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 Foundation) certificates.
Needless to say, we placed special emphasis on healthy dogs in both of our breeds. Our Cavaliers are OFA and CERF (heart, eye, hips and patellae tested clear) and the heart tests are repeated annually. Before any of our Cavalier puppies leave us for a new home, our veterinary surgeon gives them a ‘clean bill of health.’ The Cavalier puppies' eyes are CERF-ed at the University of Georgia, as well as having their patellae examined and cleared before leaving us. Also, our Cavalier puppies depart with a two year Health Guarantee.
Here are health issues for Cavaliers:
Mitral 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 management.
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.
This problem 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 a 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 papers.
With this issue, 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.
Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)
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 acetabulum creates abnormal forces across the joint, interferes with normal development and overloads the articular cartilage causing microfractures 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 acetabulum). 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.
Patellar 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.
Luxating 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 illnesses.
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 an abnormality in the development of the occipital bone leading to a small caudal fossa, cerebellar herniation, and overcrowding of the foramen magnum.