Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Health Care & Feeding
By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2018
Quick list of Cavalier health problems
Sadly, the lovely and sweet-natured Cavalier makes my Top Five list of unhealthiest dog breeds. No one should acquire a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel unless they're willing and able to spend lots of money for specialty veterinary care and to potentially lose their beloved dog in middle age.
The #1 killer of this breed is severe heart disease. Up to 55% of Cavaliers will develop it by 5 years of age, and 99% will have it by 10 years of age. Annual heart care and monitoring are expensive.
Epilepsy is another serious problem in Cavaliers. Also a neurological disease called syringomyelia, which can be mild or very severe, causing so much pain that the dog may need to be put to sleep in young adulthood or middle age.
Bad hips and bad knees cause pain and lameness and can require expensive surgery.
Hereditary eye diseases can lead to blindness.
Cavaliers have a lot of trouble with their skin conditions and ear infections. Chronic allergies cause terribly itchy skin that can lead to "hot spots" (skin infections). Ear infections are common due to profuse hair in the ear canal.
(See more health problems below.)
Preventing health problems
Some health problems are inherited. For example, if both parents of your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel have certificates proving they were tested and cleared of hereditary eye diseases, hip dysplasia, and luxating patella, your Cavalier has less risk of developing those conditions.
Other health problems can be prevented, or partially prevented, by the ways you raise your dog. If you're serious about doing everything you can for your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, my best-selling book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to raise your Cavalier puppy (or adult dog) in all the right ways. It will help you be your dog's health care champion!
Here are my dog health tips for raising a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy or adult dog:
Dog Health Care – The Sensible Way
Read my advice on daily health care so your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lives the best life he can.
The Best Dog Food For Feeding Your Cavalier
Food is the #1 foundation for good health. The best diet for feeding your dog is real food. Real chicken, turkey, beef, fish....these are not just "people foods" and I'll tell you why.
Kibble or Canned Dog Food – Almost As Good As Homemade?
Are you looking for the best dry kibble or canned dog food?
Feed Homemade Dog Food Without Needing To Make It
Would you like to feed your dog homemade, but think you don't have the time or skill to make it? I have the solution for you....
Should You Buy Pet Insurance? An Honest Review
My advice on the pros and cons of pet insurance, and the best pet insurance company I've found.
Vaccinations and Booster Shots: Needed or Not?
How many vaccinations does your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy really need? Does your adult Cavalier need yearly booster shots? The vaccination guidelines have changed! Find out what some vets aren't telling you.
Spaying Your Female Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of spaying your female dog.
Neutering Your Male Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of neutering your male dog.
The Type of Veterinarian I Recommend
Is your veterinarian really the best choice for your dog? Learn about the differences between vets who practice conventional, holistic, and alternative veterinary medicine.
Assisi Loop Review: How I Helped Treat Inflammation and Pain
Does your dog suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, disk disease, colitis, a skin wound? My honest review of a veterinary device you can use at home to help reduce inflammation and pain.
Complete list of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel health problems
It pains me to say this about such a lovely and sweet-natured breed, but the fact remains that this breed is in serious trouble.
With Cavaliers, it all starts with heart disease – specifically, mitral valve disease, the #1 killer of this breed. Up to 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. Responsible Cavalier breeders must wait until age 3 or 4 before they will allow a Cavalier to breed, hoping that these older dogs who haven't yet developed MVD might be contributing genes that are more resistant to it. In addition, responsible breeders will only breed Cavaliers whose own parents made it to at least 5 years old without developing MVD. Finally, they're maintaining registries of the longest-lived Cavaliers in the hopes of incorporating these lines into their pedigrees.
No one should acquire a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel today unless they're prepared to spend lots of money for heart care and to very likely lose their dog in middle age.
As if heart disease wasn't enough, epilepsy is also a serious problem in Cavaliers.
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). It starts when a Cavalier 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 – and the vast majority of Cavaliers have it.
The crowded space forces the brain backward, where it blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid down the spinal cord. The variable pressure created by the abnormal flow of CSF can hollow out a little cavity, called a syrinx, in the spinal cord. This happens in about half of all Cavaliers. Then the dog exhibits symptoms.
Some Cavaliers are only mildly affected, while others are severely so. Symptoms typically appear between 6 months and 3 years old, though syringomyelia has been diagnosed in Cavaliers up to 10 years old.
The most common symptom is an odd one – the dog scratches at his shoulder when excited or walking on a leash. This scratching is presumed to be due to abnormal skin sensations, because humans with syringomyelia have described the sensation as "creepy crawling" or "burning pain." Affected dogs may also be sensitive around their head, neck, and front legs, and may suddenly yelp for no apparent reason. Pain may be related to head posture – some affected dogs begin sleeping or eating with their head held up.
The most severe cases have 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, but 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 are gabapentin to mute the abnormal skin sensations, lasix and omeprazole to reduce fluid build-up, and occasionally prednisone to relieve inflammation. Acupuncture can work wonders. Surgery might relieve symptoms, but seldom provides a lasting cure. Severe cases progressively deteriorate and have to be put to sleep.
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.
Serious eye diseases in Cavaliers include cataracts, retinal dysplasia, eyelash abnormalities, dry eye, corneal ulcers, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).
Allergies cause itchy skin and can lead to bacterial skin infections ( pyoderma). Ear infections are common due to profuse hair in the ear canal.
Inherited deafness can occur in Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies with a lot of white on their head.
Other health issues that occur in Cavaliers include diabetes, hypothyroidism, blood-clotting disease (thrombocytopenia), and hernias.
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.
To help you train and care for your dog
To learn more about training your dog to be calm and well-behaved, my dog training book is Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your dog to listen to you and do whatever you ask.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a good-tempered, healthy dog.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to help your dog live a longer life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.