Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Average Height: 12-13 inches at the shoulder
- Average Weight: 13-18 pounds
- Coat Type: Silky
- Dog Breed Group: Toy
- Average Lifespan: 10-12 years
Key Personality Traits:
AffectionateGood with KidsPlayfulStubborn
One of the largest of the toy breeds, Cavaliers follow their people everywhere, just waiting for a chance to jump in a lap. They are also willing and able to go for long walks and hikes, and many enjoy flushing birds, just like their bigger spaniel cousins.
This sturdy toy breed is a re-creation of the toy spaniels that populated royal courts and noble homes in Europe from the 15th to the 19th centuries. True to their heritage as “comforter dogs,” Cavaliers love to be in a lap. The typical Cavalier is always happy, trusting and easygoing, a friend to everyone he meets. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel today is a beloved, and increasingly popular, companion dog. He’s small, loving, playful and attractive.
A Cavalier will dog your footsteps throughout the day, from kitchen to bathroom to home office and back again and prefers not to be left alone for hours on end. The ideal home is one with a stay-at-home parent, work-at-home spouse or retired couple.
A Cavalier’s natural animation and cheerfulness stand out in the show ring. He can be a steady and willing competitor in obedience and rally, and excels in agility and flyball. His intuitive nature also makes him a superb therapy dog. He will sit quietly with older people or young children and then turn into a rowdy playmate with active children or adults.
Toy breeds such as Cavaliers are sometimes difficult to housetrain, mainly because people don’t put enough effort into it. If you take a Cavalier puppy out on a regular schedule, reward him for pottying outdoors and limit his freedom in the home until he’s reliable, there is no reason he can’t be housetrained as well as any other breed.
At his best, the Cavalier is an adaptable, flexible, hardy little dog. He’s happy to loll around on the sofa with you all day but ready for action when it’s offered. Although he’s classified as a toy breed, the Cavalier is at the larger end of the size scale, weighing 13 to 18 pounds. He often has the same “birdy” nature as his larger spaniel cousins, making him a good choice for people who want a dog who’s not too big but still capable of going for hikes, chasing seagulls at the beach or even retrieving quail, given the training and opportunity. He will also “hunt” butterflies and bugs and loves playing fetch with a ball or stuffed toy.
Always walk the Cavalier on a leash. When he sees a bird or other potential prey, everything else goes out of his head. All too often Cavaliers are hit by cars and killed when they chase a bird or ball — right into the street.
Other Quick Facts
- Cavaliers have a silky, medium-length coat with feathering on the ears, legs, chest, feet and tail. They shed moderately.
- The Cavalier coat comes in four colors: Blenheim (chestnut and white), tricolor (black and white with tan points over the eyes, on the cheeks, inside the ears and beneath the tail), ruby (solid red) and black and tan (black with tan points like those on the tricolor).
- Cavaliers can get along with cats when they are raised with them, but some have a strong prey drive and will chase cats. Pet birds should also watch their tailfeathers around Cavaliers.
The History of Cavaliers
Small spaniels have been popular companion dogs for hundreds of years. They were found in royal courts and noble homes in Spain (where the spaniel gets his name), France, England and Scotland and were often prominently featured in their owners’ portraits. The Scottish Stuarts were especially fond of the little dogs. Mary, Queen of Scots had a toy spaniel by her side when she was executed, as did her descendant, England’s King Charles I. It was Charles and his son Charles II who lent their name to the dogs that eventually became known as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
The toy spaniels’ popularity began to wane after a new king, William, replaced James II (also a Stuart) on England’s throne. William was from Holland, and he favored Pugs. People began crossing the Pugs and spaniels, and eventually their look changed, becoming more flat-faced with a domed head. Dogs like the ones seen in old portraits practically disappeared, except for a few lines here and there, like the ones kept by the Churchill family at Blenheim Palace. The dogs might have faded into the past except for one Roswell Eldridge, a wealthy American who offered a prize to anyone who could produce a dog like the ones he had seen in 17th and 18th century paintings.
British breeders took up the challenge and rebuilt the breed, working with long-nosed English Toy Spaniels (called King Charles Spaniels in England). The first of the “new” spaniels was exhibited in 1928 at Crufts Dog Show. Alas, Eldridge did not live long enough to see him, but his estate paid the prize. Since then, the Cavalier has evolved to what he is today: a sturdy and highly popular companion, combining bird-dog nosiness and Toy-dog affection for people.
The Cavalier ranks 23rd among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club, up from 54th in 2000. That’s one of the largest leaps in popularity in the past decade.
