Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Although they’re born to be a companion, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog breed retains the sporty nature of their spaniel ancestors. If they’re not sitting on a lap or getting a belly rub, nothing makes them happier than to flush a bird and then attempt to retrieve it.
One of the largest of the toy breeds, they’re often as athletic as a true sporting breed and enjoy hiking, running on the beach, and dog sports such as agility, flyball and rally. Some have even shown their prowess as hunting dogs. The more restful members of the breed find success as family friends and therapy dogs.
See below for complete list of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel characteristics!
All Around Friendliness
Dog Breed Group
12 to 13 inches
13 to 18 kilograms
9 to 15 years
- Cavaliers have a dependent personality. They love to be with people and shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time.
- Your Cavalier will shed, especially in the spring and fall. Regular combing and brushing is required.
- Because he’s a spaniel at heart, he may try to chase birds, rabbits and other small prey if he isn’t kept on leash or in a fenced yard.
- Cavaliers may bark when someone comes to your door, but because of their friendly nature, they aren’t good guard dogs.
- Cavaliers are housedogs and should not live outdoors.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
While the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a relatively new breed, recreated less than a century ago, his prototype is the toy spaniel that has existed for centuries as a companion to royalty and nobility.
Cavaliers are descended from the same toy spaniels depicted in many 16th, 17th, and 18th century paintings by famous artists such as Van Dyck and Gainsborough. The spaniels in those paintings had flat heads, high-set ears, and longish noses.
These little spaniels were great favorites of royal and noble families in England. Mary, Queen of Scots had a toy spaniel who accompanied her as she walked to her beheading, and her grandson, Charles I, and great-grandson, Charles II — who gave their name to the breed — loved the little dogs as well. It’s said that King Charles II, who reigned from 1660 to 1685, never went anywhere without at least two or three of these little spaniels. He even decreed that the spaniels should be allowed in any public place, including the Houses of Parliament. It’s claimed that the decree is still in effect today in England, although no one has tested it recently to see if it’s true.
After Charles II’s death, the King Charles Spaniels’ popularity waned, and Pugs and other short-faced breeds became the new royal favorites. The King Charles Spaniels were bred with these dogs and eventually developed many of their features, such as the shorter nose and the domed head.
There was one stronghold of the King Charles Spaniels that were of the type that King Charles himself had so loved — and that was at Blenheim Palace, the country estate of the Dukes of Marlborough. Here, a strain of red and white Toy Spaniels continued to be bred, which is why Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with this coloration are called Blenheim today.
Since there was no standard for the breed and no dog shows yet, the type and size of the toy spaniels bred by the Dukes of Marlborough varied. In the mid-19th century, however, English breeders started holding dog shows and trying to refine different dog breeds. By that time, the toy spaniel was accepted as having a flat face, undershot jaw, domed skull and large, round, front-facing eyes. The King Charles Spaniels depicted in paintings from earlier centuries were almost extinct.
The Kennel Club was reluctant to recognize the new breed, but finally, in 1945, after years of work by the breeders, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was recognized as a separate breed.
This small but sturdy dog stands 12 to 13 inches at the shoulder and weighs 13 to 18 pounds. There is no such thing as a “toy” Cavalier, and you would do well to avoid buying a Cavalier from a breeder who offers dogs half that size.
The gregarious Cavalier takes as his role model humorist Will Rogers, who famously said he never met a stranger. The Cavalier is eager to meet everyone who crosses his path, and if that person sits down and offers a lap (or a treat), so much the better.
Like any dog, Cavaliers come in a range of personalities, from quiet and sedate to rowdy and rambunctious. They might or might not bark when someone comes to the door, so they’re a poor choice as a watchdog — except, that is, for watching the burglar cart off the silver. There are exceptions, of course — some Cavaliers will inform you of every event in your neighborhood and bark ferociously when strangers approach — but overall you’re better off buying an alarm system than counting on your Cavalier to alert you to trouble.
Cavaliers are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all Cavaliers will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this breed.
If you’re buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy’s parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Cavaliers, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Mitral Valve Disease (MVD): This is a common condition in Cavaliers. It starts with a heart murmur that becomes increasing worse until the dog has heart failure. Heart disease in older dogs of any breed is fairly common, but Cavaliers are prone to developing MVD at an early age, sometimes as young as one or two years old. Research into prevention of this condition is ongoing. Because it appears to have a genetic component, responsible breeders have their breeding dogs evaluated regularly by veterinary cardiologists to try to prevent this condition from continuing to future generations.
