Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club of NSW

Affiliated with Dogs NSW



General – The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club of NSW Inc aims to provide up to date  information on health issues for all Cavalier owners and potential owners .

As with most breeds of dogs, there are some health concerns within the breed. It is possible to use DNA testing to screen for some of these conditions but DNA tests are not available for the major health concerns at this time. A great deal of research is being done internationally to investigate the causes.

There are two main health concerns for Cavaliers;   MVD or Mitral Valve Disease which affects the heart and CM/SM or Syringomyelia -  a neurological problem.  Both these conditions are progressive meaning that dogs may only develop the problem or symptoms, if any, later in life.  It should be stressed that not all Cavaliers will be affected by either of these conditions.  The vast majority of Cavaliers are generally  happy and healthy  dogs, many leading long and happy lives, living well into their “teens”.


Mitral Valve Disease is an inherited condition but at present, the mode of inheritance is unknown. MVD can be a normal part of the ageing process in both humans and animals. However a percentage of Cavaliers will develop this condition at an earlier age than would be considered acceptable, developing heart murmurs as the valve works less efficiently to pump blood around the heart.  Some dogs develop a low grade murmur in middle age which may never progress. Others may develop a murmur later in life and still go on to live an average lifespan of around 12 years.  In a small percentage of Cavaliers, the heart condition will shorten their lifespan. The condition is tested by listening with a stethoscope and the murmur graded on a scale from I to 6.   It is also possible to use ultrasound to diagnose the extent of the problem.   Caring breeders test their dogs regularly and try to use dogs with long lived ancestors.

Drug therapies are available which can help maintain a good quality of life well into old age, even in dogs with significant heart murmurs.

The Cavalier Club of NSW arranges regular heart clinics for breeders to have their dogs tested by veterinary cardiologist specialists who issue certificates with results of the examination noted.  Dates of clinics will be notified on the Home Page.



CM/SM is a neurological condition, (similar to Arnold Chiari syndrome in humans) which has only been recognised and named within the last 15 years. Syringomyelia  is an inherited condition but at present, the mode of inheritance is not known but is thought to be of a complex, polygenetic nature. A great deal of research is being carried out internationally trying to find the genes responsible, supported by donations from Cavalier breeders and Cavalier Clubs worldwide.

Chiari-like malformation (CM) is characterised by a mismatch in size between the brain and the skull. The opening from the skull to the spine may be partially blocked and may alter the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) around the spinal cord. As a result, fluid filled cavities called syrinxes can develop within the spinal cord, with the condition being called syringomyelia (SM).

Cavaliers may have a syrinx and never display symptoms.  The only accurate way of diagnosing a dog’s condition if it does not have any symptoms is by MRI scan which requires a general anaesthetic.  This is an expensive procedure and MRI scanning to screen breeding dogs is not available in all parts of Australia. Where MRI scanning is available, a growing number of breeders now have their dogs scanned for the presence of SM at days organised several times during the year by a specialist neurologist vet. Dogs should be scanned when mature or before being used for breeding. This gives the breeder information that will assist in planning suitable matings.

CM/SM has been shown to be inherited in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Griffon Bruxellois and is suspected to be inherited in the King Charles Spaniel. Other breeds reported with the condition include, among others, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, Papillons, Pomeranians, Affenpinschers, Havanese, Boston Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers

Although some dogs with a mild CM/SM can seem completely normal, other dogs experience  pain and may be unable or unwilling to exercise and may have increased sensitivity to touch especially around the head, neck, shoulders and sternum (breast bone). Severe cases may display a characteristic shoulder, neck and/or head scratching where they ‘air-scratch’ without making contact with the body. Some dogs show neurological signs such as lack of co ordination and weakness.

NB  - Scratching at the neck and shoulders and sensitivity in this area are also symptoms of other, more common ailments including ear infections, ear mites, skin conditions and allergies, fleas and other spinal or disc problems which should be fully investigated before assuming the symptoms are those of SM.

