As with all breeds of dogs (and other animals), there are certain health issues which are more likely to affect Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Whilst the majority of Cavaliers are healthy and hardy, it is important to be aware of these issues and if you are buying a puppy always ensure that the breeder of your puppy screens their breeding stock for hereditary problems.
Canningville Cavaliers we care about breeding healthy pets. Our dogs are all specialist tested and clear of heart, eye conditions. DNA clear dry eye, curly coat and EFS.
We to date do not test for SM as we do not have the MRI facilities available to do such testing and to date have never had a dog in our linage that has presented with this condition.
Mitral Valve Disease
Degeneration of the Mitral Valve, known as Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) is a condition to which Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are genetically predisposed. Although in some cases MVD may shorten the life of a Cavalier, many individuals still live past the average lifespan for the breed despite having symptoms of the problem.
MVD is by far the most common of canine heart problems, accounting for about 75% of all heart disease diagnosed in dogs. It is usually a normal aging condition in both animals and humans and is more prevalent in small dog breeds than in larger breeds. It affects over one third of all dogs older than 10 years, but in Cavaliers, the onset of the condition can occur at a younger age and this predisposition is genetically inherited.
The first sign of possible Mitral Valve Disease is the development of a heart murmur on the left side of the heart. However, this is not necessarily a cause for great concern as a dog with a heart murmur may still live a long, healthy life, depending up the progression of the disease in that particular dog.
In a healthy heart the mitral valve allows the blood to flow from the left atrium into the left ventricle without any back flow. Degeneration of the mitral valve allows an amount of blood to flow back into the left atrium, thus placing strain on this chamber of the heart, making it less efficient and causing a heart murmur. Over time increasing degeneration may eventually place too much stress on the heart and lead to congestive heart failure.
Heart murmurs are graded according to their severity with Grade One indicating a very mild murmur. Grade Six indicates a severe murmur and the latter stages of congestive heart failure.
In the early stages of MVD there are no visible symptoms and the owner will not notice anything amiss. However, the vet will be able to hear a turbulent, swishing sound in the heart which indicates the presence of a heart murmur.
As the degeneration of the mitral valve increases to a more serious level, symptoms will include unwillingness to exercise, and an increased respiratory rate. Later, as fluid begins to build up in the lungs, coughing and laboured breathing will be observed. Medication can be used to stabilise the heart and reduce the build up of fluid in the lungs, thus improving the dog’s quality of life.
Many dogs live for years with a low grade murmur and their chances of a longer life are definitely increased if they are continually kept at a slim, healthy, weight.
Syringomyelia is condition which can occur in Cavaliers (and other breeds). In recent months it has received a lot of world wide attention and publicity in the media and on the internet. Along with the facts, a lot of misinformation has been published and broadcast, and has caused a lot of unnecessary worry and panic amongst pet owners. This has been aggravated by the fact that many Vets have not had any previous experience with Syringomyelia and are also learning about it. Some reports are suggesting that the problem is very common in Cavaliers but breeders who have been closely involved with the breed for many years know that this is not so.
What is Syringomyelia?
Syringomyelia (SM) is an extremely serious condition in which fluid-filled cavities develop within the spinal cord near the brain. It occurs in humans as well as in dogs. In dogs affected with SM it is thought that a malformation in the back half of the skull may allow a small part of the brain to protrude through a hole, thus blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid down the spinal cord and causing the SM condition. It is believed to be an inherited condition.
The majority of dogs affected by SM will show symptoms between 6 months and 3 years of age but symptoms can develop at any age.
Symptoms of SM can vary widely but severe pain is the most important clinical sign. The first sign is often a hyper-sensitivity in the dog’s neck area, which gives it an uncontrollable urge to scratch excessively at or near its neck and shoulders. The dog may also seem to be overly sensitive to being touched around the head, neck and shoulders. Symptoms can progress until the dog experiences severe pain around its head, neck, and shoulders, causing it to yelp or scream.
