Health Issues in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
In the process of producing any purebred animal, it is necessary to do a certain amount of inbreeding. Although this is necessary to produce the desirable traits of the breed, it also tends to increase the incidence of certain health problems. Fortunately, if a disease is genetic, the probability that it will occur can be minimized by testing the parents that are used for breeding.
In Cavaliers, there are four major inherited health concerns for which we test all of our breeding bitches:
Cavaliers are susceptible to mitral valve disease, a condition that causes one of the heart valves to leak blood backward, forcing the heart to work harder in order to circulate the blood. It shows up as a murmur, which can be detected by a canine cardiologist. Nearly every Cavalier will develop a heart murmur after age 10, but it is a particularly debilitating condition if it shows up before age 5.
Here at Blackfire Cavaliers, we follow a protocol of waiting until our bitches are over age 2, at which time we make certain they are cleared by a canine cardiologist. These cardiologist exams are repeated every year during the breeding life of the bitch. If the parents of a litter are at least 2 1/2 years old and heart clear, and their parents are at least 5 years old and heart clear, the puppies are nearly 90% likely to be free of early-onset heart disease.
There are several genetic eye diseases particular to the Cavalier, including cataracts and retinal dysplasia. After age 2, we have our bitches cleared by a canine ophthalmologist, and repeat those examinations on a yearly basis.
This condition, in which the top of the thigh bone does not fit tightly into the cup of the hip, can cause anything from minor discomfort to severe lameness in the dog's rear end. Hip dysplasia can only be properly detected by an X-ray taken after the age of 2, and the X-ray must be evaluated by a properly trained specialist.
Here at Blackfire Cavaliers, we send X-rays of our bitches to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and will only breed the bitch if we receive a passing rating of Excellent, Good, or Fair. Hip X-rays need not be repeated yearly; a single X-ray taken after age 2 is an excellent indicator of the presence or absence of hip dysplasia.
This condition is present when the kneecap on the dog's rear leg becomes dislocated and slips out of its proper position. In its most severe form, it can be a crippling disease and may require surgery for the dog to lead a normal life. This is the only genetic condition that can be easily detected by a veterinarian, and should be tested for annually, as we do for our breeding Cavaliers.
We at Blackfire Cavaliers require the same testing for the stud dogs that we use as we do on our breeding bitches. We recommend that anyone seeking a Cavalier puppy ask the breeder for copies of the health clearances on both parents. Heart, eye and hip clearances should be from specialists, and all but the hip clearances should be dated within a year of the breeding.
There are now DNA tests available for certain other conditions unique to Cavaliers. DNA testing allows us to definitively determine whether or not our Cavaliers carry the gene that causes each of these diseases. As of 2015, we are routinely performing DNA testing on all of our breeding dogs and bitches for the following:
Episodic Falling Syndrome
This is a neurological affliction that causes affected dogs to experience painful muscular contractions after exercise, often resulting in the dog collapsing on one side.
Dry Eye Curly Coat Syndrome
Also unique to Cavaliers, this condition causes extreme dryness in the eyes and skin. Affected dogs experience pain in their eyes, and particularly in their feet, making standing and walking extremely difficult.
There is another disease that any prospective puppy owner should be aware of:
SM is caused by a malformation in the back of the skull, which disrupts the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid between the brain cavity and the spinal cord. This blockage causes pockets of fluid (syrinxes) to form in the spinal column, and symptoms can range from a mild itch (manifested by phantom scratching) to severe pain. Mild cases are often mistaken for allergies or skin problems, and, if properly diagnosed, can be managed with medication. The most severely affected dogs, however, may require expensive and risky surgery. While the only reliable method of diagnosing SM is by doing an MRI, there is presently no way to reliably tell whether a non-symptomatic dog will produce puppies with the disease. SM is thought to be an inherited condition caused by a combination of various genes, but the research is still in its early stages. We believe in keeping careful track of our puppies to determine if any come up with symptoms of SM, which will usually show up by age 3 or 4. We will not breed a bitch whose puppies are symptomatic.
For more in-depth information on any of the above diseases, please visit the
We believe that it is vital to take into account the findings of Canine Immunologists such as Dr. Ronald Schultz, and not over-vaccinate your dog. Every vaccine the dog receives is a strain on the immune system, so unnecessary immunizations should be avoided.
The following is a summary of our recommended vaccine protocol, based on the current guidelines issued by the American Animal Hospital Association:
Combined vaccine for Distemper, Parvo, Adenovirus-2, and Parainfluenza (AKA 5-in-1)
Three puppy shots, given every 3 weeks, starting at 10 weeks of age
Booster shot one year after the last puppy shot
Additional vaccines at intervals of every 3 years or longer
First vaccine at 6 months of age
Booster shot one year after the first
Additional vaccines at intervals of every 3 years, as required by law in your state
Other vaccines, such as Bordetella, Leptospirosis, and Lyme should only be administered sparingly in special circumstances, in consultation with your veterinarian.
Never allow more than ONE vaccine
to be given in a day