Magnetic resonance imaging features of dogs with incomplete recovery after acute, severe spinal cord injury

Published online:


Study design

Retrospective case series.


Describe the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) features of dogs chronically impaired after severe spinal cord injury (SCI) and investigate associations between imaging variables and residual motor function.


United States of America.


Thoracolumbar MRI from dogs with incomplete recovery months to years after clinically complete (paralysis with loss of pain perception) thoracolumbar SCI were reviewed. Lesion features were described and quantified. Gait was quantified using an ordinal, open field scale (OFS). Associations between imaging features and gait scores, duration of injury (DOI), or SCI treatment were determined.


Thirty-five dogs were included. Median OFS was 2 (0–6), median DOI was 13 months (3–83), and intervertebral disk herniation was the most common diagnosis (n = 27). Myelomalacia was the most common qualitative feature followed by cystic change; syringomyelia and fibrosis were uncommon. Lesion length corrected to L2 length (LL:L2) was variable (median LL:L2 = 3.5 (1.34–11.54)). Twenty-nine dogs had 100% maximum cross-sectional spinal cord compromise (MSCC) at the lesion epicenter and the length of 100% compromised area varied widely (median length 100% MSCC:L2 = 1.29 (0.39–7.64)). Length 100% MSCC:L2 was associated with OFS (p = 0.012). OFS was not associated with any qualitative features. DOI or treatment type were not associated with imaging features or lesion quantification.


Lesion characteristics on MRI in dogs with incomplete recovery after severe SCI were established. Length of 100% MSCC was associated with hind limb motor function. Findings demonstrate a spectrum of injury severity on MRI among severely affected dogs, which is related to functional status.

Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.


  1. 1.

    Cooper JJ, Young BD, Griffin JF, Fosgate GT, Levine JM. Comparison between noncontrast computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging for detection and characterization of thoracolumbar myelopathy caused by intervertebral disk herniation in dogs. Vet Radiol Ultrasound. 2014;55:182–9.

  2. 2.

    De Risio L, Adams V, Dennis R, McConnell F, Platt S. Magnetic resonance imaging findings and clinical associations in 52 dogs with suspected ischemic myelopathy. J Vet Intern Med. 2007;21:1290–8.

  3. 3.

    De Risio L, Adams V, Dennis R, McConnell FJ. Association of clinical and magnetic resonance imaging findings with outcome in dogs with presumptive acute noncompressive nucleus pulposus extrusion: 42 cases (2000-2007). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2009;234:495–504.

  4. 4.

    Granger N, Carwardine D. Acute spinal cord injury tetraplegia and paraplegia in small animals. Vet Clin Small Anim. 2014;44:1131–56.

  5. 5.

    Johnson P, Beltran E, Dennis R, Taeymans O. Magnetic resonance imaging characteristics of suspected vertebral instability associated with fracture or subluxation in eleven dogs. Vet Radiol Ultrasound. 2012;53:552–9.

  6. 6.

    Levine JM, Fosgate GT, Chen AV, Rushing R, Nghiem PP, Platt SR, et al. Magnetic resonance imaging in dogs with neurologic impairment due to acute thoracic and lumbar intervertebral disk herniation. J Vet Intern Med. 2009;23:1220–6.

  7. 7.

    Park EH, White GA, Tieber LM. Mechanisms of injury and emergency care of acute spinal cord injury in dogs and cats. J Vet Emerg Crit Care. 2012;22:160–78.

  8. 8.

    Beltran E, Dennis R, Doyle V, De Stefani A, Holloway A, De Risio L. Clinical and magnetic resonance imaging features of canine compressive cervical myelopathy with suspected hydrated nucleus pulposus extrusion. J Small Anim Pract. 2012;53:101–7.

  9. 9.

    Besalti O, Pekcan Z, Sirin YS, Erbas G. Magnetic resonance imaging findings in dogs with thoracolumbar intervertebral disk disease: 69 cases (1997-2005). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2006;228:902–8.

  10. 10.

    Boekhoff TM, Flieshardt C, Ensinger EM, Fork M, Kramer S, Tipold A. Quantitative magnetic resonance imaging characteristics: evaluation of prognostic value in the dog as a translational model for spinal cord injury. J Spinal Disord Tech. 2012;25:E81–7.

  11. 11.

    Chang Y, Dennis R, Platt SR, Penderis J. Magnetic resonance imaging of traumatic intervertebral disc extension in dogs. Vet Rec. 2007;160:795–99.

  12. 12.

    De Risio L, Adams V, Dennis R, McConnel FJ, Platt SR. Association of clinical and magnetic resonance imaging findings with outcome in dogs suspected to have ischemic myelopathy: 50 cases (2000–2006). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2008;233:129–35.

  13. 13.

    Griffin JF, Davis MC, Cohen ND, Young BD, Levine JM. Quantitative magnetic resonance imaging in a naturally occurring canine model of spinal cord injury. Spinal Cord. 2015;53:278–84.

  14. 14.

