Owning a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Pros and Cons–Investigating Royal Dogs

Pet Care


July 11, 2020
cavalier-king-charles-spaniel 01

Gorgeous, isn’t it? If you’ve been looking into becoming a doggy parent for quite some time now, you may have gotten a few recommendations regarding the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. And really, is anyone surprised? This breed doesn’t just boast extreme cuteness and fluff — it’s also super-affectionate, intelligent, and friendly.

However, we all know that before getting a dog, proper research is necessary. We all want to be the best dog parents we can, and given that pooches will depend on us for food, shelter, and health, we should get familiar with all their traits, quirks, and potential medical concerns. So, let’s start from the very beginning — how did the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed come to be anyway?

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel 101: Everything You Ever to Know

A Brief History of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Long before the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed was created, people mostly knew of the toy spaniels. Due to their popularity among nobility and royalty, these Cavalier predecessors were often depicted in paintings by the likes of Titian, Van Dyck, and Gainsborough.

Now, toy spaniels had some rather distinct features. Even in those paintings, it was clear that their heads were rather flat, the ears were set high, and their noses were a bit long.

So why do King Charles Spaniels have such a regal name? Well, that’s all thanks to King Charles II, who loved the breed so much that he couldn’t go anywhere without being accompanied by a few of his spaniels. In fact, he even went as far as to decree that the breed could go into any public place!

But alas, after Charles II’s death, the popularity of the toy spaniels slowly died out, and the breed was replaced by some other, similarly small pooches, such as the Pug. However, that’s where the real story of the Cavalier actually begins.

King Charles Spaniel vs. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

cavalier-king-charles-spaniel 02

Now, it’s essential to keep in mind that by breeding toy spaniels with Pugs and Japanese Chins, their appearance changed quite a bit. Suddenly, their noses were shorter than ever, and their heads, once flat, were domed. Today, that breed, which was created after the death of King Charles II, is called King Charles Spaniel, or English Toy Spaniel in the U.S.

So how can one differentiate the mysterious Cavalier King Charles Spaniel from this breed? Well, back in the 1920s, Roswell Eldridge, an apparent American dog enthusiast, wanted to find the same breed that was depicted in all those Van Dyck and others’ paintings.

His search actually lasted for years, but he didn’t get to live to see who the winner was. Indeed, in 1928, such a dog did appear, and the popularity rose once more.

The breed, which was finally recognized as a separate one in 1945, was dubbed Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to differentiate it from King Charles Spaniel, its slightly smaller cousin. Cavalier was actually the name used for the supporters of Charles I and Charles II during the English Civil War.

The Main Differences
cavalier-king-charles-spaniel 03

Not sure if you would know how to recognize a Cavalier in a sea of English Toy Spaniels? Here’s what to pay attention to:

  • Cavaliers have a longer nose and a flatter head than the English Toy Spaniels, which boast a domed head and pushed-in, short muzzles.
  • High-set ears are a telltale sign you’re dealing with a Cavalier rather than an English Toy Spaniel. The latter has longish ears that sit below the top of its head.
  • Usually, English Toy Spaniels have docked tails, whereas their larger cousins sport longish plumelike tails.
  • While the Cavalier’s body is of moderate size and short-coupled, its domed-head relative’s figure is square and barreled.
  • Personality-wise, Cavaliers tend to be rather friendly and affectionate. Although the same can be said for English Toy Spaniels, they’re often a bit reserved.

Quick Facts About the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

  • Weight and Height: Usually, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel weighs anywhere from 13 to 18 pounds. As for its height, the breed is one of the largest toy breeds you can find. On average, the dogs are 12 to 13 inches tall.
  • Lifespan: This breed usually lives for about 9 to 15 years.
  • Breeding Purpose: The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s main job was to force small birds out of their covers and basically keep their owners’ laps warm. Today, the dogs belong to the companion breed. They’re great with both children and adults and love spending time with humans.
  • Appearance: The breed has naturally floppy ears with somewhat of a curl to them, and the dog’s back is also quite long. Since the pooches have a medium-length, mostly wavy coat, their grooming needs tend to be high. In order to spread the natural oils throughout the coat, they require daily brushing.
  • Colors: The breed comes in four distinct colors (shared with the English Toy Spaniel). They are Blenheim (pearly white and chestnut), Ruby (reddish-brown), Black and Tan, and Tricolor (tan, white, and black).
  • Energy Level: There’s no need to take this breed for lengthy walks multiple times a day; its energy level is average for dogs of that size.
  • Barking, Drooling, Snoring, and Digging Tendencies: The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel doesn’t really engage in any of these. The breed is mostly quiet and thus perfect for apartments.
  • Social Requirements: The Cavalier does love attention, so its social needs are quite high. It doesn’t like to be alone for more than a few hours, so you could say that this is a rather clingy breed. It also tends to follow its owner around!

