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These little angels are absolute puppy perfection—except for a few health problems. Cavaliers are wonderful, sweet, smart, and loving companions who can be the breed for anyone and everyone. The only downside to this beautiful breed is their common health problems. Although most are not fatal, some can be life-threatening. Here, we will cover the most commonly encountered health problems of this European-born breed. This list begins with the least serious issues and works its way up to the more serious and possibly fatal issues that need to be addressed.
Oh, those beautiful, buggy, brown eyes! One of the most irresistible parts of a Cavalier is their loving and warm stare from those big, round eyes! However, these little windows into their loving souls do come with some health issues. Cavaliers can fall victim to an ocular obstruction known as juvenile cataracts. Cataracts are common in almost all breeds of senior dogs, but can occur in puppies and young adults that are five years or younger. Juvenile cataracts are congenital, and can show at any time in the puppy’s development due to improper care for the pregnant mother during her pregnancy.
Cavaliers are also prone to dry eyes, which are less serious, but can be annoying for your dog.
Although the snouts of Cavaliers are not squished inwards like their brother breed, the King Charles Spaniel, they are still considered brachycephalic dogs. Brachycephaly is the condition where a dog with a shortened skull and snout has an altered internal construction of tissue within the head and throat. Other dogs who share this disfiguration are those such as Pugs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, and Shih Tzus. This malformation of the snout causes breathing problems and often can produce a reverse sneeze or snoring/snorting.
The nostrils are thinner than average, the soft palate can be too far extended, the larynx has more pressure put onto it and will move improperly, and the trachea (windpipe) may be constricted to a smaller-than-normal diameter.
Although not fatal, this can be quite a miserable condition for your dog. Surgeries to correct this and allow them to breathe easier are very expensive, so consider this if you are considering a brachycephalic breed.
Maintaining a healthy weight for your dog is also recommended, as the extra respiratory effort that they must put forth to maintain movement can be painfully strenuous for them and can lead to other health issues.
Back and Hips
It is not uncommon for dogs in general, no matter the breed, to have back and hip diseases or malformations due to years of selective breeding. Dogs have generally become less healthy and more prone to bone disease and degeneration as the years have passed. Degenerative disc disease is seen in many and can occur in Cavaliers. This can result in slipped discs, disc ruptures, and generally, a lot of pain for your dog. Spinal health should be monitored closely, especially in senior dogs, as natural wear-and-tear occurs on the bones throughout life.
Hip dysplasia is also another common and painful disease that many canine breeds face due to selective breeding. Although this usually affects larger breeds, the Cavalier is a small breed exception. Just as when a disc in the back degenerates and causes bone-to-bone grinding and can cause a lot of pain, so can a lack of fluid or a misplaced joint in the hips.
Keeping your dog’s exercise levels appropriate and feeding them food with plenty of healthy nutrients will maintain the health of their joints and prevent this disease. Keeping extra weight off will also decrease the stress put on their joints by excess pressure and strain from carrying around unnecessary, heavy fat.
Due to their ears being floppy and able to retain more moisture and heat, Cavaliers are prone to certain ear ailments. These dogs need extra care for their ears to prevent chronic inflammation and/or infection. If not properly cleaned, their infections may become so severe that they can go deaf at an early age. It is important to invest in good ear cleaning solutions and tools, or to take your pet to the vet to get their ears properly cleaned. Cleaning the ears at home should be done once or twice a week, depending on the conditions of your dog’s ears. Monitor them closely.
A sad but true reality for these small dogs is the weakness of their heart. Cavaliers are genetically predisposed to a fatal heart condition called Degenerative Mitral Valve Disease (MVD).
Beginning as a heart murmur, this disease progresses into the degeneration of the mitral valve and the tissue that maintains proper flow between it and the chambers of the heart. As the walls of the valve begin to wear down and the heart begins to pump weaker, blood begins to flow backwards into the valve. There is a small bit of tissue connecting this valve to the heart that opens and closes to prevent any backflow from the heart. As this tissue wears down, blood is pushed back into the valve can can cause heart failure.
This disease can appear at any time in the Cavalier’s life, so it is strongly recommended that you get your puppy tested as soon as possible for this disease, as they can die from it. Catching it early can extend your dog’s life by years.
When searching for a breeder, be sure to get official documentation from their vet that states that the parents are free from heart issues before you put that down payment on the puppy!
Look at That Happy Smile!
So now that you know the health risks that Cavaliers face, you are ready and educated to purchase or adopt your first Cavalier! I hope my article was helpful to you and your dog, and I hope you both have a wonderful life together!
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