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Vintage Cavaliers
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Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are generally a happy healthy breed of dog.  As noted in our breed history section of our website, there was a certain amount of inbreeding necessary to resurrect the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed.  This inbreeding that took place in the early 1920's was necessary to produce the desirable traits of the breed, which was nearly extinct.  However, it also had the effect of increasing the incidence of certain health problems. 

In Cavaliers, and with many other purebred breeds, there are genetic and other health problems that can arise.  Although health problems can arise in a Cavalier, the impression should not be given that all Cavaliers will develop any specific health condition.

At Vintage Cavaliers, we minimize the incidence of genetic health conditions in our puppies by testing our Cavaliers regularly for health problems.  Our Cavaliers receive regular testing from veterinary experts, including, cardiologists, ophthalmologists, and reproductive specialists.  Unfortunately, no one can guarantee that a particular puppy will never develop a health problem.  However, at Vintage Cavaliers we do everything possible to produce heathy puppies which meet the breed standard.    

Below is a summary of the health conditions that may arise in a Cavalier.

Disclaimer: Your veterinarian is the most qualified person to answer all of the questions you have about your pet's health and medical conditions  in general. Nothing in the below summary should be construed as medical advice regarding any individual animal’s condition.

Medical Conditions That May Occur
In A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel


    Cavaliers are susceptible to Mitral Valve Disease, a condition that causes one of the heart valves to leak blood backward, forcing the heart to work harder in order to circulate the blood. When the blood leaks backwards it causes a sound that is called a murmur.  Over time the mitral valve gets sloppier and more and more blood leaks backwards causing the murmur to get louder.  The more blood that leaks backwards the harder the heart has to work to keep the blood moving so the body can get enough oxygen.  Mitral Valve Disease is detected by a canine cardiologist.  Nearly every Cavalier will develop a heart murmur after age 10, but it is a particularly debilitating condition if it shows up before age 5.

    All Cavaliers alive carry the genes for MVD, so it is extremely doubtful that the disease will ever be eliminated from the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel completely.  Cavaliers can still lead perfectly normal lives for years after developing the murmur, and many are never affected at allby the disease.  If they are affected, it is usually very late in life and can be treated to some degree with medication.  At Vintage Cavaliers, our Cavaliers receive regular veterinary exams to detect heart problems.  We will not breed a Cavalier that has been diagnosed with a heart murmur. 

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    SM is caused by a malformation in the back of the skull, which disrupts the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid between the brain cavity and the spinal cord.  This blockage causes pockets of fluid (syrinxes) to form in the spinal column, and symptoms can range from a mild itch (manifested by phantom scratching) to severe pain.  Some refer to SM as "neck scratcher's disease" because scratching in the air near the neck is a common sign.  Mild cases are often mistaken for allergies or skin problems, and, if properly diagnosed, can be managed with medication.  The most severely affected dogs, however, may require expensive and risky surgery.

    While the only reliable method of diagnosing SM is by doing an MRI, there is presently no way to reliably tell whether a non-symptomatic dog will produce puppies with the disease.  SM is thought to be an inherited condition caused by a combination of various genes, but the research is still in its early stages.  We believe in keeping careful track of our puppies to determine if any come up with symptoms of SM, which will usually show up by age 3 or 4.  We will not breed a Cavalier whose puppies are symptomatic.

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    Patellar Luxation or dislocating kneecap(s) can be inherited, or acquired through trauma.  This condition may be found in many dog breeds, including Cavaliers.  The canine patella is equivalent to the human knee cap.  It is the bony structure that sits in a groove on the femur in front of the stifle and has tendons from the femur and tibia. These tendons are what straightens or extends the leg. As the leg is extended and flexed the patella moves up and down in the trochlear groove.  Ideally the groove should be deep enough so that patella fits comfortably in it.  If all the tendons, muscles and bones are properly aligned then everything works smoothly.

    Patella luxation (also called slipped stifles) results from abnormalities in the bones of the rear legs, such as a shallow trochlear groove.  This condition is present when the kneecap on the dog's rear leg becomes dislocated and slips out of its proper position.  In its most severe form, it can be a crippling disease and may require surgery for the dog to lead a normal lifeThe signs of patellar luxation are difficulty straightening the knee; pain in the stifle; and a limp.  Often a dog with patellar luxation will look somewhat stiff in that leg because the dog is attempting to “lock” it so the patella won't move around as much.  The diagnosis is easily confirmed by a regular veterinarian who manually manipulates the stifle joint and is able to push the kneecap in and out of position without excess force.

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    Hip Dysplasia is a degenerative disease in the hip joints.  The hip joint has a ball (top part of the femur) which fits into a joint (hip socket in the pelvis).  If the hip socket is not developed properly the ball does not sit in it properly.  This causes stress on the cartilage lining the hip joint. With the constant stress on the joint the cartilage thins and becomes stiffer which decreases the joint's ability to handle the daily stress of movement and weight bearing.  Over time arthritis will build up in the joint and cause thickening and a decrease in range of motion along with accompanying pain.  This condition may cause anything from minor discomfort to severe lameness in the dog's rear end.

    Hip Dysplasia is more likely among litter mates having a dysplastic parent, but even dogs with normal hips can produce dysplastic puppies.  However, consistently breeding unaffected dogs will reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia, especially if the hip status of litter mates is taken into consideration.  Hip Dysplasia can only be properly detected by an X-ray taken after the age of 2, and the X-ray must be evaluated by a properly trained specialist.

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    The two most common, serious eye defects that Cavaliers can be afflicted with are cataracts and retinal dysplasia.  A cataract is the loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye.  In most cases these start out as small spots of opacity on the lens which slowly grow larger.  Once they cover most of the lens the dog begins having difficulty seeing, eventually leading to blindness.  Retinal Dysplasia are malformations of the retina of the eye.  There are three different types, with the most serious being retinal detachment that can lead to blindness.  Eye Problems can easily be diagnosed by a qualified veterinary ophthalmologists. 

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    It is estimated that approximately 30% of all Cavaliers are affected by a low platelet disorder called “idiopathic thrombocytopenia”.  Platelets play an important role in blood clotting and so the decrease can mean increased bleeding.  The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, however, have giant sized platelets which function normally. When a blood sample is analyzed the number of platelets are counted using an autoanalyser. This machine recognizes the cell by the size and when using an autoanalyser the platelet count is low in the Cavalier.

     Normal blood platelet counts in dogs should be between 150,000 - 200,000.  Dogs will have bleeding abnormalities if their counts are below 40,000.  However, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel may have counts well below 40,000 with no problems.   The vast majority of Cavaliers with this condition are asymptomatic despite very low platelet counts, and do NOT NEED TREATMENT OF ANY KIND!  Cavaliers are sometimes mis-diagnosed with having thrombocytopenia by veterinarians not familiar with this breed.

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