For owners

What to Look for When Buying a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Puppy

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are one of Australia's most loved breeds. This popularity attracts them to inexperienced and unscrupulous breeders. So how do you know the difference between a responsible and irresponsible breeder?

Dogs Australia registered breeders follow a strict code of breeding ethics, conduct health testing to help reduce the incidence of inherited diseases and, for accountability, and research.

The results are recorded on the ORCHID database.

Like in all dogs, there are specific health issues, and it’s important to make sure your breeder does the recommended health testing for their breed. This could be the difference between a happy and healthy puppy and a poorly bred one.

This article is a collaborated piece and features Lyndy Morris a Dogs Australia registered breeder of healthy Cavalier King Charles Spaniels of 26 years, under the kennel name ‘Coloora', on what to know when you are considering a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy as your new best friend.

What is a healthy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?

Happy, friendly, sporty, affectionate and fearless, many Cavalier King Charles Spaniels live long healthy lives, giving enormous joy and happiness to their families.

Lyndy has been a veterinary nurse for 34 years and is a member of the Cavalier Club of New South Wales and the ACT. Lyndy is also an instructor at her workplace’s puppy preschool classes.

“Our first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was gifted to our daughter in 1996 from a Dogs Australia registered breeder friend, as a dearly loved family pet and show dog.”

“What we didn’t realise back then was that this little dog would touch us so deeply with his love, companionship and devotion that it would put us on the path to a life of sheer joy and commitment to these beautiful little dogs.”, Lyndy said.

What health testing should breeders be doing?

There are a few health tests that are currently recommended for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with most dogs tested from 12 to 18 months and older.

Dog Australia registered breeders are recommended to do the following health tests on their breeding dogs:

  • Annual heart testing preferably with a specialist cardiologist vet (Mitral Valve Disease which can affect other breeds as well)
  • Eyes test (checking for abnormalities and early onset Juvenile Cataracts by Specialist Animal Ophthalmologists)
  • DNA testing for Curly Coat/Dry Eye Syndrome
  • DNA testing for Episodic Falling
  • MRI scanning for Syringomyelia (if scanning is available in their area)

Syringomyelia (SM) is a neurological condition where small fluid pockets can develop inside the spinal cord causing some pain and discomfort.

“Testing for SM is difficult and impractical for a lot of breeders due to Australia’s vast size and the sparse availability of expensive MRI equipment in many states.”

“Results are subject to individual interpretation and finding specialist Veterinarians in this field capable of determining the findings is often difficult.”, said Lyndy.

“Hopefully, in the future it will be more readily accessible and less cost restrictive.”

A lot of research is being done internationally on SM as it is a complex genetic problem, with currently no DNA marker.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of health testing, as a vet nurse, it’s especially important to me.”

“I want to be able to put into practice the breeding of the healthiest Cavalier King Charles Spaniels I possibly can, so that when I place my puppies, I can be confident that I had achieved just this.”

“Registered breeders health test, I know many and the importance of it is not lost on those who are dedicated and care for the survival of our beloved breed. The costs are high but we are in it for the long haul.”, she said.

DNA tests allow breeders to eliminate any carriers from their breeding program, with Curly Coat/Dry Eye Syndrome and Episodic Falling nearly eliminated from the breed.

DNA testing for certain diseases is not required for puppies if their parents have been cleared.

Dogs Australia registered breeders are working hard to reduce cases of Syringomyelia and Mitral Valve Disease, with MVD not exclusive to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed, as any dog can get it.

It should be stressed that not all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels suffer from any or all of these health conditions.

Key criteria for mandatory health testing

With no mandatory health testing imposed nationwide for all breeders, there are concerns with the lack of health testing by unregulated breeders.

A mandatory health test needs to be universally available all over Australia, genetically proven and specified, and economically affordable. DNA tests do fit these criteria.

There are difficulties in making MRI scanning for Syringomyelia mandatory, as MRI scanning machines are not available nationwide, are costly, and can’t be found in every veterinarian clinic.

Reputable breeders will do the recommended health testing and should be happy to discuss their results.

Lyndy would like to see mandatory screening for Mitral Valve Disease, eye testing for any abnormalities, DNA testing for curly coat/dry eye and episodic falling syndrome.

What is a well-bred Cavalier King Charles Spaniel like?

Many Cavalier King Charles Spaniels actively compete in the Conformation show ring and are successful in various dog sports like Obedience, Agility, and Rally, Flyball.

“Some of the dogs I have bred are very engaged in sports like Agility with their owners and I always get the thrill of sharing their success.”

“Keeping your Cavalier fit, taut and terrific is always my saying, plenty of exercise, keeping to an ideal weight and maintaining a healthy diet.”, she said.

“Heavy overweight dogs can put undue stress on knees and hips, unstable patellar and even hip dysplasia, so keeping weight down is important and avoiding jumping off high objects and slippery surfaces.”

“Unclean teeth cause bacteria that can then travel to the heart, keeping teeth in pristine condition throughout a dog’s life is vitally important especially into older age.”

Lyndy believes the breed in Australia is moving forward with a good number of healthy breeding stock.

“Many have searched worldwide to bring in good healthy lines and together with what has already been bred here, we are certainly in a good position to take the breed forward with the healthiest dogs we can.”

Concerns for crossbred Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

There are concerns with breeding the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with both the miniature and toy poodle, and other breeds of doubling up on health issues.

“Unfortunately, over the years it’s been said crossbreeding makes a healthier dog. which is not the case.”

When we start crossing and bringing in other health issue traits from one breed to another, it can create a nightmare of health issues.”

As a vet nurse, Lyndy sees Cavalier King Charles Spaniel cross poodle mixes with skin issues, ear issues and infections, epilepsy, heart disease lacking the fad ‘hybrid vigour’ promoted from cross-breeding dogs on the ‘Burke’s Backyard’ TV show.

Buying a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel checklist

  • Research that the breed is right for you and your situation
  • Buy from a breeder registered with Dogs Australia and possibly is a member of their state Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club
  • Buy from a breeder who health tests their breeding dogs (hearts and eyes, DNA testing for Curly Coat/Dry Eye syndrome and Episodic Falling).
  • MRI scanning for the Syringomyelia status of their dogs (pending MRI machine availability)
  • Breeders should show relevant health certificates
  • Most family companion Cavaliers will be sold with limited registered pedigree papers with an agreement not to be used for breeding
  • Be prepared for the breeder to ask questions
  • Puppies have had their first or second vaccinations
  • The breeder provides information about care, feeding, worming and training
  • It is illegal to sell puppies under eight weeks
  • The NSW Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club has useful information

Buying from a breeder who health tests their dogs does not guarantee health problems won’t happen, however, it significantly reduces the risk.

Producing well-bred puppies along with health testing can cost a lot of money along with feeding and caring, vet bills, microchipping, vaccinations, raising them. You can expect to pay $4000-5000 for a puppy, although price varies between breeders.

Before buying a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy it’s important to do your research.

Follow the Dogs Australia three R’s;

  • Right time – is it the right time now to get a puppy for your family?
  • Right breed – Have you researched all you need to know about your breed from its natural instincts to grooming?
  • Right Breeder – Is your breeder responsible, operating under a code of ethics, with regulations and health checks?

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