A chronic cerebrospinal fluid access system is described for use in the conscious sling-restrained dog. In a pilot study of ten dogs, a fenestrated barium-impregnated silastic catheter was surgically implanted in the subarachnoid space of the second cervical vertebra through a dorsal laminectomy. This fenestrated catheter was coupled to a subcutaneous access port. Following surgery, cerebrospinal fluid was sampled weekly and evaluated for protein content and cytology. The cerebrospinal fluid albumin to serum albumin ratio was calculated for each sample to evaluate blood-brain barrier integrity. The instrumentation was successfully implanted in five of the first eight dogs using a midbody dorsal laminectomy. Cerebrospinal fluid access was maintained in these dogs for 21 +/- 10 days. Using a slight modification of the original technique, the final two dogs were instrumented through a caudodorsal laminectomy of the second cervical vertebra. The cerebrospinal fluid access system remains patent after 444 days of study in these two dogs. Necropsy evaluation suggested that catheter failure in the immediate postoperative period was due to gross malposition of the catheter. Chronic catheter failure occurred secondary to obstruction by local fibrous tissue reaction. Using this instrumentation, a pharmacokinetic evaluation of the plasma and cerebrospinal fluid deposition of an intravenous bolus of acyclovir was successfully performed twice in a single dog without complications. This instrumentation could provide chronic cerebrospinal fluid access for multiple pharmacokinetic studies in the conscious dog.