Traits, Personality and Behavior
Living with a Cavalier is like having your very own lady- or lord-in-waiting. A Cavalier will dog your footsteps throughout the day, from kitchen to bathroom to home office and back again and prefers not to be left alone for hours on end. The ideal home is one with a stay-at-home parent, work-at-home spouse or retired couple.
The dogs generally love kids and do well in families with older children who will throw a ball for them, teach them tricks or just hang out with them. Because of their small size, though, Cavaliers must be protected from clumsy toddlers who might fall on them or "pet" them with too much force.
Cavalier temperament ranges from sweet and placid to hard-charging and, yes, stubborn. The sweet, placid Cavaliers sometimes have a reputation for being dumb, and the stubborn ones for being untrainable, but in general, these dogs are smart and learn quickly. They respond well to positive reinforcement techniques, especially when food rewards are offered, but harsh words will cause them to stop trying or even to hide.
Toy breeds such as Cavaliers are sometimes difficult to housetrain, mainly because people don't put enough effort into it. If you take a Cavalier puppy out on a regular schedule, reward him for pottying outdoors and limit his freedom in the home until he's reliable, there is no reason he can't be housetrained as well as any other breed.
At his best, the Cavalier is an adaptable, flexible, hardy little dog. He's happy to loll around on the sofa with you all day but ready for action when it's offered. Although he's classified as a toy breed, the Cavalier is at the larger end of the size scale, weighing 13 to 18 pounds. He often has the same "birdy" nature as his larger spaniel cousins, making him a good choice for people who want a dog who's not too big but still capable of going for hikes, chasing seagulls at the beach or even retrieving quail, given the training and opportunity. He will also "hunt" butterflies and bugs and loves playing fetch with a ball or stuffed toy.
Always walk the Cavalier on a leash. When he sees a bird or other potential prey, everything else goes out of his head. All too often Cavaliers are hit by cars and killed when they chase a bird or ball--right into the street.
It should go without saying that the Cavalier is not meant to live outdoors. He's a family dog who needs to be with his people and protected from excessive heat and cold.
A Cavalier's natural animation and cheerfulness stand out in the show ring. He can be a steady and willing competitor in obedience and rally, and excels in agility and flyball. His intuitive nature also makes him a superb therapy dog. He will sit quietly with older people or young children and then turn into a rowdy playmate with active children or adults.
The long, silky hair on the Cavalier's ears, tail, belly and legs should be brushed two or three times a week to prevent mats or tangles from forming. The coat does not require any trimming for the show ring; indeed, such trimming is prohibited by the breed standard. A bath every two to four weeks will keep the Cavalier smelling sweet. The only other grooming needed is regular ear cleaning, tooth brushing and nail trimming.
Health Issues Common to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
First things first: Not every Cavalier will get all or even any of these diseases. It's not unusual for Cavaliers to live 10 to 12 years, and some live to be 15 or older. Now, that said, there's no denying that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is at risk of a large number of genetic health problems. Some die in what should be the prime of their life.
Conditions You Can Screen For
In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and preventing any new ones from emerging, the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). Cavalier breeders who want CHIC certification must test breeding dogs for eye disease, patellar (knee) luxation, hip dysplasia and heart disease and agree to have test results published in the CHIC database.
Other conditions you should be aware of that may affect the breed are syringomyelia; an ear condition called primary secretory otitis media; allergies and skin problems; and irritable bowel syndrome. Most of these conditions are suspected or known to be hereditary.
Many toy breeds and small dogs, the Cavalier included, have a condition known as luxating patella, in which one or both knees are unstable and occasionally slip out of place. Depending on the level of severity (1 being mild and 4 being severe), luxating patellas can be a minor issue that cause the dog little problem or pain or serious enough to require surgical correction.
Although it is usually a condition affecting larger breeds, Cavaliers can suffer from hip dysplasia, a deformity of the hip socket that can lead to arthritis later in life and sometimes requires expensive surgery to correct.
Eye problems that may affect the breed include juvenile cataracts and dry eye.
At minimum, all breeders should be able to show written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) clearing your puppy's parents of hip, knee, heart, and eye problems. PennHip certification of hips is also accepted. The club also recommends that a CERF exam be performed on all puppies between 8 and 12 weeks of age, with a follow-up exam once the dog reaches 12 months of age, annual exams thereafter until age 5, and every other year until age 9.
Conditions You Cannot Screen For
Cavaliers are susceptible to mitral valve disease (MVD), a degenerative condition of the mitral valve of the heart that can lead to heart failure and death. All Cavaliers need to be examined once a year by a veterinarian for the presence of a heart murmur that could signal the onset of the condition. A heart murmur is a common condition in older dogs of any breed, but this particular type is known to affect Cavaliers at a very early age, sometimes as young as 2 or 3 years.
There is no treatment for MVD, but dogs sometimes survive years without it ever being a problem and eventually die of some other condition related to old age. If the disease starts to progress, medication can help for a time, affording months or even years of a good quality of life. Be on the lookout for signs of fatigue, reluctance to exercise, coughing, or weakness. It is important that your Cavalier be checked annually by your veterinarian for any heart murmur that could mean the valve is being compromised. If a murmur is diagnosed, do not panic! MVD can progress rapidly, but also very slowly. As an owner, you need to be aware of any symptoms that might indicate a problem--exercise intolerance, coughing, weakness, or undue fatigue.
Syringomyelia (SM) is a progressive neurological disease that also affects Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The symptoms are sometimes easy to miss, but include scratching at the neck or shoulders without actually touching them, crying out in pain, tilting the head and twisting the neck around, and weakness. The condition is diagnosed with an MRI. Severe cases sometimes can be treated with surgery.
Cavaliers also seem to have a predisposition to primary secretory otitis media (PSOM), also known as "glue ear." Sometimes misdiagnosed as progressive hereditary deafness or syringomyelia, it's a non-infectious type of middle-ear infection and occurs when mucus accumulates in the middle ear. Dogs with PSOM may have pain around the head and neck, frequently scratch at the ears, develop hearing loss, or exhibit a head tilt, facial paralysis or other neurological signs.
Some Cavaliers can develop seizure disorders: epilepsy, Fly Catcher's Syndrome and one called "episodic falling." These seizure disorders can be mild or severe. Even though there are no screening tests for these conditions, any good breeder will be willing -- eager, in fact -- to go over the health histories of your puppy's parents and their close relatives and discuss how prevalent those particular health concerns are in their lines.
You can see why it's essential to choose your Cavalier's breeder carefully. For more information about Cavalier health, visit the websites of the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club-USA, and the independent Cavalier Health website.
To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.
6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Puppy
Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers all breeds and popular mixes, shipped with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
Start your puppy search by finding a breeder who is a member in good standing of either the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club -- USA or the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, and who has agreed to abide by the CKCSC's code of ethics or the ACKCSC's ethical guidelines, both of which specifically prohibit selling puppies through retail outlets such as pet stores and outline the responsibility their member breeders have to the dogs they produce and the people who purchase them.
Don't fall for the lies of unethical breeders. Bad breeders will tell you they don't need to do those tests because they've never had problems in their lines, their dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the thousand other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs. The minute you hear something like that, walk away.
Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out.
Puppy or adult, take your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues, particularly heart and neurological problems.
Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Pet Insurance for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
Pet insurance for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Cavaliers are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Cavalier is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.