetics is not an easy subject! A number of attendees said although it was way above their heads, it was absolutely fascinating.
The aim at Steventon was to raise awareness of this unpleasant condition and encourage informed debate. It will prove to be an important step in helping to combat SM in all Griffons.
The GBC Committee is actively considering the way ahead in the light of the Symposium.
Following on from the foregoing, members attending the AGM, were in agreement with the Committee that the Club should support Dr. Clare Rusbridge in her research into Syringomyelia in Griffons. By donating to the Syringomyelia (DNA) Research Fund, the sum of £2,500 to be ring-fenced for research predominantly in this country, we are certain that the breed as a whole will benefit.
Although at the Symposium a number of members indicated that they would prefer to support research in this country rather than in America, it may be at some stage a small amount will be channelled to the research project ***at the University of Georgia – if it was felt that a small injection of cash would hasten the results. But rest assured that the funds will be mainly for UK work.
I am very pleased to be able to quote the following letter:-
Syringomyelia DNA Research
“Clare and I would like to thank you for the magnificent donation raised by the Griffon Bruxellois Club for our continuing research into the genetic causes of Chiari-Like Malformation and Syringomyelia. We can assure you that this money will be used specifically for CM/SM research in Griffons in the UK. Most importantly, we also appreciate the confidence and trust that you put on us in making this extremely generous financial support.
We look forward to working with the Club and will keep breeders apprised of all aspects of our investigations as appropriate. If there is anything you think might help in any way, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.”
Penny Knowler and Clare Rusbridge, MRCVS
Mrs. Knowler has a Griffon worldwide database with about 950 dogs spanning 12-15 generations with about 60 MRI confirmed dogs at the moment.
***Referring to the University of Georgia’s research project, they now have up and running their newsletter site and the link is:-
A useful and very informative sight is the Cavalier Club one at
It is very gratifying to know that as a result of information gained from our Symposium and mention in our Bulletins, breeds other than Cavaliers and Griffons are researching Syringomyelia; in fact quite a number of dogs with “vague” but after the event, recognisable symptoms of SM, have been MRI’d and in some cases treatment has helped to alleviate suffering.