The Breed’s Personality

Its Loveable Traits…

We’ve already briefly touched upon this breed’s friendly personality. However, it’s vital to mention that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is also rather easy-going. Generally speaking, the breed isn’t really aggressive and will rarely bark at strangers or in case of danger. Because of that, it’s not the best guard dog, that’s for sure, but it is fantastic with kids!

Other than that, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is somewhat energetic and playful, but not in the same way some bigger breeds can be. As mentioned, it won’t need much exercise, though it doesn’t hurt. The breed is prone to obesity, so regular walks are a must. They just don’t have to last for hours.

One of the best parts about having a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, though, is that the breed is rather easy to train. Your dog will be eager to please you, so it won’t object to learning new tricks, where to go potty, etc.

…And a Few Shortcomings

However, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel does have one major flaw — the breed just doesn’t want to be alone. If you are often away for work or simply love going out and avoid staying in, this is not the dog for you. More often than not, the breed can develop separation anxiety, which may result in various other behavioral issues, including frequent potty accidents.

Sometimes, this breed may also prey on cats and small animals, and the behavior has to be discouraged from the earliest age.

If you haven’t already figured it out from its regal name, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel isn’t necessarily a backyard dog. In fact, it thrives indoors in average temperatures. Freezing winters and scorching summers are a big no-no for this breed, as it’s susceptible to heat stress. Thus, you have to keep it away from the sun and the snow to help it stay happy and healthy!

And on that note, keep in mind that the breed is somewhat sickly. There’s a myriad of health problems that may follow your dog, so keep your eyes and ears alert for any strange behavior, symptoms, and telltale signs that there’s something wrong with it!

General Health of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

cavalier-king-charles-spaniel 04

Overall, you could say that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel isn’t the healthiest breed out there. Indeed, your dog is likely to be prone to various health problems, some of which are connected to its genetics.

The good news, however, is that it’s possible to screen the breed for those diseases and prevent them from cutting your pup’s life short. Still, it doesn’t hurt to know what to pay attention to while caring for your Cavalier:

Genetic Predispositions

Eye, Nose, and Ear Problems
Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Genetically speaking, some dogs are more prone to blindness than others, and the Cavalier falls under that category. This breed may suffer from Progressive Retinal Atrophy, whose earliest symptoms include dilated pupils and night blindness.

Rest assured that the condition isn’t painful. However, it will lower the quality of your dog’s life if it does happen to carry the PRA genes.

Dry Eye

Also known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca, the Cavalier’s dry eyes can also contribute to it going blind. The condition, which entails a lack of tears, makes the eyes quite sore, itchy, and prone to infections. Worst of all, the dog may experience some pain, too, in case the condition isn’t treated with eye drops.


Just like in the case of many other dog breeds, older Cavaliers may develop cataracts. This condition is the most common cause of blindness in this breed, so it’s best to take the dog in for regular vet checkups to ensure its eyes are in top-notch condition.


Some Cavalier King Charles Spaniels may be prone to hereditary deafness, so it’s crucial to keep an eye on the dog’s behavior. If it seems that it’s suddenly ignoring you, your vet may be able to give you a definite answer and explain why that is. Usually, this form of deafness is progressive, and the first symptoms may become evident even in the dog’s puppyhood.

Brachycephalic Syndrome

Much like the Pug, the Cavalier may suffer from the Brachycephalic Syndrome. Caused by four different anomalies, this condition is common in dogs with shorter noses. The anomalies include:

  • A hypoplastic trachea
  • An elongated soft palate
  • Stenotic nares
  • Everted laryngeal saccules

As you may have guessed, the combination of all four anomalies can make breathing difficult for the dog, especially while it’s doing something, such as running around and playing. The dog will try to pant its way to some air, but due to the restricted airways, carbon dioxide may start to accumulate in its body.

The condition may worsen over time, with dogs experiencing more and more breathing difficulties as they age. However, some surgical procedures are available in order to enable more airflow. The saccules can be removed, and so can excess soft tissue from the palate. It may be possible to widen the nostrils as well.

Neurological Disorders

The most common neurological disorder among pooches is idiopathic epilepsy. Unfortunately, the condition is inheritable and prevalent among Cavaliers.

Most of the time, the dogs may experience milder seizures and even partial ones. They may space out a bit, fall over, or snap their jaws at the air. However, in case of a partial attack, their muscles won’t go rigid, and they won’t jerk their limbs.

Episodic Falling

Episodic falling is a possibility as well, though it’s not a sign of epilepsy. On occasion, your Cavalier may fall over, especially during exercise, when it’s animated, or stressed. If that happens, it might suffer from EF, an autosomal recessive disorder, which causes muscle stiffness and collapse.

