While the diagnosis of tethered cord syndrome has been well-established in human medicine since the 1970s, it has only recently started to be diagnosed in dogs. 
It has only recently started to be recognized in veterinary medicine.  While it has been recognized with increased frequency  the literature remains sparse.

Tethered cord syndrome (TCS) results from tension caused by an abnormal anchoring of the end portion of the spinal cord within the spinal canal. This results in the normal, gliding movement of the spinal cord being restricted, and the subsequent stretching can cause various neurological symptoms.  These can vary from non-specific pain in the lower back, rear limb lameness, exercise intolerance, to chewing the back feet, sitting suddenly on walks, intermittent pain and, in some cases, incontinence.  The symptoms are often quite vague or non-specific and can overlap with more common orthopedic conditions.
The syndrome can be associated with a spinal malformation (such as spina bifida). Spinal malformations are more prevalent in certain breeds, such as Bulldogs or Manx cats. Primary TCS can also just be associated with a thickened, nonelastic that persists from early development (of the embryo?) and can occur without vertebral or spinal malformation.

Our neurology team has had quite a bit of experience with this uncommon disease.
It is often a diagnosis of exclusion, which means ruling out other more common ailments that can also cause similar symptoms, such as a cruciate injury in the knee or a disc herniations in the low back.  Diagnostic testing often consists of initial orthopedic and neurologic evaluations, X-rays, CT, MRI, and possibly a spinal tap as well.  More specific tests include something called “dynamic imaging” which consists of evaluating CT and MRI in different positions (flexion/extension of the lower lumbar a=spine). Medical management consisting of medications and other non-surgical therapies is usually the first part of the treatment plan.  In some dogs we even need to perform an exploratory surgery to look for the cause of the “tethering” and, if this is present then we correct it at the same time.   

For a detailed case summary written by one of our clients, click the link to read about Hugo:  a dog who received a diagnosis and treatment for Tethered Cord Syndrome.

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