"Cavalier King Charles spaniel hereditary health and longevity
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"Cavalier King Charles spaniel hereditary health and longevity

Dogs
Health & Safety

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or “Cavvie” is one of the most popular dog breeds in the UK, and is one that is classed as a toy dog by the UK Kennel Club. They stand up to 13” tall at the withers, and can weigh up to 8.2kg, with males usually being slightly larger than females. The breed’s coat is smooth and silky, and can be seen in four colour variants, being Blenheim, Ruby, tricolour, and black and tan.

They are closely related to the similarly named King Charles spaniel, and up until the early 20th century, the two breeds were considered to be one and the same. The Cavalier variant became a breed in its own right due to efforts by breeders to recreate the historical appearance and conformation of the King Charles spaniel breed, leading to a smaller build and notably smaller head and flatter muzzle than the dogs that were considered to be good examples of the King Charles breed at the time. However, this type of selective breeding has led to a range of health and conformation problems within the Cavalier King Charles spaniel breed, and as a result of this, dogs of the breed are at risk of inheriting a reasonably wide range of health defects.

If you are considering buying or adopting a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, it is of course vitally important to appraise yourself of the various health conditions and hereditary problems that some dogs of the breed possess. In this article, we will look at the average longevity, hereditary health and conformation of the breed in more detail. Read on to learn more.

Average longevity

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel’s average lifespan ranges from 9-14 years, and such variation is present due to the various hereditary defects and problems that are relatively prevalent across the breed. Breed lines that are afflicted with serious hereditary health problems are unlikely to produce dogs that live towards the higher end of the scale, while dogs in good health and without a significant amount of defects will commonly live for 12-14 years in good health.

Conformation flaws within the breed

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel breed is one whose shape and appearance has been created by means of selective breeding, and this has created a fairly diverse range of potential problems for dogs of the breed, particularly those that show exaggerated appearance traits.

  • The length of the ears of the Cavvie means that they are prone to picking up dirt and debris, which can work their way into the ear canal and cause irritations and infections.
  • Particularly short-muzzled dogs may suffer from brachycephalic syndrome, which causes problems maintaining a cool enough body temperature, and being able to inhale enough air.
  • The shape and size of the head means that the skull is potentially too small to comfortably accommodate the brain, leading to head malformation and the development of syringomyelia, an incredibly painful neurological disorder.
  • A pronounced overbite and problems with the teeth may also lead to problems.
  • The convex, protruding eyes of the breed place them at potential risk of simple eye injuries.
  • The shape of the head itself can cause the eustachian tubes of the ears to be shorter than normal, causing obstructions of the inner ear that may result in partial deafness and generalised discomfort.

Genetic diversity and breed-specific health testing

The coefficient of inbreeding statistical average for the breed is 5.5%, which is considered to be a reasonably low figure for a pedigree dog breed.

Due to the high occurrence rate of hereditary health problems within the breed as a whole, the British Veterinary Association manages various breed-specific health schemes for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and advises that breeders of the Cavvie test their breed lines for several common hereditary conditions. These include:

  • Testing for hereditary cataracts, and multifocal retinal dysplasia. Both potential parent dogs should test clear for a propensity to these conditions to be considered viable for breeding.
  • Hip dysplasia, with the breed’s mean hip score being 15.7. Potential parent dogs should receive a hip score below this to be considered as good breeding stock.
  • Syringomyelia is perhaps the best-known and most serious hereditary health problem within the Cavalier King Charles spaniel breed pool as a whole, and is a condition that causes the rear section of the brain to be compacted against the skull, leading to a blockage of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and pockets of spinal fluid to develop on the spinal cord.

This condition is both disabling and incredibly painful for dogs of the breed, and causes them to be afflicted by a permanent severe headache as well as other symptoms. Potential Cavalier King Charles spaniel buyers are strongly advised to ensure that they only consider buying dogs from breeders who are enrolled in the BVA/Kennel Club testing scheme for syringomyelia, to ensure that their dogs live a life free of pain and disability.

  • DNA testing is also possible for dry eye, a condition that causes the tear ducts of the eyes to fail to produce sufficient lubrication, leading to painfully dry, irritated eyes. Episodic falling syndrome or EFS, can also be tested for prior to breeding.
  • Responsible Cavalier King Charles spaniel breeders and breed organisations also organise health testing for mitral valve disease, which occurs at a markedly high rate within the breed as a whole. Up to 50% of dogs of the breed will develop a heart murmur prior to the age of five, and this condition is one that causes a significant amount of premature deaths in the breed.

Other health conditions identified within the breed

As well as the testable hereditary problems listed above, there are also a significant number of other hereditary conditions known to occur within Cavalier King Charles spaniels, but for which no current pre-breeding tests exist. Some of the most common of these are:

  • Atopy
  • Hereditary deafness and ear defects
  • Patellar luxation
  • Epilepsy
  • Pancreatitis
  • Anal gland impaction
  • Kidney disease
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Obsessive compulsive behaviours
  • Stomatitis
  • Masticatory myositis
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