Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Breed At A Glance


Extremely friendly and social

Life Expectancy
9-14 years

Average Height
12-13 inches

Average Weight
10-18 lbs

Coat Color
Blenheim (chestnut on white background), tricolor, ruby, or black & tan

Coat Length/Texture
Medium length and silky, sometimes with a slight waviness

Shedding Propensity
Consistent year-round, though minimal with proper grooming

Also known as Cavalier, Cav, Ruby Spaniel, Blenheim Spaniel

General Temperament

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a lively and social breed with a constantly wagging tail. Spirited and vocal, they enjoy a good romp in the yard or playtime with family members or other dogs. They are intelligent and eager to please and therefore usually easy to train, often excelling in obedience competitions. They also make good therapy dogs, as most will get along well with almost everyone, including strangers, considerate children and other household pets.

This breed is a people lover, and must have nearly constant attention from people or other dogs. A Cavalier will not be happy if left alone for long periods, such as a regular work day. If this must occur, it might be wise to consider introducing a second dog into the home to help keep the Cavalier company. Any breed will do, as the Cavalier is willing to be friends with small and large dogs alike.

Although this dog has been bred for centuries to be a human companion, they sometimes still retain the chasing instinct, and therefore should not be allowed off leash in an unsecured area (or they risk being hit by a car or encountering some other unforeseen tragedy). They make great apartment dogs, although like all breeds, they require a daily walk to maintain good health. They are happy in most moderate climates, although extremely cold or extremely hot locales might be difficult for them.

Breed History

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is so named for being the family pet of King Charles I of England. Small Spaniel breeds had been popular in the United Kingdom for centuries, and eventually toy spaniels became the favorite pets of royalty. These toy breeds can be seen in many paintings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, although they were lighter-boned and had longer, thinner muzzles than the modern version of the breed.

As time went on, the toy Spaniels were replaced by various small dogs imported from Asian, such as the Pug and the Japanese Chin. The King Charles Spaniel was bred with these dogs, and took one some of their characteristics, primarily the shorter muzzle and rounded head. Then, in the 1920’s, an American breeder named Roswell Eldrige traveled to England and inspired a breeding program to bring back the original long-snouted version of the King Charles Spaniel. The result was what we know as the modern “Cavalier” King Charles Spaniel, which is heavier boned and has a medium-length snout that what is now known as the English Toy Spaniel (or, in England, the “King Charles Spaniel”).

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was introduced into the U.S. in 1952, but because of the limited breeding stock available in this country, it was 44 years before the first specimens were shown at the American Kennel Club in 1996.

Body Structure and Composition

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a well-balanced dog, only slightly longer than it is tall. They are of medium bone, although the dense fur sometimes gives them the appearance of being stocky. The slightly-rounded head is characterized by the “melting” expression and long, pendulous and feathered ears. The squared muzzle is of medium-length, tapering only slightly. The eyes are large and round but not prominent. The Cavalier’s topline is level and it’s chest is fairly deep. The tail is sometimes docked, although for show purposes, it cannot be docked more than one third of the length. They have compact feet, although the feathering of the fur can make them appear unusually large.

Medical Information

This lovable and noble breed is unfortunately plagued with some very significant hereditary diseases that can be severe or even fatal. The leading cause of death in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a heart condition called Mitral Valve Disease (MVD). MVD is a polygenic disease, meaning that only one parent needs to possess the gene to risk passing it on to the litter. This condition causes the hinge in the mitral valve to loosen over time, causing heart murmurs that progressively worsen ending in heart failure. Regrettably, this breed is prone to early-onset of the disease. Reputable breeders will obtain cardiac clearances on their breeding stock before producing a litter to help control the spread of the disease.

Another widespread disease among Cavalier King Charles Spaniels is Syringomyelia, which is caused by a malformation of the back of the skull. This malformation reduces the amount of space available to the brain, often herniating it into the available space in the spinal column. This reduces or blocks the flow of spinal fluid, creating fluid pockets (“syrinxes”) along the spinal cord. Recent research has shown that nearly all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have Syringomyelia, although symptoms of the disease can vary dramatically. It can cause everything from mild discomfort (characterized by involuntary scratching or clumsiness), to severe pain, or even paralysis, while many dogs show no symptoms whatsoever. In contrast to MVD, the gene for Syringomyelia must be received from both parents. Neurological testing of breeding stock is available, although it is quite expensive and therefore not currently in widespread use by breeders.

Several bone-related disorders are also prominent in this breed. Hip Dysplasia, a condition in which the head of the bone no longer fits in the cup provided by the socket causing in arthritis-like symptoms and lameness, is usually reserved for larger breeds, but occurs with significant incidence in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. A more toy breed related condition that is experienced by many Cavaliers is Patellar Luxation (also known as “slipped stifle”), which occurs when the kneecap dislocates and may require surgery. Certification of breeding stock is available from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) to help prevent the spread of both of these diseases, as well as several other skeletal conditions.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are often prone to various hereditary eye disorders, such as cataracts, retinal dysplasia, and “cherry eye” (where the gland of the third eyelid known as the nictitating membrane prolapses and becomes visible), among others. Responsible breeders will obtain certification from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) on their breeding stock prior to producing a litter.

Epilepsy, episodic falling, and “Fly Catcher’s Syndrome” are all seizure-related diseases that appear in some Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lines. (“Fly Catcher’s Syndrome” is a variant where hallucinations cause the dog to leap and snap at imaginary objects, as if flies were in front of his nose.) All of these conditions can be controlled with anti-seizure medications, although it should first be confirmed that the seizures are not caused by something in the dog’s environment, such as poisons, toxins or fertilizers.

The Cavalier’s beautiful feathery coat should be groomed regularly to prevent matting, paying particular attention to the ears and feet. The ears and eyes should be checked/cleaned often to prevent infection.

Anecdotal Information

Since their acceptance into the AKC in 1996, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has enjoyed a dramatic increase in popularity, ranking 25th out of 157 breeds (based on 2007 registration statistics).

Some Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have been reported to possess behaviors similar to those of cats, such as perching in high places, cleaning their own paws, or even catching small low-flying birds.

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