Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (or FCE) occurs due to a sudden blockage or obstruction of a vein or artery supplying bloody to a specific segment of the spinal cord.
Whilst the cause of this condition is not completely known, it is thought to be linked to the intervertebral discs. The spinal column is comprised of numerous bones called vertebrae that are linked together. Between each vertebra is an intervertebral disc, that allow joint movement and shock absorption. An intervertebral disc acts like a cushion between each vertebra and is comprised of two components. The first is an outer segment called the annulus fibrosis. The second is the inner section of the disc called the nucleus pulposus. The material that blocks the blood vessel, or the embolising material has been found to be identical to fibrocartilage found in the nucleus pulposus of the intervertebral disc.
Whilst the condition can affect dogs of all ages, it is more common in young to middle aged dogs. It is also most common in non-chondrodystrophic breeds. A chondrodystrophic breed is one that has limbs that are disproportionately shorter than the length of the body and are often curved. A non-chondrodystrophic breed is therefore all other breeds of dog, typically medium to large breed dogs. Miniature Schnauzers are very commonly represented among these dogs.
Blockage of the blood supply to a specific segment of the spinal cord can result in a loss of oxygen supply there, causing subsequent nerve dysfunction and sometimes nerve cell death. Clinical signs of an FCE are acute (sudden) in onset, and non-progressive. They can range from sudden weakness and ataxia to complete paralysis. The condition generally occurs during physical activity, such as chasing a ball or jumping, but it is also known to occur whilst the dog is undertaking light exercise. Whilst the dog may yelp and feel pain initially, there is typically no pain associated with the condition. The condition is often lateralised, meaning it occurs on both sides of the body, but usually one side is affected more severely than the other.