Dogs needed for study to investigate neck pain

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel undergoing the von Frey test
A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel undergoing the von Frey test School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol

Owners of one of the UK’s most popular dog breeds, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, are being asked by researchers at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences to take part in a study to investigate a novel method of assessing neck pain in dogs.

Syringomyelia is a progressive inherited neurological disease of the neck spinal cord in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (CKCS), which may cause neck pain and affects around 70 per cent of CKCS over six-years-old.

Researchers at Bristol’s Vet School and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) aim to find a pain-free method of detecting neck pain of neurological origin in dogs. The study, funded by the UK’s largest dog welfare charity Dogs Trust , hopes to improve the welfare of CKCS by enabling vets to more easily recognise when dogs are suffering from chronic pain related to syringomyelia. Signs of the condition can vary and are often extremely subtle meaning that some cases can go undiagnosed.

The study involves owner-completed questionnaires and assessment of the dog’s neck skin sensitivity with a pain-free electronic pressure device, known as a von Frey aesthesiometer, being applied to the skin, while monitoring for the dog’s behavioural response.

Heather Williams, the veterinary surgeon who is co-running the study at Bristol alongside leading veterinary specialists Drs Nicolas Granger and Jo Murrell, said: “Vets, the Kennel Club and CKCS owners are keen to reduce the numbers of dogs affected by this condition, and improve treatments for affected dogs.

“Early detection of neuropathic pain in dogs could prompt earlier investigation and treatment, and be used as a tool to monitor the progress in dogs already being treated.”

Members of the public who own suitable dogs of any breed with neck pain referred to the University’s Langford Veterinary Services (LVS) or the RVC can take part in the study.

Owners of CKCS that have previously had an MRI of the head and neck regions can also help with the research, by allowing their dogs to be ‘von Frey tested’, either at Bristol or as part of an extensive neuropathic pain study assessing several pain assessment methods at RVC, being run by RVC vets Sandra Sanchis Mora, Professor Holger Volk (neurology) and Dr Ludovic Pelligand (anaesthesia).

Professor Volk said: “This is a landmark project to improve patient care. The development of this ‘bedside’ test to detect neuropathic pain will lead to earlier detection of pain and better tailored treatment.”

In addition, CKCS breeders looking to determine the syringomyelia status of their dogs to help selection of healthy individuals for breeding are welcome to participate in von Frey testing when arranging MRI screening under the KC/BVA Canine Health Scheme at the LVS Syringomyelia Screening Clinic.

To take part in the study, email vet-neuroresearch [a] (p) uk

Alternatively, for information regarding further neuropathic pain/syringomyelia research based at the Royal Veterinary College (London), email neuropathicpain [a] (p) uk