VETzInsight

Scottie Cramp in Dogs

January 5, 2021 (published)
Photo courtesy of Depositphotos

Scottie cramp is a neurological disorder that temporarily affects a dog’s ability to move their limbs. The disorder has sudden episodes immediately following times of stress or exercise, lasting about 10 minutes. Affected dogs temporarily experience stiff limbs, muscle spasms, arching spine, a bunny hopping gait and are likely to fall over. Research shows Scottish terriers who lack a neurotransmitter called serotonin are affected because serotonin helps control muscle movement. This disease is lifelong but has no lasting complications to your dog besides the short and infrequent muscle spasm episodes. See an example of Scotty cramp in a video

Who Gets Scottie Cramp?

This disease occurs in Scottish terriers and Scottish terrier mixes. A similar disorder is recognized in West Highland White terriers, Cairn terriers and Cesky terriers and may have a common genetic cause.  Cats do not get Scottie cramp. There are similar types of muscle movement diseases in other dog breeds, such as Dalmatians, cocker spaniels, Norwich terriers, wirehaired terriers, and West Highland white terriers. However, they are different from Scottie cramp in their exact genetic cause.

  • Gender: Females more likely than males
  • Age: Juvenile onset (usually 1 month-18 months)
  • Cause: Genetic serotonin deficiency
  • Hereditable: Yes

Signs

Signs usually resolve within 10 minutes of episode onset. Episodes can last from 5 to 20 minutes.

  • Arching spine
  • Stiff limbs
  • Falling over
  • Bunny hopping
  • Flexion of hips
  • Downward flexed tail
  • Inability to walk

Diagnosis

All blood and imaging test results are normal. Neurological and orthopedic tests are also normal because the signs of this disease are temporary. There is no genetic test available even though it is a genetic disease. Research suggests that electromyography (EMG) is a way to diagnose this disease, but dogs aren't necessarily having an episode at appointment time. EMG looks at the electrical activity of the muscle during your dog’s episodes. However, diagnosis is mainly made by description and video recordings of episodes. A video of an episode taken on your cell phone is more diagnostic than anything else.

Treatment

Treatment is not always needed as episodes can be infrequent and improve with time. But when treatment is called for, it is life long and the prognosis is good for mildly affected dogs. You can monitor your dog’s disease by keeping a diary of triggers, signs, and duration of episodes.

  • Fluoxetine or diazepam increase the serotonin available to prevent your dog’s stiff muscle signs.
  • Reduce stress and excitement, which are triggers. Exercise is also a trigger, so talk to your veterinarian about how much exercise is appropriate for your dog.
  • Chlorpromazine or acepromazine are sedatives that can help relax muscles

Prevention

The one and only method of prevention is not to breed affected dogs because the disease is heritable.


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