Cavaliers as a breed, do have some health problems that are hereditary and potential owners should be aware of these.
Most reputable breeders have their breeding stock tested for heart and eye problems regularly.
Hearts are tested for MVD (see below) by specialist cardiologists who can certify them if clear.
Eyes are tested for retinal dysplasia (folds in the retina) by a specialist ophthalmologist.
However this does not appear to be a major problem in Cavaliers.
Syringomyelia or SM (a neurological problem)
This is a neurological disorder that occurs in some Cavaliers and has a variety of symptoms, mainly excessive scratching (that is found to be NOT due to other simple causes), discomfort and severe pain around the head and neck and sometimes difficulty walking.
It is thought that this is possibly inherited but it is not fully understood as yet. Much research is ongoing.
Breeding bitches and stud dogs should wherever possible have been MRI scanned (at least head and neck area) and this may identify potential future problems with this condition.
To reduce the risks as much as possible try to buy a pup from scanned clear parents - although this, like heart scanning for early onset MVD, cannot be a 100% guarantee.
Pups are living creatures and can never be totally guaranteed to be free from every possible problem. However, responsible breeders do their level best to breed happy and healthy pups.
Some Cavaliers can have problems with luxating patellas (slipping kneecaps) and a few can have problems with their hips.
By far the commonest problem experienced by many (but not all) Cavaliers – is MVD – Mitral Valve Disease (a heart condition), which often develops, in middle-aged or older dogs. This is not present at birth but may develop gradually over the years.
This means, in simple terms, that the dog's heart develops leaky valves, which fail to close properly, and so the heart does not work as a pump, properly and efficiently.
(The heart is actually only a large muscular pump).
When MVD develops, the valves do not close properly and this causes a back-flow of blood and further problems. Most ordinary vets can hear this easily with a stethoscope, and will be able to tell you if a murmur is present and how severe it may be.
If it does occur, medication will help most of these cases often for a long time.
Making sure the dog never becomes overweight helps.
This is not usually a painful condition however – and many dogs can have a reasonable quality of life for many years.
Most dog breeds do have some hereditary or genetic problems associated with them and Cavaliers are no exception. However – Cavaliers’ potential problems are usually treatable and this should not deter any owner from enjoying owning a Cavalier.
Buying from reputable breeders who have their breeding stock checked and tested regularly may not totally avoid all these problems, but should minimise the risks.
Two further conditions which can now be tested for because they are caused by one mutant gene are:
Curly Coat - this is a hereditary condition that is usually obvious in new born puppies. Their coats are rough and curly and often they have defects in skin and nails – and also in some cases dry eyes due to lack of sufficient tears. This condition may require life-long treatment so it is important to detect carriers.
Episodic falling – is a condition of the muscles – which go into spasm and the dog collapses. It appears to be triggered by hot weather and strenuous exercise. It appears only to occur in Cavaliers and is not fatal -– but again a single simple DNA swab test can identify carriers of this mutant gene.
Hopefully these new tests may one day help to eliminate both problems, which although not common are unpleasant when they occur.
Details of all the recommended tests for breeding stock can be found here