MRI characteristics for “phantom” scratching in canine syringomyelia


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).


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.

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