In severe cases of SM a portion of the dog's spinal cord is destroyed, and the resulting pain may cause the affected dog to contort its neck and even sleep and eat only with its head held high. The dog's legs may become progressively weaker, making walking increasingly difficult.
Progression of the disease is variable. Not all dogs with SM have clinical signs and some may never show any signs, depending on the severity of the condition.
The only accurate way of diagnosing SM is through the use of magnetic resonance image (MRI) scanning. This is an extremely costly procedure and there are very few MRI scanners available for use with animals. An MRI image will allow a veterinary neurologist to study the spine and diagnose the presence of any abnormality which might obstruct the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid.
Treatment options for SM are very limited and they do not cure the problem. Drugs can help to reduce the pain and symptoms but they cannot reduce the deterioration, and long term use of many of these drugs is not advisable.
Surgery to allow the cerebrospinal fluid to flow normally may be necessary to reduce the pain and deterioration. However, such surgeries are expensive and technically difficult and they are not always successful. Following surgery many dogs still show signs of pain and others have a recurrence of the problem.
Scratching at the neck and shoulders and sensitivity in this area are also symptoms of other, more common ailments, including ear infections, ear mites and other ear problems, skin conditions and allergies, problems with the teeth, fleas, and spinal or disk problems.
If you have any concerns about your Cavalier please contact your Cavalier’s breeder or one of the club committee members.
Please note due to fact this condition can only be diagnosed via MRI that are not available in our area Canningville Cavaliers do not MRI scan for this condition. To date our lines have been clear and never had any known cases in the years we have been breeding. Cost of these test were $2,000 plus, they have reduce these recently to $1,000.
Episodic Falling Syndrome
While this set of symptoms may seem complicated, one veterinarian has told us that EFS looks like "nothing else".
EFS is an 'exercise-induced hypertonicity disorder' meaning that there is increased muscle tone and the muscles are unable to relax. Episodes will be in response to excitement, exercise, or frustration, except in severe cases. Then symptoms may be chronic or happen with no apparent cause.
Episodic Falling Syndrome displays itself as an array of symptoms so it is not easy to describe. Each dog will have it's own expression of the disorder. The frequency, type and/or severity of episodes may increase, decrease or change as the dog gets older. Therefore, there is no pattern to the progression of EFS.
If a Cavalier has one episode, however mild, then that dog should be assumed to be affected and a DNA test administered.
EFS events can range from momentary to very extended periods, depending on the dog and the degree of stress causing the symptoms. In a few rare cases, dogs have been unable to recover from an episode. A correct diagnosis is important to help alleviate the symptoms if possible. While symptoms usually arise by five months of age, first notable symptoms can occur at any age. EFS can occur in all colors and both sexes.
Your dog may be screened for other disorders by your veterinarian. Some symptoms may seem similar to those of Syringomyelia, a liver shunt, epileptic seizures or other disorders. However, if EFS is suspected the DNA test is a less expensive option compared to a neurological or other workup. Please see the contact page for a link to further information on Syringomyelia and epilepsy. "Fly catcher's syndrome" is not known to be related to EFS but may occur in an affected Cavalier.
Description of Symptoms
During episodes the dog is aware, conscious and is sometimes able to react to stimuli. There is no loss of bodily function.
Episodes may include one or any combination of the following:
* Freezing momentarily
* Freezing or walking with the head down and to one side.
* Stiffness in the back legs
* An apparent lack of coordination in the rear or front limbs
* A bunny-hopping gait
* Roached back with stiff back legs (may be a sign of back injury)
* Temporary loss of control in the hind legs
* Attempting to rise only to fall
* Rolling or somersaulting
* Laying on one side with the back legs extended, limbs may twitch
* Apparent 'spasm'
* Retraction of the front legs, sometimes over the head
* Tightening of the muscles around the mouth with an inability to open the jaws
* Eyes may appear to bulge as the muscles of the face contract.