Problems With Bones, Joints, and General Functioning
Heart Disease

While Cavaliers can live long and happy lives, more often than not, they die from heart disease. To be more precise, the most common heart condition this breed suffers from is Mitral Valve Disease, which starts with a heart murmur and worsens over time.

There’s a genetic predisposition to heart disease among Cavaliers, and it’s not uncommon for them to be quite young when the first symptoms appear. Any dog breed can have a sick heart, especially in its golden years, but Cavaliers stand out by getting sick in young adulthood (when they’re two years old, for instance).


Cavaliers are prone to dysplasia of both the elbows and the hips, but genetics isn’t the only factor at play here. The environment they live in and nutrition can contribute to this condition as well. Overweight Cavaliers are, naturally, more prone to dysplasia, which can ultimately lead to arthritis.

The good news is that most dogs still get to live long and happy lives. In some cases, if they’re having too much trouble with their joints and the condition has lowered the quality of life, surgery is also an option.

Patellar Luxation

Sometimes, the dog’s patella (kneecap) can dislocate, i.e., slide in and out of place (luxation), causing pain to the dog in the process. This condition is noticeable in Cavaliers when they’re running, as they may suddenly skip and hop a bit, and then kick the leg sideways to get the kneecap back where it belongs.

Usually, dogs can live with this condition without any need for treatment. However, if patellar luxation is a common occurrence and it’s causing crippling pain to the dog, surgery may be a good choice.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

Causing severe pain, IVDD is a condition characterized by a degeneration of one or more discs. Usually, the breakdown occurs when the gel-like soft center of an intervertebral disc dehydrates. At that point, it may slip out or rupture, causing harm to the spinal cord in the process. It may explode or press into it, putting extra pressure on the cord and causing inflammation and limiting the blood supply.

Dogs with IVDD will usually refuse to jump or go up the stairs, and many will cry out in pain and change their overall behavior (refuse to eat or to move around, etc.) Some may even become paralyzed, which is one of the more extreme symptoms.

Lots of rest and medication may help with milder cases. If the IVDD has progressed too far, the dog may require surgery. Those discs would have to be removed.

Bladder and Kidney Problems

Unlike some other breeds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are prone to both bladder and kidney stones. Because of that, it’s necessary to test their urine from time to time to avoid making the dog suffer through the pain.

Chronic Kidney Disease is also rather prevalent among Cavaliers. It doesn’t have a cure but can be managed until the end of the dog’s life with a special diet, reduced salt intake, supplements, and medications.


As one of the more painful conditions dogs may suffer from, Syringomyelia is widespread among Cavaliers. It happens due to a skull malformation, which makes it too small to house the brain. Thus, it can make the dog uncomfortable to a certain degree if the condition is mild. In other cases, the dog may suffer severe pain and partial paralysis.

A huge telltale sign of Syringomyelia is air scratching. If you notice that your dog keeps scratching at its neck or shoulder but keeps missing, take it for a checkup right away.

Skin Problems

Much like humans, dogs aren’t exempt from suffering from various allergies. However, in their case, they won’t get to sneeze their way through the irritation. Instead, their skin will itch, causing extreme discomfort in some cases that can only get worse with time.

To soothe itself, the dog may lick its paws and rub its face, often shaking its head as well. The problem is that the allergies may affect its ears too, causing inflammation and itching. If left untreated, this may lead to eardrum damage and deafness later on.


If the outer layer of the epidermis doesn’t form as it should, your Cavalier may suffer a genetic skin disease called Ichthyosis. There are two forms of the disease: epidermolytic and non-epidermolytic. Out of the two, the former is exclusive to Cavaliers.

In the case of this disease, the dog’s skin will flake severely, and the flakiness may even start when it’s still a puppy. Unfortunately, it’s untreatable — the pooch will have to live with it until the rest of its life. However, taking fish oils and using special shampoos may alleviate the symptoms a bit.

If you want to know whether your dog has this disease, you can do a genetic test for it. In general, this test is recommended if you’re planning to breed your dog. Since the species is already exceptional, it’s best not to spread the disease any further by breeding affected pooches or carriers.

What to Look Out for While Caring for Your Cavalier

cavalier-king-charles-spaniel 05
The Dog’s Caloric Intake

As mentioned, the Cavaliers are a bit on the chunkier side, so if you don’t watch what they are eating, they could easily become obese. That in and of itself isn’t healthy, and it can also lead to various other problems, including heart disease, joint issues, metabolic and digestive disorders, etc.

Parasite Infections

Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and pretty much any other worm or bug can find its way to your dog and make it sick. That, of course, isn’t exclusive to Cavaliers and can happen to all dog breeds.

Either way, you have to make sure that the dog isn’t eating or drinking stuff it shouldn’t, such as contaminated water and soil. Infected mosquitoes may also cause it much harm, so try to keep an eye on it while it’s outside.

