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Home > Dogs > 6 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Health Issues to Watch For

6 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Health Issues to Watch For

English cocker spaniel checking the ear by vet

Although it was once a favorite of English royalty, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is now among the most popular dog breeds in the world. With an affectionate nature and unique appearance, it’s easy to see how these gentle pups are so hard to resist. Like many popular breeds, the Cavalier King Charles is prone to some medical conditions.

Before you let one of these dogs steal your heart, check out this article to learn about six Cavalier King Charles Spaniel health issues to watch for.


Top 6 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Health Issues

1. Mitral Valve Disease

Type of health problem: Heart
Treatment: Medications

Mitral valve disease (MVD) is a common heart problem and is especially troublesome in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. With MVD, the valve between the upper and lower chambers on the left side of the dog’s heart begins to fail.

Typically, this valve keeps blood flowing in one direction, out of the heart and into the body. When it fails, blood can reverse back into the heart, reducing its ability to function. While MVD can occur in any dog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are prone to developing especially severe cases, often at young ages.

Dogs with this issue shouldn’t be bred. Often, the first sign of MVD is your vet hearing a heart murmur or abnormal heart sound during your dog’s yearly exam. An echocardiogram, or heart ultrasound, will be needed to confirm a diagnosis. Mitral valve disease can’t be cured but can usually be managed with medications.

vet in white labcoat examining spaniel puppy at his office
Image by: Nestor Rizhniak, Shutterstock

2. Syringomyelia

Type of health problem: Spinal/Nervous system
Treatment: Medications, sometimes surgery

Syringomyelia, an unusual build-up of fluid sacs around the dog’s spine, is also called “neck scratcher’s disease” after the most common symptom it causes. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are one of several breeds that may inherit this condition.

The issue is generally related to a problem called Chiari malformation, where the dog’s underdeveloped skull cannot contain all of the brain. When the brainstem extends outside the bottom of the skull, spinal fluid flow may be obstructed, causing syringomyelia.

Besides pain and scratching at the neck, a Cavalier with this condition may shake their head frequently, have trouble walking, or even have seizures.

If your vet suspects this condition, they may send you to a dog spine and brain specialist for an MRI. Treatment involves giving medication for pain control and sometimes surgery, although the procedure is complicated.

3. Luxating Patella

Type of health problem: Bone/joint
Treatment: Medications, surgery

Luxating patellas, or sliding kneecaps, are one of the most encountered joint issues of small breed dogs and Cavaliers are no exception. This condition occurs when the dog’s kneecaps don’t fit properly in their groove and slip in and out randomly.

It is an inherited condition, and dogs diagnosed with it shouldn’t be bred. Symptoms include limping and “hopping” on the hind legs. Depending on how bad the Cavalier’s knees are, they may require surgery to correct the condition. Mild cases may be managed with pain medications and joint supplements.

cavalier king charles spaniel puppy at veterinary
Image by: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

4. Hip Dysplasia

Type of health problem: Bone/joint
Treatment: Medications, surgery

Hip dysplasia is another inherited joint problem, most often seen in large breed dogs, which can also impact the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. In this condition, the dog’s hip bone doesn’t develop correctly, resulting in a loose joint. Over time, the dog will develop arthritis in this location.

Depending on how severe the hip dysplasia is, you may not notice any signs until arthritis starts, when the dog may begin limping and have trouble getting up after resting. Severe cases may require surgery to correct, while milder hip dysplasia can usually be managed with joint supplements and pain medications.

5. Retinal Dysplasia

Type of health problem: Eye
Treatment: None

Retinal dysplasia is the incorrect development of the retina: the part of the eye that captures light and is responsible for a dog’s vision. Dogs with this condition often have folds or lesions on their retina. In purebred dogs like the Cavalier, this is generally an inherited condition with no visible symptoms.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are prone to developing severe forms of this condition, which can eventually lead to the entire retina detaching from the eye, causing the dog to go blind. There is no cure for this condition, and it is typically only discovered if a potential breeding dog has a special eye exam to check for it. Cavaliers with retinal dysplasia should not be bred.

veterinarian taking cavalier king charles puppy's swab
Image by: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

6. Middle Ear Infection

Type of health problem: Ear
Treatment: Cleaning, medications, occasionally surgery

This is the only health issue on our list that isn’t technically inherited, although dogs with floppy ears, like the Cavalier, are more prone to getting ear infections in general. While most ear infections involve the outer portion of the dog’s ear, they can cause a hole or rupture in the eardrum, allowing bacteria into the delicate middle ear.

Symptoms include thick ear discharge, sudden hearing loss, head tilt, pain, and redness. Sometimes the infection reaches into the inner ear, causing symptoms like vertigo in people. Infected middle ears can be much harder to treat, often requiring medications by mouth as well as in the ear itself. In some cases, the Cavalier may even need surgery.divider-paw

Choosing a Healthy King Charles Cavalier Puppy

vet examining ears of a spaniel puppy
Image by: Nestor Rizhniak, Shutterstock

Because most of the health issues on our list are inherited, finding a healthy puppy requires carefully researching potential breeders.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club in America maintains a list of recommended screening tests that all dogs being considered for breeding should undergo:

  • Yearly check for a heart murmur
  • Regular eye checks for retinal dysplasia and other conditions
  • X-rays to check for hip dysplasia
  • Vet check or x-rays to look for luxating patellas

To be extremely thorough, the club also suggests that breeding dogs have an MRI to look for Chiari malformation and genetic testing for any other inherited conditions.

When considering a breeder, ask to see the documentation that all the recommended screening tests have been performed on their dogs. Also, ask whether they provide a health guarantee for new puppies. As hard as it may be, try to resist buying a puppy from a breeder who avoids your questions or doesn’t perform the health tests.\



As careful as you may be choosing a breeder, avoiding all health issues in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels is not always possible. Because of this, it’s vital to keep up with all your dog’s preventative care and regular physical exams to catch potential problems early. Not every Cavalier will develop one or more of these health issues, but for those that do, you’ll want to start treatment as quickly as possible.

Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

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