* The 'deer stalker' position where the front legs contract and the rear legs stiffen (see the video of Penny)
* Chronic tenderness and stiffness may exsist in extreme cases.
After episodes, dogs with mild symptoms usually continue as if nothing has happened. If the episode is severe or lengthy, some panting may occur and the dog may rest and sleep. After severe episodes some puppies become frightened and take some time to calm down. Most get used to the events with age.
EFS does not seem to affect temperament.
Canningville Cavaliers have been DNA tested and clear of this condition.
Are you ‘loving” your Cavalier to an early death?
Although some Cavaliers are inclined to be fussy eaters, the majority of them are very greedy, and care must be taken to keep them from overeating and putting on too much weight. Whilst some Cavaliers are more active, have a higher metabolism and don’t seem to put on weight, others put on too much weight very quickly. Most adult Cavaliers only need about 180 to 220 grams (6 to 8 ounces) of food each day (including tidbits and treats). Others are very 'good doers' and need even less than this.
Obesity is a very serious problem. It affects overall health and well being and can lead to many health problems and medical conditions, some of which can be painful and expensive. Extra weight places a great deal of stress on the dog’s whole body. It significantly increases the work of the heart, compresses the internal organs with fat deposits, reduces the blood flow to the lungs, places undue strain and pressure on the joints, bones and ligaments, especially those in the legs and back, and greatly reduces the dog’s strength and stamina.
Dogs which are overweight are prone to diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, slipped discs, torn knee ligaments and luxating patellae, respiratory problems, heat intolerance and impaired liver function. Obesity is also a contributing factor in cancer, kidney disease, strokes and skin problems. Obese dogs are less active, tire more easily, may be uncomfortable, suffering pain and irritable, and die younger. Veterinarians agree that canine obesity is one of the most important health risks in dogs and does more to limit life expectancy than all other factors.
A lot of people ask me “How much should my dog weigh? This question is difficult to answer because the correct weight for one dog may be too much or too little for another dog. Even within a breed dogs vary in shape and size with some dogs being smaller with finer, lighter bones and others being larger and of a more solid build with thicker, heavier bones.
The quickest way to tell if your dog, small or large, young or old, is in good condition is to place your hand over the dog's back, fingers on one side, thumb on the other, and move it back and forth over the rib cage, applying only gently pressure. If you can just feel the dog's ribs, it is in good condition, but if you can't feel the dog's ribs it is overweight and you will need to immediately reduce the amount of food it is eating.
People have many excuses for fat dogs, including the old wives' tale that desexing 'makes' the dog fat! This is, of course, not true. A dog becomes overweight when it consumes more calories than it needs for its daily energy requirements. What is true however, is that desexing often occurs when the dog is reaching maturity and should be reducing its food intake. The owners forget to reduce the amount of food the dog is eating and consequently, it puts on weight. Mature dogs have a much lower metabolism than puppies.
We need to remember that dogs are not small humans and that they have some significant differences in their physiology. Wild canines have a digestive system designed and built to handle large amount of food at one time. When they make a kill they eat as much as they can, knowing that they might not eat again for a number of days. Our domesticated dogs still have this instinctive trait and will therefore eat as much as they can, whenever they can, and will beg for food at every opportunity. Being highly intelligent, our Cavaliers will also manipulate members of the family to give them more food and will act like they haven’t been fed for days, even if another family member fed them ten minutes ago.
We also need to remember that the food we are giving our dogs is much higher in calories and quality than much of the food they would have eaten in the wild and also that they are probably not getting anywhere near as much exercise as they would have in the wild. Remember too, that every kilogram your Cavalier puts on is the approximate equivalent of you putting on 10 to 12 kilograms.
