As with all breeds, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
breed has its share of health issues/problems. Below you will find a
list of those health issues, which are of grave concern to reputable and
ethical breeders. Puppy mills and brokers do not share this concern,
although they will most likely pretend that they do. However, if you ask
for proof of medical tests having been carried out on the parent dogs of
the puppy you might like to purchase, for example an OFA (Orthopedic
Foundation For Animals) certificate for hearts and patella, none will be
shown to you. The same of course, applies to CERF (Canine Eye Registry
Valve Disease (MVD) There are several
diseases, which affect the
mitral valve. The most common one in Cavaliers
is degeneration of the mitral valve
(the leaflets or cups, which make up the valve, may have contracted
and curled back on themselves allowing the valve to leak).
When the valve does not close completely, it allows a back flow
of blood back into the chamber, called mitral regurgitation. With mitral
regurgitation the blood leaks from the left ventricle into the left
atrium of the heart causing it to enlarge.
With enlargement of the left atrium, it can lead to enlargement of the
left ventricle. When the
heart becomes enlarged, the dogs may show some symptoms, such as
coughing, exercise intolerance, retaining fluid, etc.
With severe mitral
regurgitation not only is there a significant increase in the left
side of the heart, but it is frequently accompanied by varying degrees
pf congestive heart failure.
All breeding stock should be checked annually by a
Board Certified Canine Cardiologist because mitral
regurgitation occurs with such velocity that it produces turbulence,
which is detected as a systolic murmur. This murmur is heard between the
first and second heart beat.
Most regular vets are not trained to hear a systolic murmur.
Almost all dog breeds have MVD in their
later years of life, but with Cavaliers the onset of MVD is earlier than
with other breeds. The goal of reputable and ethical
breeders is to push out the onset of MVD past 8 years. Presently,
according to one cardiologist, the onset has been pushed out to past 7
years by very selective breeding and careful animal husbandry
Extensive studies both in the Continental
US and Europe have concluded that approximately
80% of Cavaliers will have a grade of MVD before they are 8 years old.
Dysplasia is an abnormal development of some of the
visual cells of the retina, eventually leading to blindness. There is no cure for this. It can be discovered by
Ophthalmologist at a few weeks of age. Several breeders will have
their puppies’ eyes evaluated before they let them leave for their new
homes. A CERF certificate should then be handed over with the puppy’s
= the eyelid folds abnormally and lashes turn in on the
eye,irritating the eye.
Most often the problem is the lower lid. Entropion can be
treated surgically. In some cases, if left untreated, vision can be
threatened and can lead to corneal ulceration.
Dysplasia (CHD) is the malformation and degeneration
of the coxofemoral joints. It is similar to arthritis in people and
is one of the most common ailments in dogs.
The femur, or thigh bone, consists of the
head (femoral head) and the neck (the part of the femur that joins the
long shaft of the bone to the head).
The acetabulum forms the socket part
of the joint and it is in this socket that the femoral head rests.
Poor congruence between the femoral head and
creates abnormal forces across the joint, interferes with normal
development and overloads the articular cartilage causing
and degeneration joint disease.
Dogs are not born with CHD.
As puppies grow, laxity of the muscles and ligaments surrounding
the joint and the poor fit between the bones produces excess movement
of the acetabulum. The separation
between the bones is called subluxation, and
at its severity can become a total dislocation (the femoral head leaves
The surfaces of the bones start out completely smooth, but with
CHD there begin to be changes (remodeling).
Bone rubbing against bone causes an irritation which results
in irregular bone growth and wear on the articular
surfaces. These irregular surfaces
result in Osteoarthritis which can cause significant pain. As the bone
of the acetabular rim is ground away, it becomes shallower and it
is now more difficult to keep the femoral head properly seated.
Some common symptoms of the disease
are pain, difficulty moving, lameness, difficulty getting up, difficulty
in sleeping if they have to lay on their particular
hip. The only way to know if your dog has CHD is
to have them x-rayed by your vet. The OFA
certification on breeding stock can only be done when the bitch or stud
dog has reached 24 months. Preliminary
OFA examination can be done before this age though. It is also possible,
that CHD is closely linked to Patellar Luxation.
