Breed breakdown: An in-depth look at the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The vet’s office
By Dr. Beth Engelbert, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
The “gentle” and “affectionate” Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is known for its “true elegance and royal appearance which are of paramount importance in the breed,” according to the breed standard. Although active, this toy breed is people-oriented and can make a wonderful friend.
The Cavalier look is very distinctive. The dogs’ heads are rounded, though the high-set ears give a flat appearance. With large, round eyes, the dark coloration gives Cavaliers a soft expression.
Cavaliers have silky fur with feathering on the legs, ears, tail, and feet. The furry feet are a hallmark feature. These dogs have four color patterns: blenheim, black and tan, tri-color, and ruby. Blenheim refers to a red and white coloration, and many have a distinctive spot on the head.
The Cavalier developed from attempts to recreate small spaniel-type dogs seen in 15th century European paintings. These small spaniels were tried for hunting in the 17th century, but their small stature made this impractical. King Charles II of England liked these dogs and lent them his name. The King Charles Spaniel evolved into the English Toy Spaniel. In the early 1900s, a prize was given for a dog resembling those depicted in the old paintings. It is thought Papillons and Cocker and Welsh Springer Spaniels were used in the making of the Cavalier variety of King Charles Spaniels.
By 1927 the first breed standard was made. During World War II, most of the dogs were lost. Only six dogs remained to rebuild the breed. Inbreeding was necessary to save the Cavalier. Inbreeding concentrates genes, good and bad, and has led to many health problems. As a consequence, the longevity advantage of little dogs is lost on Cavaliers.
Heart disease is the biggest health concern in Cavaliers. Mainly a valve issue, progression to congested heart failure is common. Regular monitoring and medications can help improve the quality and length of their lives.
The “lustrous” eyes can have problems. Distichiasis, or abnormal eyelashes, can cause irritation. The corneas can be prone to injury, abnormal growth, and protein deposits. Juvenile cataracts can develop. There are several forms of retinal dysplasia causing blindness. Small eyes, or microphthalmia, are not only abnormal in size but also development.
Cavaliers can have neurological disorders. Abnormal brain and spinal cord development can cause severe pain or paralysis. Episodic falling, known as abnormal muscle contracture, is often misdiagnosed as seizures as these dogs often fall over and may have spasms.
Though they are small dogs, hip dysplasia and luxating patellas can occur. Cavaliers can be prone to weight gain and obesity. Cavaliers may produce excessive ear wax, sometimes in the inner ear, causing hearing and balance issues.
Doing research of breeders is important for getting a puppy of any breed, but it should be essential with a Cavalier to find that sweet, loving, and healthy friend.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.