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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Health Care & Feeding

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Start your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel off on the right foot by feeding the right food, giving the right vaccinations, finding the right vet, and if you're going to spay or neuter, don't do it too early.


Jump down to this list of
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Health Problems


Or check out my advice for raising a healthy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy or adult dog:

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You can dramatically increase your dog's chances of living a long, healthy life by feeding the right food. Cutting right to the chase, the best foods for your Cavalier are... [read more]

Real homemade dog food A Quick Way To Make Homemade Dog Food
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Information on booster shots for your German Shepherd. Vaccinations and Booster Shots: Needed or Not?
How many vaccinations does your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy really need? Does your adult dog need yearly booster shots? The vaccination guidelines have changed! Find out what some vets aren't telling you... [read more]

Information on spaying Spaying Your Female Dog: Pros and Cons
Should your female Cavalier be spayed? Current research says, "The AGE at which you spay can be vitally important to your dog's future health." So what's the best age? [read more]

Information on neutering your male dog. Neutering Your Male Dog: Pros and Cons
Have you been told that you must neuter your male Cavalier? Current research shows that the issue is not so simple. Pet owners are not being told about some risks associated with neutering male dogs, especially neutering too early... [read more]

Information on choosing the best vet Make Sure Your Vet is the Best!
Is your current veterinarian really the best choice for your dog? Here's how to tell... [read more]

Assisi Loop Assisi Loop Review
Does your Cavalier suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, disk disease, colitis? My honest review of a veterinary device you can use at home to reduce inflammation and pain. [read more]

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Complete list of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel health problems

Sadly, the lovely and sweet-natured Cavalier makes my list of the Top Five Unhealthiest Breeds.

No one should acquire a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel unless:

  • they live near a specialist veterinary clinic that includes a board-certified cardiologist and neurologist and
  • they're willing and able to spend lots of money for specialist veterinary care and
  • they're okay with the very real chance that they can lose their beloved dog in middle age.

Heart disease in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

With Cavaliers, it all starts with an aggressive form of Mitral Valve Disease, the #1 killer of this breed.

Now, a different form of mitral valve disease is found in many other small breeds. This form comes on slowly, progresses slowly, and is usually very manageable.

People can have mitral valve disease, too – both I and my husband have it. Again, it's mild and easily managed.

But MVD in the Cavalier is very different.

HALF of all Cavaliers will develop MVD by 5 years of age, and virtually ALL (99%) will have it by 10 years of age.

MVD is a true epidemic in the breed, dragging down the breed's lifespan and costing a lot of money for annual heart monitoring.

What are breeders doing about this intolerable situation?

  • Medical research is ongoing, but at this point responsible Cavalier breeders are waiting until at least age 3 or 4 before allowing any Cavalier to breed. The hope is that older dogs who haven't yet developed MVD might be contributing genes that are more resistant to it.
  • Responsible breeders will only breed a Cavalier whose own parents made it to at least 5 years old without developing MVD.
  • Finally, responsible breeders are maintaining registries of the longest-lived Cavaliers in the hopes of incorporating these lines into their pedigrees.

What should really be done is to begin a serious crossbreeding program to introduce healthy heart genes into the Cavalier's gene pool. But this wise solution is always shot down by short-sighted breeders (usually dog show enthusiasts) who think it's more important to keep a sick breed "pure".

Neurological diseases in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

As if the heart disease wasn't enough, epilepsy is also a serious problem in Cavaliers. Epilepsy in dogs can be tricky to manage.

Now let's talk about syringomyelia in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

The most recent disease to strike this hard-luck breed is syringomyelia (seer-IN-go my-EEL-ya).

Syringomyelia begins when a Cavalier pup is born without enough room in the back of his skull for his brain to fit. This is called a Chiari-like (kee-AR-ee) malformation.

The vast majority of Cavaliers were born with this Chiari-like malformation.

This too-crowded space forces the brain backwards, down into a channel that interferes with the free flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) between the brain and the spinal cord. This interference results in a variable fluid pressure that can hollow out a little cavity called a syrinx in the spinal cord.

In about half of those Cavaliers with a Chiari-like malformation of the skull, the abnormal pressure is mild enough that no syrinx forms. Those lucky dogs have no symptoms.

In the less fortunate 50%, a syrinx forms (sometimes more than one), and then you'll see symptoms, which typically appear between 6 months and 3 years old, though sometimes later.

The most common symptom is an odd one – the dog suddenly raises a high foot and scratches at his shoulder when excited or when walking on a leash. This scratching is presumed to be due to abnormal skin sensations – we presume this because humans with syringomyelia describe the sensation as "creepy crawy burning pain."

So it's not a funny symptom – the dog is experiencing discomfort.

Affected dogs may also be sensitive around their head, neck, and front legs, and may suddenly yelp when you're grooming them, or even for no apparent reason.

Pain may be related to head posture – some affected dogs begin sleeping with their head propped up on something like a pillow.

Dogs with syringomyelia often have petit mal seizures.

The most severe cases have actual spinal cord damage and are significantly disabled by 12 months of age, with a twisted neck, wobbly hindquarters, and/or weakness in their front legs.

There's no cure for syringomyelia. Mild cases can lead relatively normal lives, with the goal being to reduce the abnormal skin sensations that cause scratching and the pain that causes yelping.

The mainstay medications for syringomyelia are gabapentin to mute the abnormal skin sensations, lasix and omeprazole to reduce fluid build-up in the brain, and occasionally prednisone to relieve inflammation. Acupuncture can help. Surgery can relieve symptoms temporarily, but seldom provides a lasting cure. Severe cases progressively deteriorate and need to be put to sleep.

Orthopedic diseases in the Cavalier

Now let's turn our attention to the joints (knees and hips). The Orthopedic Foundation of America evaluated the hip X-rays of 7700 Cavaliers and found 13% dysplastic. That's high for a small breed.

Luxating patella (loose knee joints) is quite common, as well.

Eye diseases in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Serious eye diseases in Cavaliers include cataracts, retinal dysplasia, eyelash abnormalities, dry eye, corneal ulcers, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Allergies and ear infections in the Cavalier

Allergies cause itchy skin and can lead to bacterial skin infections ( pyoderma). Ear infections are common due to profuse hair in the ear canal.

Other health problems in the Cavalier

Other health issues that occur in Cavaliers include diabetes, hypothyroidism, blood-clotting disease (thrombocytopenia), inherited hernias, and inherited deafness.

It's hard to find anything positive to say about Cavalier health, but one mild condition that occurs in the breed is "hanging tongue," where the tongue protrudes through the front teeth or hangs out the side of the mouth. This may be a structural defect or a neurological defect, but it isn't really anything to worry about.

Preventing health problems

Some health problems are inherited. For example, if your dog inherits from his parents the genes for an eye disease called PRA, he will go blind and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

Dog feeding and health book by Michele Welton But most health problems can be prevented by the ways you raise your dog.

My best-selling book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy shows you how to raise your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in all the right ways that help prevent health problems. Become your dog's health care champion!

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.