And, to be perfectly honest, by protecting your dog from worms and bugs, you’ll also protect yourself and your family. In case of an infection, your dog may be in a lot of pain and discomfort, and it’s not uncommon for dogs to die from them too. On top of that, some parasites may pass onto humans as well and pose a severe risk to their health.

Bacterial and Viral Infections

Of course, much like other dog breeds, Cavaliers aren’t naturally protected against viral and bacterial infections. Thus, vaccination is a must. Parvo, distemper, rabies, and similar can and will harm your dog if you don’t protect it adequately. Why leave anything to chance anyway?

The Breed’s Nutrition

Just like most other dogs, your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is likely to beg for food at the end of the table. However, it’s important not to give in, and if you do, let the dog eat only the tiniest food scraps. The breed is prone to obesity, so you do have to watch its caloric intake and weight. That means that you shouldn’t give it any cooked bones or human food that is not only poor in terms of nutrition but packed with fat.

In general, a regal dog deserves only the best sustenance, so high-quality commercial food is a must for this breed. In order to keep the dog slim and healthy, it’s best to split the daily food amount into two meals and deduct any treats from the overall caloric intake.

Remember to give the dog the appropriate food for its age. Puppies shouldn’t eat adult dog food and vice versa. Also, try to keep the meals consistent — feed the dog every day at the same time.

Grooming and Teeth Care

The natural wave that the Cavalier’s coat has makes for some quite interesting hairstyles. However, regular grooming sessions aren’t on the agenda for Cavalier King Charles Spaniel owners.

Since this can be a show breed, there are strict rules in place regarding coat trimming. Generally, it’s left as it is; if you’re not looking to take part in dog shows, though, you can cut the fur to a puppy cut.

Does that mean this is a rather low-maintenance dog? Oh, no! To keep the coat nice and shiny without any tangles, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel requires daily brushing. Since it is an eager lap breed, you won’t have much trouble getting the dog to stay still while you’re brushing it. Just ask Fido to climb into your lap, get a medium-bristle brush, and go to town!

The only part of the breed’s body that requires regular trimming is the bottom half, i.e., the feet. The Cavalier has fluffy feet with hair that grows continuously. As such, it has to be cut regularly to avoid it getting tangled or matted.

Bathing, Nails, and Ears

Hygiene-wise, you only have to bathe your pooch once a month (and even that’s not mandatory!). The more you bathe it, the drier its skin will get, as you’d be stripping its natural skin oils. Remember that it has a water-resistant coat, though; you’ll have to shampoo twice and towel-dry the dog to avoid any mess!

Finally, when it comes to nails and ears, keep in mind that the Cavalier will require a bit more attention than some other dogs. Its nails have to be trimmed once a month, while the ears should be checked every week to avoid infections. You may also trim the inside of the ears a bit to prevent bacteria buildup.

Dental Issues

You’d think that some diseases would actually pass the Cavalier by. Unfortunately, this breed is also prone to dental issues, which is why you will have to brush your dog’s teeth at least three times per week.

Most commonly, their teeth will be plagued by tartar buildup, which can lead to an infection if not removed on time. The infected gums and teeth roots are a telltale sign of dental disease, which can actually cause other health problems and affect organs, such as the liver, heart, joints, kidneys, etc. Unfortunately, the disease can be so detrimental that it may lower the dog’s expected lifespan.

Training and Exercise

Exercise-wise, this isn’t a high-maintenance breed. Whether you want to go for a walk or just sit on the couch all day — the Cavalier won’t mind it either way.

However, while it’s outside, the dog may still show off some of its hunting skills and its keen sense of smell. Because of that, it’s best to keep it on a leash at all times; if something does attract its attention, it may not come back when you scream its name!

cavalier-king-charles-spaniel 06

When it comes to training, its extreme eagerness to please is likely to come in handy. This breed just loves hanging out with humans, learning new tricks, and making them happy. As such, the dogs are often easy to train into obedience. Since they’re great as show dogs, it goes without saying that rally and agility training isn’t going to be a problem either.

But the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has another trick up its sleeve — the breed makes for an incredible therapy dog. Due to its sunny disposition and affectionate nature, a Cavalier will do whatever it takes to bring a smile to your face.

Final Thoughts

As you can tell, the Cavalier is a marvelous dog breed, no doubt. However, if you’re looking to get one and enrich your household, keep in mind that the pooch will require lots of attention. It’s rather sickly and prone to various genetic diseases, so you may have to spend quite a bit of time at the vet during its lifetime.

Still, if you ask us, the dog’s gentle demeanor and loveable nature are totally worth it. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is going to be a loyal companion to you. If anything, this is the dog that fits the description of “a man’s best friend” perfectly!