Buying a Cavalier Puppy

Information and advice for Cavalier puppy buyers on hereditary health

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel PuppyGo to a breeder who registers her puppies with the Kennel Club and who can supply you with a five generation pedigree for both parents of the litter of puppies. Check how many times a dog’s name appears in the pedigree. This will give you an idea of the level of inbreeding.
  • Do not buy a puppy from a puppy farm where standards of welfare will be poor and almost certainly health screening will not have been carried out.
  • The pedigree information should if possible include an inbreeding score (coefficient of inbreeding, COI) based on a ten generation pedigree. Ideally this should not be higher than 6%. The ages at which ancestors died and their cause of death would be very useful. It will be a guide to your puppy’s lifespan and chances of inheriting a genetic disease. The COI of any pedigree dog can now be checked on the KC’s online Mate Select programme.
  • Ideally both parents should be seen and their temperaments observed and discussed with their owners.
  • The age of both sire and dam should be at least two and a half years when mated and after testing for MVD and SM.  Do not buy a puppy from parents who are younger than this.  In fact the older the parents are when tested and mated and found clear or SM and MVD, the better.
  • Ideally, buy from a breeder who uses the Standard Puppy Contract produced by the RSPCA and British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation (BVA AWF):
  • Ideally, buy from a breeder who follows the Dog Advisory Council’s Breeding Standard or is a Kennel Club Assured Breeder and follows its Breeding Standard and Guidance.
  • Chiari malformation Syringomyelia (CMSM): BVA/KC CMSM scheme certificates are required for both parents (make sure it is the BVA/KC scheme that is used and not an alternative scheme) The best grade for SM is 0a (normal) over 5 years of age.  An explanation of the grading system and breeding recommendations can be downloaded here: [PDF]. When you know the pedigree names of the father and mother of a litter of puppies, you can check their CMSM MRI results on the Kennel Club’s Health Test Results Finder:
  • Mitral Valve Disease: Cardiologist’s certificates required for both parents showing absence of heart murmur at two and a half years. Certificates for grandparents showing absence of heart murmur at five years. Ages at which other ancestors developed heart murmurs very desirable. Note that heart testing should be done every 12 months. Clear hearts in parents of at least two and a half years and grandparents of five years will not be a guarantee that your puppy will stay clear of MVD, but it will reduce the risk of early onset of the disease.
  • Eye Disease (multifocal retinal dysplasia, MRD): Ophthalmologist’s certificates required showing that both parents are clear. Ideally the puppies should be tested by an ophthalmologist as well.
  • Dry Eye Curly Coat (DECC): This disease is unique to Cavaliers and is visible in young puppies. These are normally euthanized. A DNA test is now available for DECC.  Ask the breeder if she has carried out this test on the parents of your puppy.  Ask her to show you the certificates.
  • Ear Disease: A progressive form of deafness has been identified in Cavaliers due to the degeneration of the hearing nerve. Ask the breeder if any of the dogs in the puppy’s pedigree have suffered from deafness. Ideally parents should be BAER (brain stem auditory evoked response) tested before breeding. Primary Secretory Otitis Media (PSOM), a condition similar to ‘glue ear’ in children, also occurs in Cavaliers. CKCS ears drain poorly because of the narrow bullae and because their long soft palates block the eustachian tube. Depending on the degree of severity, PSOM may cause a dog pain or hearing impairment. Ask the breeder whether any of the puppy’s near relatives or ancestors have suffered from this. Note that MRI screening of sire and dam for SM would also reveal the presence of PSOM.
  • Episodic Falling Syndrome (Episodic Collapse, Hyperexplexia): a syndrome of exercise or excitement induced muscle stiffness then collapse. The collapse can be brief or last a few minutes. Affected dogs may show signs from three months of age. Ask the breeder if there have been any cases of EF in the near relatives or ancestors of the puppies.  A DNA test is now available for EFS.  Ask the breeder if tests have been carried out on the parents of your puppy.  Ask her to show you the certificates.
  • Pancreatic Disease: CKCS also have a higher incidence of pancreatic disease (diabetes mellitus and/or pancreatic digestive enzyme deficiency). Research into these disorders is ongoing.
  • Hip Dysplasia: The breed mean score (BMS) for Cavaliers is 16. Both parents’ hip scores should be well below this.

Research is progressing slowly towards the goal of providing all Cavaliers in the UK with an estimated breeding value (EBV) and eventually a genetic breeding value (geBV).   When these are available, breeders will be able to pair breeding dogs with a minimum risk of SM.  However progress towards providing EBVs for Chiari malformation Syringomyelia is very slow due to the lack of data being sent to the Animal Health Trust. It should also be noted that as virtually all Cavaliers have some degree of Chiari malformation, it will not be possible to breed away from CM within the existing gene pool. Human studies of CMSM have shown that CM alone can be painful and some dogs with CM (no SM) are symptomatic.

Please note that this information and advice will need to be modified in the light of new research.