For affected dogs, drug treatments are available which may assist in improving the dog’s quality of life.

 The  complex nature of this condition makes the breeders task a difficult one but  recent research in the UK has shown that breeding together dogs free of SM and especially those dogs scanned free of SM at older ages, produces the best results in the next generation and reduces the risks of breeding affected dogs.

MRI scanning to screen for SM in non symptomatic breeding dogs is available in Sydney – for further information contact the booking co-ordinator Janine Gilroy Tel: 02 4683 3503 or Dogs which display symptoms need to be referred by their local veterinary practice to a veterinary neurologist specialist for accurate diagnosis and treatment.  


This is an extremely rare condition, so rare that most breeders have never seen this.  Dry eye and curly coat, known scientifically as congenital keratoconjunctivitis sicca and ichthyosiform dermatosis, affects a dog’s eyes and skin.    In the rare instances of dogs surviving beyond birth, affected dogs produce no tears making their eyes incredibly sore. Their skin becomes very flaky and dry, particularly around the foot, and this can make standing and walking difficult and painful. By identifying the genetic mutations responsible for causing this condition, the Animal HealthTrust UK   has been able to develop a DNA test to identify carriers. . Two “clear” dogs mated together, or a “clear” and a “carrier” mated together cannot produce an affected dog.  So theoretically a breeder would be able to eliminate this syndrome from their bloodlines within one or two generations.



Episodic falling is a relatively rare neurological condition, induced by exercise, excitement or frustration, in which muscle tone increases. This means the dog is unable to relax its muscles, becomes rigid and falls over, recovering a few minutes   later with no apparent after effects. Affected dogs usually start to demonstrate clinical signs before one year of age, with most cases having their first episode aged four to seven months.

. By identifying the genetic mutations responsible for causing this condition, the Animal Health Trust UK has been able to develop a DNA test to identify carriers.

. Two “clear” dogs mated together, or a “clear” and a “carrier” mated together cannot produce an affected dog.  So theoretically a breeder would be able to eliminate this syndrome from their bloodlines within one or two generations.


DNA tests for these two conditions are available for Cavalier breeders in Australia  from the Animal Health Trust UK DNA testing page -

Testing kits can be ordered and sent to Australia, the dog’s swabs kits are then posted back to the UK and the results sent to the dog’s owner. Time taken is usually between 2-3 weeks.



The CKCSC of NSW conducts Eye Clinics each year, at which Cavaliers owners can get their dogs eyes examined by veterinary ophthalmic specialists.


Multi-focal Retinal Dysplasia (MRD) is congenital in origin and can be diagnosed on opthalmoscopic examination in puppies from around 5 weeks of age onwards. The condition can vary greatly with a few folds or rosettes on the retina being the commonest finding but on occasion retinal detachments and even haemorrhage may be seen. Lesions are normally found in both eyes. The effects on vision are variable depending on the extent of the abnormality present. A few folds can be counted as a minor defect for a pet owner not wishing to breed. Severe MRD with retinal detachment should be of concern. The condition is believed to be inherited by recessive mode.

Hereditary CATARACTS may be seen in dogs as young as 6/9 months but may not be apparent until the dog is several years old. Progression of the cataract over time to involve the majority of the lens can cause vision impairment. The mode of inheritance is unknown.

DRY EYE caused by lack of tear production may be seen occasionally as a congenital (present at birth) condition but more normally develops in adulthood and can also be an auto immune condition.


The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club of NSW encourages health testing by its members, organises health  clinics during the year to enable breeders to get their breeding stock  tested on a regular basis and invites veterinary specialists to club meetings to give presentations on all health aspects of breeding  Cavaliers.

Dates of clinics will be notified on the Club’s homepage.


Information on this page has been compiled from a number of web sites including the British Veterinary Association and the Animal Health Trust UK.  This page will be updated a further information becomes available.



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