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Often referred to as the English Toy Spaniel, the King Charles Spaniel is a small breed of dog that was created in 1903 when the Kennel Club reclassified four breeds under one title. The four breeds - the Prince Charles, the Blenheim, the King Charles and the Ruby all brought their own colourways to the one new breed, which is why the King Charles is accepted in four different colours.
Toy spaniels first appeared in the UK when they made their way here from Far Eastern countries as early as the 16th Century. They were made popular by King Charles II, although they were favoured by royalty in Tudor times. Examples of the breed were owned by Royalty across the globe but perhaps most famously by the British and Russian royals.
In the 20th Century breeders tried to restore the King Charles to its former 16th Century appearance as breeding with the Pug had led to a flatter face. The results of this 'restorative' breeding led to the now-extinct Toy Trawler Spaniel and far more successful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel - a larger dog with a flatter head and a longer nose that is still popular as a pet today.
The ancestors of the KCS were used for hunting, but the King Charles was not suited to the task due to its size - these animals are happiest as lap dogs.
Experts suggest that the predecessors of the modern KCS originated in Japan and were possibly the Pekingese and the Japanese Chin. These pretty little dogs were given as gifts to European royals and nobility and so began the craze for keeping toy dogs.
Early examples of the red and white variety have appeared in Renaissance art and the earliest evidence of a small spaniel in the UK is one that's included in a painting of King Philip II of Spain and Queen Mary I of England. Mary, Queen of Scots was also said to be fond of toy spaniels, which indicates these dogs were popular long before King Charles II showed a preference for the breed.
It is entirely fair to say though, that King Charles was responsible for the huge surge in popularity of these toy spaniel breeds and in his diary Samuel Pepys explains how these dogs were allowed to roam freely around the palace at Whitehall and complained bitterly that the King would rather play with his dogs that attend to his duties.
Toy spaniels remained popular in Britain through the reign of James II and Queen Anne, and when the Pug was introduced to the country during the reign of William and Mary, the breed underwent a transformation as the flatter face came into vogue.
It was very fashionable for ladies to carry toy spaniels when about town and the popularity of these breeds has remained undiminished since they made their first appearance in England back in Tudor times.
Average height to withers: 9" - 11"
Average weight: 3.6kg - 6.4kg
The KCS has big brown eyes, a domed skull and a flattened nose. They also have a distinctive black line around the mouth. Traditionally the tail is docked and the breed displays long ears that are typical of spaniel breeds.
The KCS is accepted in four colours - ruby (solid red), Blenheim (red and white), King Charles (black and tan) and Prince Charles (tri-colour). The King Charles examples are usually black, with tan markings on the chest, and legs, on the underside of the tail and on the face.
Often mistaken of the Cavalier King Charles there are marked differences- notably the size. While a Cavie can reach up to 18lbs in weight, the KCS does not usually exceed 14lbs. Their faces are also different, with the KCS having a flatter nose and low-set ears.
These spaniels are renowned for being friendly and affectionate and make the perfect lap dog. While they have retained a hunting instinct, their energy levels are generally low and so they make great companions for older people or those with young children - although they will not put up with rough handling!
The KCS prefers company will not appreciate being left along for extended periods and their quiet nature makes them suitable for smaller houses and flats. Its stable personality makes it an ideal therapy dog and it is also able to tolerate other pets well, although care should be taken when introducing small animals as the KCS does have his origins in the field!
Unfortunately has the King Charles Spaniel has been the product of lots of cross breeding and as a result can suffer with a number of health problems that any potential owner should be aware of before taking one home.
Eye conditions such as cataracts, distichia and corneal dystrophy, as well as entropion and keratitis can all present in the breed, while heart problems affecting certain lines include mitral heart disease - where the mitral valve disintegrates and blood flows back into the heart chambers - can lead to congestive heart failure. Patent ductus arteriosus allows blood to flow from the heart and enter the lungs can also cause heart failure.
Anaesthesia can also be problematic for these animals as extra tissue down the throat can become relaxed during anaesthesia and obstruct the animal's airways. These obstructions in the airways can also interfere with exercise and make the KCS susceptible to heat stroke.
An open fontanelle in dogs over one year can lead to hydrocephalus which could mean that euthanasia is the only option, while diabetes myelitis and luxating patella are also present in the breed.
The KCS has a fine, silky coat that will require regular combing to make sure it stays tangle free, while dental and ear health should also be monitored regularly and a cleansing routine for ears should be established early in life. The KCS's droopy ears mean it can develop infections easily - regular attention and cleaning should help keep any issues at bay.
This spaniel does not require lots of exercise, although it should be walked regularly as it can become overweight if not given the opportunity to be active. As a reasonably intelligent dog, the King Charles Spaniel excels at obedience training and again, this should be started when the dog is young and continued throughout its life.
The King Charles Spaniel is a true family dog and loves nothing more than settling down with its people and enjoying a snooze and a cuddle - they are a great dog to have around children and are perfect for those who are happy to provide endless fuss and affection liberally scattered with regular walks.