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MRI characteristics for “phantom” scratching in canine syringomyelia

Nalborczyk, Zoe R., McFadyen, Angus K., Jovanovik, Jelena, Tauro, Anna, Driver, Colin J., Fitzpatrick, Noel, Knower, Susan P. and Rusbridge, Clare (2017) MRI characteristics for “phantom” scratching in canine syringomyelia BMC Veterinary Research, 13 (1).

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Background A classic sign of canine syringomyelia (SM) is scratching towards one shoulder. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) we investigate the spinal cord lesion relating to this phenomenon which has characteristics similar to fictive scratch secondary to spinal cord transection.

Medical records were searched for Cavalier King Charles spaniels with a clinical and MRI diagnosis of symptomatic SM associated with Chiari-like malformation (CM). The cohort was divided into SM with phantom scratching (19 dogs) and SM but no phantom scratching (18 dogs). MRI files were anonymised, randomised and viewed in EFILM ™. For each transverse image, the maximum perpendicular dimensions of the syrinx in the dorsal spinal cord quadrants were determined. Visual assessment was made as to whether the syrinx extended to the superficial dorsal horn (SDH).

Results We showed that phantom scratching appears associated with a large dorsolateral syrinx that extends to the SDH in the C3-C6 spinal cord segments (corresponding to C2-C5 vertebrae). Estimated dorsal quadrant syrinx sizes based on the perpendicular diameters were between 2.5 and 9.5 times larger in dogs with phantom scratching, with the largest mean difference p-value being 0.009.

Conclusion SM associated phantom scratching appears associated with MRI findings of a large syrinx extending into the mid cervical SDH. We hypothesise that damage in this region might influence the lumbosacral scratching central pattern generator (CPG). If a scratching SM affected dog does not have a large dorsolateral cervical syrinx with SDH involvement then alternative explanations for scratching should be investigated.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences > School of Veterinary Medicine
Authors :
Date : 16 November 2017
Identification Number : 10.1186/s12917-017-1258-2
Copyright Disclaimer : © The Author(s). 2017 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Uncontrolled Keywords : Neuropathic itch; Alloknesis; Superficial dorsal horn; Fictive scratch; Central pattern generator; Chiari malformation; Chiari-like malformation
Depositing User : Clive Harris
Date Deposited : 30 Nov 2017 08:39
Last Modified : 15 Mar 2018 08:12

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