    Henke D, Gorgas D, Flegel T, Vandevelde M, Lang J, Doherr MG, et al. Magnetic resonance imaging findings in dogs with traumatic intervertebral disk extrusion with or without spinal cord compression: 31 cases (2006–2010). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;242:217–22.

  15. 15.

    Nakamoto Y, Ozawa T, Katakabe K, Nishiya K, Yasuda N, Mashita T, et al. Fibrocartilaginous embolism of the spinal cord diagnosed by characteristic clinical findings and magnetic resonance imaging in 26 dogs. J Vet Med Sci. 2009;71:171–76.

  16. 16.

    Penning V, Platt SR, Dennis R, Cappello R, Adams V. Association of spinal cord compression seen on magnetic resonance imaging with clinical outcome in 67 dogs with thoracolumbar intervertebral disc extrusion. J Small Anim Pract. 2006;47:644–50.

  17. 17.

    Wang-Leandro A, Siedenburg JS, Hobert MK, Dziallas P, Rohn K, Stein VM, et al. Comparison of preoperative quantitative magnetic resonance imaging and clinical assessment of deep pain perception as prognostic tools for early recovery of motor function in paraplegic dogs with intervertebral disk herniations. J Vet Intern Med. 2017;31:842–48.

  18. 18.

    Ito D, Matsunaga S, Jeffery ND, Sasaki N, Nishimura R, Mochizuki M, et al. Prognostic value of magnetic resonance imaging in dogs with paraplegia caused by thoracolumbar intervertebral disk extrusion: 77 cases (2000-2003). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2005;227:1454–60.

  19. 19.

    Forterre F, Gorgas D, Dickomeit M, Jaggy A, Lang J, Spreng D. Incidence of spinal compressive lesions in chondrodystrophic dogs with abnormal recovery after hemilaminectomy for treatment of thoracolumbar disc disease: a prospective magnetic resonance imaging study. Vet Surg. 2010;39:165–72.

  20. 20.

    Hu R, Zhou J, Luo C, Lin J, Wang X, Li X, et al. Glial scar and neuroregeneration: histological, functional, and magnetic resonance imaging analysis in chronic spinal cord injury. J Neurosurg Spine. 2010;13:169–80.

  21. 21.

    Wang-Leandro A, Hobert MK, Alisauskaite N, Dziallas P, Rohn K, Stein VM et al. Spontaneous acute and chronic spinal cord injuries in paraplegic dogs: a comparative study of in vivo diffusion tensor imaging. Spinal Cord. 2017; 1–9: doi:10.1038/sc.2017.83

  22. 22.

    Curati WL, Kingsley DPE, Kendall BE, Moseley IF. MRI in chronic spinal cord trauma. Neuroradiology. 1992;35:30–5.

  23. 23.

    Miyanji F, Furlan JC, Aarabi B, Arnold PM, Fehlings MG. Acute cervical traumatic spinal cord injury: MR imaging findings correlated with neurologic outcome–prospective study with 100 consecutive patients. Radiology. 2007;243:820–27.

  24. 24.

    Potter K, Saifuddin A. Pictoral review MRI of chronic spinal cord injury. Br J Radiol. 2003;76:347–52.

  25. 25.

    Quencer RM, Sheldon JJ, Post MJ, Diaz RD, Montalvo BM, Green BA, et al. MRI of the chronically injured cervical spinal cord. Am J Roentgenol. 1986;147:125–32.

  26. 26.

    Taneichi H, Abumi K, Kaneda K, Terae S. Monitoring the evolution of intramedullary lesions in cervical spinal cord injury. Qualitative and quantitative analysis with sequential MR imaging. Paraplegia. 1994;32:9–18.

  27. 27.

    Wang D, Bodley R, Sett P, Gardner B, Frankel H. A clinical magnetic resonance imaging study of the traumatized spinal cord more than 20 years following injury. Paraplegia. 1996;34:65–81.

  28. 28.

    Freund P, Weiskopf N, Ashburner J, Wolf K, Sutter R, Altmann DR, et al. MRI investigation of the sensorimotor cortex and the corticospinal tract after acute spinal cord injury: a prospective longitudinal study. Lancet Neurol. 2013;12:873–81.

  29. 29.

    Hou J, Xiang Z, Yan R, Zhao M, Wu Y, Zhong J, et al. Motor recovery at 6 months after admission is related to structural and functional reorganization of the spine and brain in patients with spinal cord injury. Hum Brain Mapp. 2016;37:2195–09.

  30. 30.

    Lundell H, Barthelemy D, Skimminge A, Dyrby TB, Biering-Sorenson F, Nielson JB. Independent spinal cord atrophy measures correlate to motor and sensory deficits in individuals with spinal cord injury. Spinal Cord. 2011;49:70–5.

  31. 31.

    Moore SA, Granger N, Olby NJ, Spitzbarth I, Jeffery ND, Tipold A, et al. Targeting translational successes through CANSORT-SCI: using pet dogs to identify effective treatments for spinal cord injury. J Neurotrauma. 2017; doi:10.1089/neu.2016.4745.

  32. 32.

