Do Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a lot of health problems?

By helloBARK!
Updated on 14 July 2021
Fact Checked

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are beautiful and loving dogs.

However, the regal breed do suffer from a number of health problems that potential owners should be aware of.

Some of these health concerns are minor but other issues are extremely serious, such as heart failure.

The American Kennel Club recommend cardiac, eye, hip, and knee tests for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels to catch any potential issues.

You should always ask a breeder about whether a puppy’s parents suffered from any health issues.

Let’s start by taking a brief look at the history of these dogs.

An introduction to Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel can trace its roots back to the toy spaniel in the 16th and 17th century.

They were thought to have arrived in Scotland before being brought to England by Mary the Queen of Scots.

The toy spaniels thrived during Tudor times but it was the rule of the Stewarts that led to the King Charles Spaniel.

King Charles II was particularly fond of these petite dogs and the English King was rarely seen without two or three by his side.

His death saw the breed’s popularity dwindle and they were bred with some Asian dogs such as Pugs and Japanese Chin.

With their snouts becoming increasingly short and their heads becoming more dome in shape, American Roswell Eldridge challenged breeders to revert back to the old type of toy spaniel.

It resulted in a break from the King Charles Spaniel and the result was the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

The breed was formed in 1928 but wasn’t recognised by the Kennel Club until 1945. It took their American counterparts to grant CKSP recognition in 1995.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels health problems

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are the 19th most popular dog in the USA (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are the 19th most popular dog in the USA (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Mitral Valve Disease

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are known to suffer from some heart problems. The number one health concern is Mitral Valve Disease, which is thought to be leading cause of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel deaths in the world. In fact, they are 20 times more likely to suffer from the disease than any other dog breed. Indeed, claim that out of 300,000 dogs in the United States, 5% died of MVD while 50% of the Cavaliers died of MVD. If you’re considering purchasing a CKCS puppy, you’re advised to speak to the breeder and enquire whether either of the parents have the condition.

MVD happens when one of the heart’s four valves deteriorates. The mitral valve is responsible for controlling the blood flow from the left atrium to the left ventricle. MVD occurs when the tissue that makes up the mitral valve curls and shrivels to allow blood to flow back into the atrium. This can result in less blood flow around the body. The left atrium can grow to abnormal size due to the increase of blood, while the left ventricle gets bigger due to the greater volume of blood that needs to be pumped.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will need regular screening to check for heart murmurs from the age of 1 onwards. The deterioration can be very quick or quite slow, hence the need for frequent check ups. It may not occur in some dogs until the age of 5 or even later, but others could experience heart murmurs at a very young age.

One of the symptoms to look out for is breathlessness, difficulty breathing or panting. You should consult with your local veterinarian before and after you get a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to understand what is required from you as a dog owner to keep an eye out for MVD.

Drugs can help to slow down the condition but the eventual result is heart failure.

Patellar luxation

Unlike MVD, patellar luxation is a health problem that affects Cavalier King Charles Spaniels – and many other breeds of dogs.

Patellar luxation occurs when the dog’s kneecap (patellar) becomes dislocated from the normal anatomic position in the groove of the femur (otherwise known as thigh bone).

It can be quite painful for a dog and can lead to lameness if it becomes more severe in nature. Sometimes a patellar luxation can lead to ruptured cranial cruciate ligament.

The luxating patellar affects up to 20 per cent of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, according to

Symptoms of varying grades can include a dog lifting its leg for two or three steps, reluctance to jump or a refusal to use its leg at all.


Syringomyelia is another health condition that can affect a proportion of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

This rare condition occurs when a fluid-filled cyst forms within the dog’s spinal cord near the brain. Unfortunately for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, they appear to be more predisposed to this disorder than most other dog breeds, with the exception of the Brussels Griffon and Chihuahua.

One of the big symptoms to look out for is persistent neck scratching. Indeed, syringomyelia has been given the nickname “neck scratcher’s disease” due to this common symptom.

Eye problems

Cherry eye – This condition causes the gland to prolapse and protrude from the eye as a red fleshy mass. Hence the name, Cherry Eye. You will be able to observe if your dog is suffering from this problem, with a third eyelid presenting in one of the eyes.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (Dry eye) – This is the deficiency of aqueous tear film over the surface of the eye and in the lining of the lids. The cornea can become dry and irritant due to a lack of tears. Excessive blinking or the discharge of pus can be common symptoms of this condition.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a condition that can affect dogs that are small and long, such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

IVDD, or slipped discs as it is otherwise known, is progressive degeneration of the disks between the vertebrae of the spine. Symptoms can include a stiff neck, lameness, limited movement and much more.

Dog breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Daschund can be more susceptible to IVDD.

Gum disease

Have you wondered why your dog has bad breath? It may be worth booking an appointment with your vet to rule out gum disease.

It can occur when bacteria is allowed to build up around a dog’s gums and teeth. The eventual build up of tartar can lead to gingivitis.

The bacteria from infected gums can cause damage to the body as a whole if they manage to spread to the liver and kidneys.

What Cavalier owners have to say

Herky and Milton the Cavalier (Photo: @herkythecavalier / Instagram)

Herky and Milton the Cavalier (Photo: @herkythecavalier / Instagram)

Herky and Milton (@herkythecavalier – pictured above): “Cavaliers unfortunately are prone to a lot of genetically inherited diseases that are often fatal. To lower the chances of getting a Cavalier with these diseases, make sure you research reputable breeders and ask for health certificates and clearances from specialists.”

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