Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is produced primarily within the ventricles of the brain and travels within the central nervous system (CNS) down towards the lower back and tail. CSF surrounds the brain and spinal cord and acts to support, protect and nourish these structures.
Spinal fluid can be obtained from the back of the neck just behind the head or from the lower back. Collection of CSF involves shaving hair over these areas, aseptically preparing the overlying skin and carefully placing a small needle into the space around the spinal cord. This procedure is performed in anesthetized patients placed in very specific positions. When performed by a well trained and experienced veterinarian, such as a veterinary neurologist, risks of complications associated with this procedure are generally low.
CSF can be analyzed for cell types and numbers, as well as for changes in normal components, such as protein level, or presence of abnormalities, e.g. infectious agents or cancerous cells. CSF analysis is generally used together with other tests (e.g. MRI, myelography) to help determine the underlying cause of a problem affecting the CNS. CSF analysis can be especially important in diagnosis of inflammatory CNS conditions, e.g. meningitis.