    Olby NJ, De Risio L, Muñana KR, Wosar MA, Skeen TM, Sharp NJ, et al. Development of a functional scoring system in dogs with acute spinal cord injuries. Am J Vet Res. 2001;62:1624–28.

  33. 33.

    Olby NJ, Muguet-Chanoit AC, Lim JH, Davidian M, Mariani CL, Freeman AC, et al. A placebo-controlled, prospective randomized clinical trial of polyethylene glycol and methylprednisolone sodium succinate in dogs with intervertebral disk herniation. J Vet Intern Med. 2016;30:206–14.

  34. 34.

    Seiler GS, Robertson ID, Mai W, Widmer WR, Suran J, Nemanic S, et al. Usefulness of a half-Fourier acquisition single-shot turbo spin-echo pulse sequence in identifying arachnoid diverticula in dogs. Vet Radiol Ultrasound. 2012;53:157–61.

  35. 35.

    Gerasimenko YP, Makarovskii AN, Nikitin OA. Control of locomotor activity in humans and animals in the absence of supraspinal influences. Neurosci Behav Physiol. 2002;32:417–23.

  36. 36.

    Guertin PA. The mammalian central pattern generator for locomotion. Brain Res Rev. 2009;62:45–56.

  37. 37.

    Rossignol S, Bouyer L, Barthelemy D, Langlet C, Leblond H. Recovery of locomotion in the cat following spinal cord lesions. Brain Res Rev. 2002;40:257–66.

  38. 38.

    Brodbelt AR, Stoodley MA. Post-traumatic syringomyelia: a review. J Clin Neurosci. 2003;10:401–8.

  39. 39.

    Perrouin-Verbe B, Lenne-Aurier K, Robert R, Auffray-Calvier E, Richard I, Mauduyt de la Greve I. Post-traumatic syringomyelia and post-traumatic spinal canal stenosis: a direct relationship: review of 75 patients with a spinal cord injury. Spinal Cord. 1998;36:137–43.

  40. 40.

    Austin JW, Afshar M, Fehlings MG. The relationship between localized subarachnoid inflammation and parenchymal pathophysiology after spinal cord injury. J Neurotrauma. 2012;29:1838–49.

  41. 41.

    Seki T, Fehlings MG. Mechanistic insights into posttraumatic syringomyelia based on a novel in vivo animal model. J Neurosurg Spine. 2008;8:365–75.

  42. 42.

    Karam Y, Hitchon PW, Mhanna NE, He W, Noeller J. Post-traumatic syringomyelia: outcome predictors. Clin Neurol Neurosurg. 2014;124:44–50.

  43. 43.

    Krebs J, Koch HG, Hartmann K, Frotzler A. The characteristics of posttraumatic syringomyelia. 2015; doi:10.1038/sc.2015.218.

  44. 44.

    Keenen TL, Antony J, Benson DR. Dural tears associated with lumbar burst fractures. J Orthop Trauma. 1990;4:243–45.

  45. 45.

    Pau A, Silverstro C, Carta F. Can lacerations of the thoraco-lumbar dura be predicted on the basis of radiological patterns of the spinal fractures. Acta Neurochir. 1994;129:186–87.

  46. 46.

    Pickett J, Blumenkopf B. Dural lacerations and thoracolumbar fractures. J Spinal Disord. 1989;2:99–103.

  47. 47.

    Blaser A, Lang J, Henke D, Doherr MG, Adami C, Forterre F. Influence of durotomy on laser-doppler measurement of spinal cord blood flow in chondrodystrophic dogs with thoracolumbar disk extrusion. Vet Surg. 2012;41:221–27.

  48. 48.

    Loughin CA, Dewey CW, Ringwood PB, Pettigrew RW, Ken M, Budsberg SC. Effect of durotomy on functional outcome of dogs with type I thoracolumbar disc extrusion and absent deep pain perception. Vet Comp Orthop Traumatol. 2005;18:141–46.

  49. 49.

    Fernandez E, Pallini R. Connective tissue scarring in experimental spinal cord lesions: significance of dural continuity and role of epidural tissues. Acta Neurochir. 1985;76:145–48.

  50. 50.

    Iannotti C, Zhang YP, Shields L, Han Y, Burke DA, Xu X, et al. Dural repair reduces connective tissue scar invasion and cystic cavity formation after acute spinal cord laceration injury in adult rats. J Neurotrauma. 2006;23:853–65.

  51. 51.

    Gregori T, Lam R, Priestnall SL, Lamb CR. Truncation artifact in magnetic resonance images of the canine spinal cord. Vet Radiol Ultrasound. 2016;57:582–86.

Download references


T32 OD011130—Comparative Medicine and Translational Research Training Program and the Morris Animal Foundation grant 10CA-04O.

Author information


  1. Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA

    • Melissa J. Lewis
    •  & Natasha J. Olby
  2. Comparative Medicine Institute, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA

    • Melissa J. Lewis
    •  & Natasha J. Olby
  3. Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA

    • Eli B. Cohen


  1. Search for Melissa J. Lewis in:

  2. Search for Eli B. Cohen in:

  3. Search for Natasha J. Olby in:

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Natasha J. Olby.

Electronic supplementary material