Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a small spaniel classed as a toy dog by The Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club. It originated in the United Kingdom and is the 19th most popular breed in the United States. Cavaliers are affectionate, gentle and graceful.

Here are the Cavaliers’ typical inherited health concerns, as noted by the Cavalier King Charles Club:


Chronic, degenerative mitral valve disease (MVD). The first indication is a murmur. Other heart defects include pulmonary and aortic stenoses and PDA (patent ductus arteriosus). Diagnosis should be done by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist.


Juvenile cataracts and retinal dysplasia or folds. Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) has also occurred in Cavaliers but is not prevalent. Diagnosis should be done by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.


Known as slipping patellas. Even quite bad patellar luxation may not cause much, if any, discomfort, especially while the Cavalier is young. Surgery is an option if the Cavalier is in pain, his quality of life is impaired or to prevent irreversible joint deterioration. Diagnosis should be done by a general practitioner and is an easy test to perform.


Because of the breed’s small size, obvious clinical symptoms usually don’t occur until the Cavalier is older, and even then, they tend to show in severely affected dogs only. Diagnosis should be done by taking X-rays at 2 years of age or older and sending the X-rays to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), and they are good for life. X-rays taken under 2 years are considered preliminary diagnoses, and it is recommended that the hips be re-evaluated at 2 years.


Degenerative disc disease.


Grand mal seizures are possible, but various forms of focal (petit mal) seizures can also occur. The most common focal seizure is called “fly catcher’s syndrome,” where the dog snaps or lunges at imaginary flies. There are many other types of focal seizures that can occur. All types of seizures may be treated with phenobarbital and/or potassium bromide and other drugs if necessary.


Total deafness is rarely congenital. Cavalier deafness is usually of a partial and/or premature nature. Some Cavaliers become totally deaf by 6 to 8 years old. BAER testing is available to assess hearing loss.


These disorders can include, but are not limited to, allergies, digestive or metabolic disorders, dry eye, cancer, fertility and/or breeding problems, muscle or nerve disorders, thyroid problems and blood problems (mainly autoimmune hemolytic anemia and/or thrombocytopenia).


A condition potentially caused by an overly small occipital bone (part of the back of the skull), preventing cerebrospinal fluid from circulating freely. The fluid is forced into the spinal cord, creating a cavity called “syrinx.” The most common sign of this condition is shoulder/neck/ear scratching (with no evidence of skin or ear disease), especially when excited or walking on a lead. It typically affects one side only but may become bilateral. Affected dogs may also be sensitive around the head, neck and forelimbs and will often cry/yelp/scream for apparently no reason. Pain may be related to head posture, and some dogs prefer to sleep or eat with their heads up. Some severely affected young dogs develop a neck scoliosis, meaning their necks are twisted. Some dogs may develop a wobbling hind limb gait and/or a forelimb weakness. Signs are usually recognized between 6 months and 3 years, however dogs may begin showing symptoms at any age. The only definite way to diagnose syringomyelia and the associated skull malformation is with an MRI scan. Unfortunately, this expensive test, usually performed by a neurologist, is only available at specialist veterinary centers.

At Bethany Family Pet Clinic, we have experienced many of these medical issues with our Cavalier patients. We are able to diagnose and treat many of the conditions seen in this breed, and we work closely with local specialists as needed to help achieve the best quality of life for your Cavalier.