Health Issues in Cavaliers

Health Issues in Cavaliers

Health Issues in the cavalier Breed range from health concerns common to all dogs, vaccination, feeding, teeth, to severe problems that conscientious breeders are striving to eliminate from the breed.

The following article is from

The majority of problems seen in the Cavalier are common to toy dogs in general. Among the most common problems are early-onset heart murmurs, eye problems such as retinal dysplasia and cataracts, and luxating patellas (slipping knees). A small percentage of cavaliers will also develop orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia, but since they are a small dog, it is not the catastrophe that it would be in a larger breed. About 2% of all dogs, all breeds, will develop epilepsy. A newly-recognized problem in toy dogs is syringomyelia or caudal occipital malformation syndrome, a crowding of the back portion of the brain that can lead to spinal problems. Reputable breeders attempt to breed from stock free of major health defects, in hopes that their progeny will have a better chance at a healthy life. Puppies purchased from pet shops seem to have more problems than puppies purchased from reputable breeders. Cavaliers should benefit from evaluations by veterinary specialists such as cardiologists, ophthalmologists, neurologists and reproductive specialists in an ongoing effort to improve the overall health of the cavalier.

Mitral Valve Disease:

The Achilles heel of the cavalier is Mitral Valve Disease. The mitral valve problem is caused by endocardiosis, polysaccharide deposits in the valve leaflets. Although these deposits are common in toy dogs, the problem seems to present earlier in the cavalier than some of the other toy breeds. The deposits distort the valve, allowing it to leak, and some cavaliers in their golden years require heart medication to help them cope with the extra workload on the heart. A rule of thumb is that 50% of cavaliers will develop at least a very mild heart murmur by the age of five or six, and over 90% will have a murmur by the age of ten. Cavaliers can still lead perfectly normal lives for years after developing the murmur, and many are never affected at all by the disease. If they are affected, it is usually very late in life and can be treated to some degree with medication. The main thing to keep in mind when looking for a pet for yourself, is that this problem must be tested for by breeders, and that any breeder that says they do not have this problem in their bloodline is either not telling you the truth, or is not educated in the disease. Mitral Valve Disease is in ALL bloodlines of Cavaliers, but with proper testing and knowledge on genetic inheritance, breeders can produce very healthy dogs that live normal lives. Much progress has been made in the last two decades to prolong the life span of the Cavalier. Cavalier breeders should use the information from the evaluation of cardiologists to help to make breeding decisions in hopes of delaying the onset of endocardiosis in future generations. For those cavaliers that do develop mitral valve disease, careful monitoring and medical intervention often allows them to lead normal lives for many years.

Eye Problems:

While debilitating eye problems are not common, breeders usually have their Cavaliers seen by board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists on a regular basis to screen for the possibility of hereditary eye disease such as retinal dysplasia, detachment, and cataracts. Breeders occasionally come up with eye problems but are usually careful not to use Cavaliers with debilitating eye defects in breeding programs.

Orthopedic Problems:

Because their bones are small, many toy breeds are sometimes troubled by luxating patellas. This simply means that the anatomy of a toy breed dog occasionally allows the knee cap to slip out of its groove in which it normally rides. While luxating patellas do not often hinder the dog's movement, it is not uncommon for toy dogs to receive surgical correction of the problem. The other orthopedic problem that occurs in a small percentage of Cavaliers is hip dysplasia. This is a condition where the hip sockets are too shallow for the head of the leg bone. Although Cavaliers are usually not troubled by this condition because of their small size, bone deformity can cause pain in severe cases. Breeders usually evaluate breeding stock for orthopedic problems and use that information to make breeding decisions that will hopefully minimize orthopedic problems.

Syringomyelia or SM:

A newly-recognized and perplexing problem for cavalier breeders around the world is that of syringomyelia (SM), sometimes called syringohydromyelia, or caudal occipital malformation syndrome (COMS). This condition is similar to one found in humans called Arnold-Chiari malformation. In layman's terms, the bottom half of the skull develops in such a way as to crowd the cerebellum of the brain, impeding the path of cerebrospinal fluid movement around the brain and spinal cord. The increased pressure and pooling of cerebrospinal fluid may cause irritation and damage to the spinal cord, resulting in symptoms of neck scratching, headache, and in rare cases, paralysis. One of our breeders, Rattlebridge, in cooperation with The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, has taken a leading role in the research of this international breed crisis networking with neurologists all over the world and participating in an ongoing cooperative effort with a leading researcher of the condition, Dr. Clare Rusbridge (United Kingdom). No line is safe from developing syringomyelia. Unless and until the gene marker(s) for this disease are identified, toy dogs will continue to be affected. It is hoped that cavalier breeders will be honest in sharing their knowledge of affected dogs. As Dr. George Padgett, authority on canine genetic disease, has said, "We need to quit whispering about defects, and gossiping about defects, and instead set up a sound program that allows the standard selection procedures to go on so that we breed good dogs and avoid major defects." While only a small percentage of cavaliers ever develop symptoms of SM, it is our hope that someday we may be able to completely eradicate the problem.

Flycatcher's Syndrome:

Occasionally a Cavalier will experience a disorder called Flycatcher's Syndrome in which the Cavalier repetitively bites or snaps at the air around his head trying to get a fly. Flycatchers is thought to be a form of epilepsy and may also be a compulsive- obsessive disorder. It may be seen more frequently in the Cavalier than in other breeds. If the condition is severe, medical intervention may be warranted.

Low Platelet Count in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel-not a problem:

Cavaliers sometimes have a lower platelet count in their blood count which worries some veterinarians who do not know that this is normal in a Cavalier. Cavaliers may have a lower platelet count, but they also have larger platelets. The platelets must be hand counted to get an accurate reading.

Mitral Valve Disease (MVD)  There are several diseases that affect the mitral valve, but the most common one with Cavaliers is degeneration of the mitral valve (the leaflets or cusps 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 occur some symptoms such as coughing, exercise intolerance, retaining fluid, etc.

With severe mitral regurgitation not only is there significant increase in the left side of the heart, but it is frequently accompanied by varying degrees of congestive heart failure.

It is very important that the parents of the puppy you are looking at were checked by a Cardiologist because mitral regurgitation occurs with such velocity that it produces turbulence, which is detected as a systolic murmur which is heard between the first and second heart sounds.  Most vets are not trained to hear a systolic murmur, but the Cardiologist specialize in this area.

Almost all dogs have MVD in their later years of life, but with Cavaliers the onset of MVD is in the early years.  So many breeders are not taking their breeding dogs to the Cardiologist for proper testing before they breed and this condition has gotten worse over years therefore affecting some Cavaliers before their 2nd birthday.  A Reputable Breeder will have their breeding dogs Certified by a Cardiologist and this will accompany the puppy to their new home.  If the breeder you are speaking with does not have a certification on the puppy's parents, most likely they do not test for this.

There have been extensive studies throughout the states, Canada and United Kingdom and approximately 80% of Cavaliers have MVD before they are 8 years old.

Retinal Dysplasia 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.

Entropion is where the eyelid folds abnormally and the lashes turn in on the eye and irritate the eye.  The  lower lid is most often the problem.  This can be treated surgically and if left untreated the vision can be threatened and it can lead to corneal ulceration.  Entropion could be hereditary.

Canine Hip Dysplasia (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 it 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.

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 that moves out of the groove in the femur.

What causes this to occur is the muscles of the thigh attach 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.

Home    Our Dogs    Puppies    About Us   Cav Faqs   Contact Us    Site Map
"Copyright 1999-2013 Sushine Cavaliers"