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Inherited Health Problems in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

very young and very old

The very old and the very young...

  1. *HEART...............Chronic degenerative mitral valve disease.  The first indication is a murmur.  Other heart defects include pulmonary and aortic stenosis and PDA.  Certification should be done by a board certified veterinary cardiologist.

  2. *EYES..................Juvenile cataracts and retinal dysplasia or folds.  Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) has also occurred in Cavaliers.  A board certified veterinary ophthalmologist should give a final diagnosis.

  3. *PATELLAR LUXATION........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.

  4. *HIP DYSPLASIA............If hip problems are suspected or hip x-rays are taken for any reason, those x-rays must be submitted to the OFA for diagnostic and statistical reasons.  Final x-rays for hip dysplasia can be taken at 2 years of age or older if they are sent to the OFA.  Preliminary hip x-rays can be sent to the OFA at any age.  Because of the breed's small size, obvious clinical symptoins usually don't occur until the Cavalier is older and then mainly in severely affected dogs only.

  5. BACK....................Degenerative disc disease, spondylosis.

  6. EPILEPSY.................Grand mal seizures are possible but various forms of focal (i.e. 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 than can occur.  All types of seizures may be treated with phenobarbital and/or potassium bromide if necessary.

  7. DEAFNESS..............Total deafness is rarely congenital.  Cavalier deafness is usually of a partial and/or premature nature.  Some Cavaliers become totally deaf by 6-8 years.

  8. IMMUNE SYSTEM.............These 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, blood problems (mainly autoimmune hemolytic anemia and/or thrombocytopenia), diabetes, etc.

  9. SYRINGOMYELIA ("SM")......A problem caused by an overly small occipital bone (part of the back of the skull), thus preventing cerebrospinal fluid from circulating freely.  The fluid is forced into the spinal cord creating a cavity called syringomyelia.  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 -- typically to one side only but may become bilateral.  Affected dogs are also sensitive around the head, neck and forelimbs.  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.  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 of any age may begin showing symptoms.  The only definitive way to diagnose syringomyelia and the associated skull malformation is by an MRI scan.  Unfortunately this expensive test is only available at specialist veterinary centers.

*Problems which are diagnosed through simple, non-invasive, inexpensive, readily available, painless tests.  A breeder should ANNUALLY test their adults' hearts, eyes and patellas.  Hip dysplasia can be definitively diagnosed by OFA with hip x-rays taken at a minimum of 24 months.  The other problems are diagnosed if/when symptoms appears.

Almost none of these problems are congenital (i.e. present at birth) but develop sometime later on with no upper age limit for age of onset.  Positive test results (pre-symptomatically) or actual symptoms generally show up between 2 and 6 years of age, although younger and older ages of onset are possible.

Breed-wide, the average lifespan of a Cavalier is about 11-13 years.

For more detailed information about all aspects of your Cavalier, go to  Under Health Info, there is more detailed information about specific health issues in the Cavalier.  You can also go to to read about all diseases in dogs, not necessarily typical disorders for Cavaliers.

CLICK HERE for the Health Registry Application Form and submit YOUR Cavalier's health information.  Instructions on the documentation required is on page two of this form.  If you need further help, email me.