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The Conformational Indicators Study

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Tom Mitchell is a researcher at the University of Bristol, investigating the extent to which conformational characteristics (external appearance of dogs such as head shape) can indicate the presence of Chiari-like Malformation (CM) and/or Syringomyelia (SM).

What does the study aim to do?
The current CMSM breeding scheme aims to reduce the number of affected dogs in the population. At the moment, the only method of diagnosing CMSM is a costly MRI.
Radiographs (x-rays of the skull) have been shown to help identify dogs at risk of the disease in the Griffon Bruxellois, but this study aims to determine if aspects of the conformation are risk factors (contributing elements) for CMSM. This may identify an additional method of indicating disease by measuring the head and body of the dogs and act as an adjunct to the current scheme.
Such information may help the breeder reduce the costs for testing by identifying the best dogs to scan and reduce incidence in the long-run. It may also allow breeders to decide on matings based on the overall conformation of the dog and not only on the results of the MRI.

Who can help?
Breeders of the predisposed breeds (any toy breed) who have dogs with a current MRI Chiari- like malformation/Syringomyelia certificate.

What is involved?
A trained researcher would visit you and your dogs and take a series of very non-invasive measurements. This could take place at your home, at a breed or group get-together or at a dog show. MRI certificates must be submitted IN ADVANCE to a dedicated, confidential email address, fax number or PO box (given upon booking of appointment), which will be used to provide a unique ID number to each dog. In this way, the researcher will not know in advance the MRI status of the dog, which could influence their judgement. Importantly, the ID number provides owner confidentiality because the researcher is ‘blinded’ to the names of the dogs. All measurements and MRI results are confidential and privacy is considered throughout.

If multiple individuals that own suitable dogs wish to get involved, a get-together can be arranged.

If you are a breeder outside the UK who wishes to participate in the Conformational Indicators Study Click here for the "how to participate" in pdf or click here for "how to participate" in flipbook, and here for the online Form.

Any questions or for further information, contact Thomas Mitchell by email

Or join the discussion at:

Large numbers of dogs are required for this international investigation. A pilot study involving 9 dogs of different breeds has been undertaken with the help of Henny van den Berg in the Netherlands.