- Syringomyelia (SM): This condition affects the brain and spine and appears to be common in Cavaliers. Symptoms range from mild discomfort to severe pain and partial paralysis. It’s caused by a malformation of the skull, which reduces the space for the brain. Symptoms typically appear between the ages of 6 months and 4 years. The first signs you might notice are sensitivity around the head, neck, or shoulders, with the dog sometimes whimpering, or frequently scratching at the area of his neck or shoulder, usually just on one side of the body, without actually making physical contact with the body (“air scratching”). They may try to scratch even when walking. For this reason, if your Cavalier is scratching, it’s important to take him to the vet to rule out SM. For more information, visit Syringomyelia.
- Episodic Falling: This condition often is confused with epilepsy, but the dog remains conscious during the falling or seizure. It’s brought about because the dog can’t relax its muscles. Symptoms can range from mild, occasional falling episodes to seizure-like episodes that last for hours. Symptoms usually start before five months but may be noticed only later in life.
- Hip Dysplasia: Many factors, including genetics, environment and diet, are thought to contribute to this deformity of the hip joint. Affected Cavaliers often are able to lead normal, healthy lives. On rare occasions, one may require surgery to lead a normal life.
- Patellar Luxation: The patella is the kneecap. Luxation means dislocation of an anatomical part (as a bone at a joint). Patellar luxation is when the knee joint (often of a hind leg) slides in and out of place, causing pain. This can be crippling, but many dogs lead relatively normal lives with this condition.
- Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye): This condition usually is caused by an autoimmune reaction to the dog’s tear glands, leading to a reduction of tears. Once diagnosed, this condition is easily treated by administering drops in the eyes every day. If left untreated, it can result in blindness.
Their size and generally quiet nature make Cavalier King Charles Spaniels good candidates for apartment or condo living. They are moderately active indoors, and a small yard is adequate for their exercise needs.
Walks on leash or a securely fenced yard are musts with this breed. They have no street smarts and will run right in front of a car if they catch sight of a bird or other interesting prey. Your Cavalier will enjoy a daily walk or romp in the yard and will tailor his activity level to your own. Because he’s a rather short-nosed breed, avoid walking him during the heat of the day and never leave him out in a hot yard without access to shade or cool, fresh water.
Recommended daily amount: 1/2 to 1 cup of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.
NOTE: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don’t all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you’ll need to shake into your dog’s bowl.
Keep your Cavalier in good shape by measuring his food and feeding him twice a day rather than leaving food out all the time. If you’re unsure whether he’s overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test. First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can’t, he needs less food and more exercise.
If you feed a canned or raw diet, it’s a good idea to cover the ears with a snood, or headband, or pull them back with a hair scrunchy while your Cavalier eats. Otherwise, he’ll end up with food in his fur — not a good look. For both water and food, look for bowls with a narrow diameter so the ears don’t drag in them.
Cavaliers are adorned with medium-length coats that are silky to the touch and may be slightly wavy. Adult Cavaliers have feathering on their ears, chest, legs, feet and tail.
Cavaliers come in four colours:
- Blenheim, a rich chestnut on a pearly white background. Some Blenheims have a thumb-shaped chestnut dot on top of the forehead, called a lozenge.
- Tricolour, black markings on a white coat with tan markings over the eyes, on the cheeks, and on the underside of the tail
- Black and Tan, black with tan markings over the eyes, on the cheeks, inside the ears, and on the chest, legs and underside of the tail
- Ruby, a solid rich reddish-brown with no white spots or markings
Blenheim is the most common colour, but the others aren’t rare.
Cavaliers are fairly easy to maintain. You need to comb or brush them three or four times a week and bathe them as necessary. For a dog that enjoys playing outdoors as well as spending a lot of time on your bed or other furniture, that might be weekly.
The feathered hair on the ears and legs is prone to tangling, so check those areas frequently for mats that need to be gently combed out. Trim the hair between the pads on the feet and clean your Cavalier’s ears regularly. The only real difficulty is keeping white paws looking pristine instead of dingy.
Cavaliers are average shredders. They don’t need any special trimming or clipping; in fact, it’s preferred for the feathering to remain natural, although some people trim the feet for neatness’ sake. Others of us like the furry-footed hobbit look.
Cavaliers can be great playmates for kids who will enjoy throwing a ball for them, teaching them tricks, participating in dog sports, or simply having them on a lap while they read or watch television. Because of their small size, however, they should be supervised when playing with small children who might injure them accidentally.
As with every breed, you should always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or sleeping or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog, no matter how friendly, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
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