The cavalier King Charles spaniel, or CKCS, has one of the shortest lifespans for a toy breed -- an average of seven to 10 years -- due to serious genetic health problems. Inbreeding created the health issues and careless practices by some breeders perpetuate the genetic problems for this popular dog. Reputable breeders will health test bred dogs to ensure they are free of heart murmurs and other disorders.
Mitral Valve Disease
Mitral valve disease is the No. 1 cause of death of cavalier King Charles spaniels. This inherited heart disease afflicts more than half of all cavalier spaniels by the age of 5 years and practically all cavaliers by age 10, according to CavalierHEALTH.org. This disease causes the mitral valve of the heart to degenerate, which leads to congestive heart failure. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, weight loss and a heart murmur. Standard treatment consists of managing the disease with drugs to reduce the symptoms and slow the disease's progression.
Syringomyelia is a severe condition that occurs when fluid-filled cavities develop in the spinal cord close to the brainstem, eventually damaging the spinal cord. Symptoms include severe pain in the neck and shoulder area, hypersensitivity and paralysis of the legs. A dog that has syringomyelia often scratches the air close to its neck. Treatment includes drugs or surgery to relieve symptoms and control pain.
Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome
Cavalier King Charles spaniels have a brachycephalic, or short-shaped head. Brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome, or BAOS, compromises the dog's ability to breathe and can cause the dog's larynx to collapse. Symptoms of BAOS include open-mouthed, noisy or laboured breathing, decreased energy, extreme snoring, gagging, retching and pale or blue gums and tongue due to lack of oxygen. Keep dogs with BAOS from becoming overheated or excited, and exercise them minimally. Corticosteroids and oxygen therapy can help a dog with an inflamed or swollen airway. Severe breathing problems require surgery.
Inherited in the CKCS breed, hip dysplasia causes severe, debilitating pain. The abnormal development of the dog's hip causes arthritis, degenerative joint disease, arthrosis or osteoarthrosis. Not present at birth, this disease develops as the dog ages and signs of lameness appear. Treatment options include medication for pain relief and for managing degenerative joint disease. Surgery may help to reduce pain and improve mobility.
The brachycephalic shape of the spaniel's head contributes to the many genetic eye diseases the breed experiences. Genetic eye disorders of the CKCS breed include corneal dystrophy, dry-eye syndrome, retinal dysplasia, cataracts, distichiasis, entropion and retinal degeneration. The Canine Eye Registration Foundation found that 30 per cent of the CKCS dogs it studied suffered from eye disorders. Symptoms of eye diseases include discolouration of the eye; dry, burning eyes; and decreased vision or blindness. Depending on the particular disorder, treatment options include medications, eye lubricants and surgery.