A dog's needs change according to age, exercise and circumstances. Exercise, even a ten minute walk a day, is good of course, and if your Cavalier has lots of walks, plays ball in the back yard with the kids or is active in other ways, it will be able to eat more than a dog which is leading a quieter life. However, if you are not able to give your Cavalier a lot of exercise, this needn’t be a problem, - you just need to feed it less. Feed your Cavalier carefully, watch its weight, and remember, it is not just the main meal which adds calories, but also all those extra, high calorie tidbits and treats during the day!
Cavaliers put on weight very quickly, but take a long time to lose it, so it is much easier not let your Cavalier get too fat in the first place.
Luxating patella (or trick knee, subluxation of patella, floating patella, or floating kneecap) is a condition in which the patella, or kneecap, dislocates or moves out of its normal location. Patellar luxation is a common condition in dogs, particularly small and miniature breeds
In dogs, hip dysplasia is an abnormal formation of the hip socket that, in its more severe form, can eventually cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the joints. It is a genetic (polygenic) trait that is affected by environmental factors.
This is quite common in the Cavaliers that we have seen at Animal Eye Care. This condition may also be known as corneal dystrophy. Affected dogs are noted
to have developed small white opacities in the axial (central) cornea. These seem to develop in young dogs usually by 4 years of age. These small white
spots are usually only 2 to 3mm in diameter, and rarely get much larger than this. They do not affect vision, and don't go onto develop any clinical symptoms.
The white spots are actually composed of cholesterol. It is not associated with increased blood levels of cholesterol. This seems to be a polygenetic trait, but may be modified by environmental influences.
A cataract is an opacity of the lens. Cataracts are seen not uncommonly in this breed. Some may be inherited although there appear to be no definite ideas on the inheritance of the cataracts in the Cavalier breed. Any dog affected with cateracts should not be bred from. In severe cases cataracts can affect vision, and surgery is available for these cases.
Micro-ophthalmia - small eyes
This is a condition that has been seen in Cavaliers both here in Australia, and also overseas. Affected dogs are born with small eyes. These dogs usually aslso have cataracts - lens opacities, and abnormalities in the retina as well. Some of these dogs have vision, some are blind. Some dogs loose vision later on if the retina
Cavaliers are commonly affected with dry eye - keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Affected dogs may have thick, sticky, mucky discharge, or may have a history of recurring corneal ulcers and or conjunctivitis. Diagnosis is confirmed by doing a STT - Schirmer tear test. Early treatment with Cyclosporin (Optimmune eye ointment) is recommended, as
the best results are achieved when this medication is used early!
Oversized eyelid openings
As a breed Cavaliers have large eyelid openings. The eyelids are important in protecting the surface of the eyeball - the cornea. With large eyelid openings there is a greater risk of corneal ulcerations and or scarring developing. Clinically we see a lot of Cavaliers with corneal problems, and this is due to the oversized eyelid openings.
Extra Eyelashes - also called Distichia
Many cavaliers have extra eyelashes, fortunately these hairs are usually fine and do not cause any irritation to the cornea. If the hairs are larger, they can fall down and rub on the eyeball causing irritation, which may result in a watery eye, and in severe cases corneal scarring and ulceration. Often the eyelid hairs are not a problem until the dog develops a dry eye, or a corneal ulcer for other reasons. Then these fine hairs can really irritate the cornea, so these eyelashes may have been present for some time without being a problem, then all of a sudden they are a major problem. Extra eyelash surgery is only needed if the extra eyelashes are actually causing problems.
PRA - progressive retinal atrophy
This is an inherited disease that slowly causes total vision loss. Fortunately this condition seems to be rare in Cavaliers here in Australia. Affected dogs seem to present at between 4 to 6 years of age. The first signs of PRA can easily be overlooked as the dogs present with poor night vision. Affected dogs may be reluctant to go out at night unless a light is switched on, or may be noted to be bumping into things at night time. Slowly over 18 to 36 months these dogs with PRA end up loosing their day vision, and
usually at this stage they also develop cataracts secondary to the retinal disease.
Canningville Cavaliers have been specialist tested and clear of any eye defects. ACES certificates available to be shown on request.