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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (Blenheim coat) on his day off
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (Blenheim coat) on his day off
Alternative names
Country of origin
United Kingdom
Common nicknames
Classification and breed standards
FCI: Group 9 Section 7 #136  
AKC: Toy  
ANKC: Group 1 (Toys)  
CKC: Group 5 - Toys  
KC (UK): Toy  
NZKC: Toy  
UKC: Companion Breeds  
Not recognized by any major kennel club
This breed of dog is extinct

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a small breed of dog usually considered one of the toy dog breeds.


The breed has four recognized colors: Blenheim (rich chestnut on pearly white background), Tricolor (black and white with tan markings), Black and Tan (black with tan markings), and Ruby (rich red all over).


The breed is highly affectionate, and some have called the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel "the ultimate lap dog". However, Cavaliers require a great deal of human companionship and do not tolerate well being left alone for long periods of time. Most dogs of the breed are extremely patient and eager to please. As such, dogs of the breed are usually good with children and other dogs.


The Blenheim's coat features rich chestnut markings on a pearly white background. The Blenheim's coat features rich chestnut markings on a pearly white background.

For many centuries, small breeds of spaniels have been popular in the United Kingdom. In the eleventh century, in the reign of King Canute, it was illegal to hunt with any dog that could not fit through a gauge that was eleven inches in diameter. Hence, the "birth" of the Toy Spaniel in the United Kingdom. Some centuries later, Toy Spaniels became popular as pets, especially as pets of the royal family. In fact, the King Charles Spaniel was so named because a Blenheim-coated spaniel was the children's pet in the household of Charles I. King Charles II went so far as to issue a decree that the King Charles Spaniel could not be forbidden entrance to any public place, including the Houses of Parliament. Such spaniels can be seen in many paintings of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. These early spaniels had longer, pointier snouts and thinner-boned limbs than today's.

Over time, the toy spaniels were replaced in popularity by short-snouted, dome-headed dogs of asian descent, such as the Pug and Japanese Chin. The King Charles Spaniel was bred with these dogs, resulting in the similar-shaped head of today's breed. The King Charles Spaniel remained popular at Blenheim Palace, home to the Dukes of Marlborough, where the brown and white version was the most popular - resulting in the name Blenheim for that color combination.

In the beginning of the 1900s, an American named Roswell Eldrige offered twenty-five pounds as a prize for any King Charles Spaniel "of the old-fashioned type" with a longer nose, flat skull, and a lozenge (spot) in the middle of the crown of the head, sometimes called "the kiss of Buddha". So, the breed was developed by selective breeding of short-snouted King Charles Spaniels. The result was a dog that resembled the boyhood pet of the future Charles II of England ("Cavalier King Charles"), whence the breed derives its name.

Two breed clubs are found in the United States: the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club (CKCSC) USA and the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club. The latter club is the breed club of the American Kennel Club.


The breed suffers from a number of congenital defects, including:

Mitral Valve Disease

Virtually all Cavaliers suffer from mitral valve disease, causing progressively worsening heart murmurs leading to heart failure. This condition can begin to emerge at an early age, and is present in many Cavalier King Charles Spaniels by 5 years of age. It is extremely rare for a 10 year old Cavalier not to have at least a slight heart murmur. Responsible breeders are attempting to breed only from dogs that exhibit a later onset of this disease.


Syringomyelia is a condition affecting the brain and spine, causing symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to severe pain and partial paralysis. Although symptoms of syringomyelia can present at any age, they typically appear between 6 months and 3 years of age. Symptoms include sensitivity around the head, neck or shoulders, often indicated by a dog whimpering or frequently scratching at the area of his neck or shoulder. Scratching is often unilateral -- restricted to one side of the body. Scratching motions are frequently performed without actually making physical contact with the body. The scratching behavior appears involuntary and the dog frequently scratches while walking -- without stopping -- in a way that is very atypical of normal scratching. Scratching typical of SM is usually worse when the dog is wearing a collar or being walked on leash or when the dog is excited.

Not all dogs with SM show scratching behavior. Not all dogs who show scratching behavior appear to suffer pain. If onset is at an early age, the first sign may be rapidly appearing scoliosis. If the problem is severe, there is likely to be poor proprioception (awareness of body position), especially with regard to the forelimbs. Clumsiness and falling results from this problem.

A vet should be asked to rule out primary secretory otitis media (glue ear) before assuming that a Cavalier has SM. PSOM can present with similar symptoms but is much easier and cheaper to treat. It's not known how frequently PSOM (or SM) occurs in Cavaliers.

Luxating patella

Cavaliers, like most other small breeds, are occasionally subject to a genetic defect of the femur called luxating patella. This condition allows the kneecap to slip out of place. This condition is most often observed when a puppy is 4 to 6 months old. In the most serious cases, surgery may be indicated. A great many commercially-produced Cavaliers require patella surgery after being surrendered to rescue or taken in from puppy mills. The proportion of Cavaliers in a typical rescue group who require patella surgery is about one-third to one-half.

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca

Another common defect among Cavaliers is keratoconjunctivitis sicca, colloquially known as "dry eye". The usual cause of this condition is an autoimmune reaction against the dog's tear ducts, reducing the production of tears. The condition requires continual treatment and if untreated may result in partial or total blindness.


Puppy Mills

The recent increasing popularity of the breed has led to breeding of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in puppy mills and an upsurge in the number of Cavaliers sold in pet stores

Famous Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

  • Rex, pet of U.S. President Ronald Reagan
  • Elizabeth Taylor (neč Princess Dandyridge Brandywine), pet of Charlotte York in Sex and the City
  • Hopper and Harley, pets of Courteney Cox and David Arquette.

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