Luxation is the slipping of the patella or knee cap.
The patella is a small bone that is held in place by ligaments
that shield the front of the stifle joint and should be located in the
center of the knee joint. As
the knee joint is moved, the patella slides in a grove in the femur.
A luxating patella is a knee cap which
moves out of the groove in the femur.
What causes this to occur is the muscles
of the thigh attached directly or indirectly to the top of the knee
cap. There is a ligament, called the patellar ligament,
which runs from the bottom of the knee cap to a point on the shin bone
(tibia) just below the knee joint. The
patella luxates because the point of attachment
of the patellar ligament is not on the midline of the tibia. As the thigh muscles contract, the force is
pulled against the groove (called the trochlear
groove) on the inner side of the femur.
With this abnormal movement, the inner side of the groove wears
down and the patella dislocates or moves out of its groove. This makes
it difficult for the dog to put his weight on the leg.
The patellar may dislocate toward
the inside, called medial, or outside, called lateral, of the leg.
Medial patellar luxation is present
at birth and can affect either or both legs.
Laterally luxating patellas
are often the result of
trauma and can affect any pet.
Diagnosis is made on physical examination and may be confirmed
with radiographs. Some breeders have their puppies’ patellas
evaluated before they leave for their new homes. Paperwork documenting
the outcome should then accompany the paperwork for the new puppy.
patella can be surgically stabilized, but this operation is very expensive
and it is possible that the dog will have walking problems even after
the operation. Most breeders will not pay any of the treatment costs,
but might replace the puppy, without demanding the ‘old one’ back.
As you can see from the above, it
is well worth asking the breeder, from whom you consider purchasing
a puppy, for proof of test results on the parent dogs of your new puppy.
If such proof cannot be supplied, you might want to walk away and look
elsewhere. Quite some new owners found out the hard way how expensive
it is to treat a puppy, which is affected with any of the above hereditary
The latest hereditary issue, which
has come up with the Cavalier is SM.
Todate there are no tests available to determine,
which non-symptomatic dog or bitch is a carrier, and which puppy might
have it or not. Only dogs, which show symptoms, can be tested further
and an accurate diagnosis made.
Syringomyelia is a Spinal cord malformation.
To describe the disease - Syringomyelia is cavitation within the
parenchyma of the spinal cord not lined by ependymal cells. The cavity
may be lined by astrocytes or the frayed fringes of the disturbed
parenchyma. Syringomyelia can be congenital (primary) or acquired.
Primary syringomyelia is the result of a congenital malformation. It
affects the cervical spinal cord and brain stem in young to mature
Cavelier King Charles spaniels and causes persistent scratching of the
shoulder or upper cervical area as well as minor gait changes.
Syringomyelia can also be acquired from trauma, infection or neoplasia.
Syringohydromyelia is the presence of a fluid filled cavity
within the spinal cord. It is an acquired condition classified into
communicating and noncommunicating types. Causes include trauma,
vascular disturbances, inflammation, infection, neoplasia, or extension
of hydromyelia. Clinical signs of the above abnormalities depend on the
location and extent of the lesion. Lower and/or upper motor neuron signs
may be present. Pain can accompany syringomyelia. The clinical signs
could also result from the inciting etiology. Scoliosis has been found
in dogs with hydromyelia, syringomyelia, and Syringo-hydromyelia. It may
be possible to differentiate Hydromyelia from Syringomyelia by
antemortem MRI spinal cord scans and/or myelography, but histopathology
is often required.
Hydromyelia/syringomyelia is an uncommon condition in the dog. Two
malformations in humans that are accompanied by the development of
Hydromyelia are the Chiari malformation and the Dandy-Walker syndrome.
It is believed that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed is
predisposed due to a abnormality in the development of the occipital
bone leading to a small caudal fossa, cerebellar herniation, and
overcrowding of the foramen magnum.