Cavalier Health

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Cavalier Health

breeding better pedigree dogs for the future of the breed and conformation showing 

First and foremost I would like to say, that there are some beautiful dogs in this country thanks to breeders who have dedicated their life to the breed. Puppy sales assists a breeder to pay for their dogs expenses and improvement of their breeding program. This is why it is so important to do the research before you buy your puppy. By purchasing a puppy you're supporting that breeder and their breeding program. I spend a lot of time talking to breeders, vets and vet specialists in their chosen field about the health issues in the cavalier and make informed decisions in my breeding program from them. Whilst health testing is important for ethical reasons, it is not a guarantee that your puppy won't develop a hereditary disease down the track. However, routinely checked dogs over generations do prove that health screening does work. The standard accepted health tests for cavaliers are eyes, heart and DNA for curly coat dry eye and episodic falling  Also, some breeders do also screen for Syringomyelia via MRI, hip and patella score. I heart screen yearly by our cardiologist for mitral valve disease and other heart conditions  whilst less common there are other hereditary cardiac conditions in the breed such a pulmonic valve stenosis. This is why yearly cardiac monitoring is so important. My dogs are also eye screened by ophthalmologist until late in life  I have also commenced a breeding program for Syringomyelia, screening and bringing dogs into my breeding program that were screened late in life. Alone the health results of young dogs do not mean very much. The importance lies in the generational screening of dogs into older age. 

The Australian context of breeding pedigree dogs is heavily influenced by what new bloodlines can be brought into Australia and the rules that must be followed when importing a dog or frozen semen. This is not a process I am very experienced in but know from more experienced breeders how lengthy and costly this process is. Genetic diversity in this country is especially important because we do not have as many neighbouring countries to import from. In fact, most of our neighbours rely on dogs already in Australia. So what does one do when they're faced with many different hereditary conditions? The difficulty with importing new bloodlines to Australia heavily impacts on our genetic diversity which includes turn impacts on the health of the breed. Good breeders will often discuss the most commonly known diseases amongst one another. Good breeders look at the health and how they can work to improve it in their breeding program. Some breeders maybe struggling with one issue, whilst another breeder may have no concerns in that area of health and they may work together to help one another. Everyone will have their own ethical code with which they base their breeding decisions on. This means, what I see or have experienced as important to me, maybe different for someone else. Breeders have to weight up the various conditions and what they deem as most damaging to continue in the breed and in their breeding program. In the Australian context!

The Australian context of breeding dogs has changed dramatically. The family pet cannot have a litter without government approval by the application requirements of a BIN. Everyone can now quote themselves as a "registered breeder" confusing the general public even further in their attempt to find an ethical breeder. Council laws prohibit certain number of dogs on a property in a shire. The small breeder with a dog excess permit (to legally keep extra dogs without the need to fit the criteria and cost of a kennel license) generally has to live beyond a certain area and still manage a life for themselves, their family and their dogs, while trying to keep their dogs in a suitable living environment and pay for all breeding and keep costs. Breeding dogs certainly limits a breeder in every area of their life but it it is important to say that most hobbies have some sort of restriction and the positives definitely outweigh the limitations. For me personally the dogs have helped me in times of stress, isolation and help to have some structure in my life. Breeders are often blamed by animal groups, governments and misinformed media for the ill health in a breed. One of the ongoing issues raised is inbreeding (or lack of genetic diversity). How are breeders supposed to raise dogs and puppies in the home and maintain genetic diversity when many councils make it impossible to do so? It may come as a surprise that there are breeders who actually work to pay for their breeding program. Those well established breeders that may be retired can at least breed in a way for their breeding program to pay for itself. However still maybe limited in their ability to improve genetic diversity. This still does not address the issue of councils limiting dog numbers and therefore limiting the gene pool. Laws change slowly but over time there is a sense from the breeding community that breeding dogs will be completely out lawed. Imagine your grown up son or daughter unable to purchase a pedigree dog for their family? Imagine a life without man's best friend? The changes are ever so slight but over time the aim appears to be to stop all breeding of companion animals, regardless of the reason, way of practice (hobby vs profit) and the numbers. Indeed the government has made changes to decrease numbers in official kennels and this is a good thing where profit is the main purpose of breeding dogs. Those dogs are often neglected, health testing is not a priority and do not get the opportunity to live a normal life. Preservation and hobby breeders are an aging population who are trying to encourage responsible young breeders to continue their lifetime of work. It takes a lifetime time to achieve what responsible breeders set out to do. THIS impacts the health of our pedigree dogs! I did say this is a very different twist on the health of the CKCS .... It is a world wide problem! We are all responsible for what laws go through in government.

There are no enforced tests that breeders must complete prior to breeding cavaliers here in Australia. ANKC dogs do have to be healthy prior to breeding and there are rules by which we must follow. Having a pedigree does helpANKC breeders but be mindful that even backyard breeders can do testing including the DNA of their breed. A test through Orivet can give me the exact percentage of my breed. ANKC breeders would have dogs that are 100% their chosen breed. So my dogs would come back as 100% cavalier king charles spaniel. It is important for new cavalier owners to be informed about the most common diseases, what to ask a breeder when they approach them for a puppy or an older dog, why they are asking those questions and what the answers mean. You decide who you support financially by purchasing a puppy from that breeder. Some conditions can be prevented by DNA and these are the easiest to prevent. Meanwhile other diseases such as mitral valve disease and Syringomyelia cannot be DNA tested for. These conditions can only be diagnosed and tested for by specialist vets. Sometimes the dog might show symptoms of a specific disease but often the symptoms do not exist until the condition is severe. The conditions don't always develop with severe signs and symptoms, in fact they maybe asymptomatic but still have the disease. Syringomyelia is the best example of this. A general vet may not pick up a murmur and it is always best to see a cardiologist yearly. To diagnose Syringomyelia is very expensive as it is done by MRI. Many breeders do not have that specialist service available to them. Experienced breeders will often say how unpredictable some of these conditions can be. They can skip generations. 

In summary, the CKCS is a popular breed in Australia that has hereditary health issues that an owner needs to be aware of.  There are DNA tests that can rule out certain diseases but some cannot be tested for genetically as there are no DNA markers. Whilst it is important for breeders to test, it is also important that the genetic diversity is not lost in Australia. Due to the difficulties and cost with importing new lines to Australia, breeders sometimes have to weight up problems in their breeding program if they arise. Some breeders have difficulty attending a specialist. In the end it is only my own decision, to keep cavaliers as my pets I would prefer to have the breed to work with as is, than not to have a cavalier at all. To some degree, the pet owner needs to accept this and source ethical breeders to purchase a puppy from, even if it may mean there is a wait period. 

Finally, a note on puppy farming. Please do familiarise yourself with the terms puppy farming or puppy mills before you go any further. You as the consumer support the breeder to continue their program. If I cannot view the mother and the environment where she and the pups are kept, I would never buy another puppy again. I would rather never own a dog than accidentally support a puppy farm. It is also due to these types of commercial set ups that I have a strict screening process on all my puppies. I would hate for one of my puppies to end up in such a place. Any responsible breeder does the same. Please visit the tab on buying your puppy and responsible breeders for help with finding your next puppy.  Be a responsible puppy buyer and take your time. 

We're all responsible for what Bills and Legislations go through in parliament and therefore it is important to stay informed  

Further reading

Orivet Cavakier King Charles Soaniel  DNA tests:

Actual health topics:


Code of practice: Dog Queensland

Meet the specialists






Contact Details

Lockyer Valley, QLD, Australia
Email : [email protected]