Cavalier Temperament and Personality
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is small, loving and playful. The typical Cavalier is always happy, trusting and easygoing, a friend to everyone he meets. True to their heritage as “comforter dogs,” Cavaliers love to be in a lap.
Cavalier temperament ranges from sweet and placid to hard-charging and even stubborn. The sweet, placid Cavaliers sometimes have a reputation for being dumb, and the stubborn ones for being untrainable, but in general, these dogs are smart and learn quickly. They respond well to positive reinforcement techniques, especially when food rewards are offered, but harsh words will cause them to stop trying or even to hide. A Cavalier should usually never be shy or aggressive to people or other dogs.
Cavaliers live to be with their people. The ideal home is one with a stay-at-home parent, work-from-home spouse or retired couple. The dogs generally love kids and do well in families with older children who will throw a ball for them, teach them tricks or just hang out with them. Because of their small size, though, Cavaliers must be protected from clumsy toddlers who might fall on them or “pet” them with too much force.
A few things to know about Cavaliers: they love to lick, they love to chase moving objects (especially feathered ones) and they can be manipulative when they want food (those eyes!). It’s difficult or impossible to curb these behaviors so you need to find a way to work around them, such as always keeping the dog on leash in areas with traffic and hardening your heart when your Cavalier wants to share your French fries.
The Cavalier is not perfect. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised.
If you’re looking for an overnight solution to having a perfectly behaved puppy, you won’t find one. That’s why beginning obedience training the day you bring him home is critical. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Raising a well-rounded dog is part obedience and part socialization. Get your Cavalier into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize.
Be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date. And, veterinarians often recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have all been administered. In the meantime, begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until your vet gives you the go-ahead start wider socialization.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Cavalier doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Cavalier, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
What You Need to Know About Cavalier Health
Similar to humans, all dogs can develop genetic health problems. All reputable breeders will offer a health guarantee on her puppies. If she doesn’t, or if she tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons, it’s time to find a new one. Good breeders are transparent about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The Cavalier can develop certain health problems. They include a heart condition called mitral valve disease, a neurological problem called syringomyelia, patellar (knee) luxation, certain eye problems such as cataracts and keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye, an ear condition called primary secretory otitis media, allergies and other skin problems. Most of these conditions are suspected to be hereditary.
First things first: Not every Cavalier will get all or even any of these diseases. It’s not unusual for Cavaliers to live 10 to 12 years, and some live to be 15 or older. Now, that said, there’s no denying that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is at risk of a large number of genetic health problems. Some die in what should be the prime of their life. Here’s a brief rundown on what you should know.
Mitral valve disease. The most common acquired heart disorder in dogs, mitral valve disease is a defect of the mitral valve, located between the left atrium and left ventricle of the heart. The valve gradually thickens and degenerates, eventually becoming leaky. That forces the heart to work harder to pump blood out and it becomes enlarged. Lots of dogs get MVD in their senior years, but in Cavaliers it can strike at an early age. A heart murmur is the first sign of MVD. Cavaliers with a murmur may go on for years without any problem or need for medication, or they can develop congestive heart failure, which can often be controlled for a time with medication.
Syringomyelia. This condition is a nervous system disorder that results from a congenital bone deformity in which the rear part of the skull is too small. The cerebellum and the brainstem are crowded and obstruct the foramen magnum, the opening at the bottom of the skull. When this happens, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid is obstructed, resulting in the formation of fluid-filled cavities in the spinal cord. The damage can cause pain. Signs include scratching at the neck and sensitivity in the area of the head and neck. The dogs often yelp or scream for no apparent reason, may hold their head in a certain position much of the time, or develop a wobbly walk. Syringomyelia can be mild, requiring no action; managed with pain medication; corrected with surgery; or so severe that the dog must be euthanized.
Luxating patella. Many toy breeds and small dogs, the Cavalier included, have a condition known as luxating patella, in which one or both kneecaps are unstable and occasionally, or in more severe cases, always slip out of place. Depending on the level of severity (1 being mild and 4 being severe), luxating patellas can be a minor issue that cause the dog little problem or pain or serious enough to require surgical correction.
Primary secretory otitis media. Also known as glue ear, this condition occurs when a mucus plug forms within the middle ear cavity of one or both ears. Signs include head or neck pain, holding the neck carefully, tilting the head, scratching at the ears and hearing loss. Often PSOM is mistaken for syringomyelia or hereditary deafness. It is usually diagnosed with an MRI or CT scan and treated by surgically removing the mucus plug and then flushing the ear, followed by a course of antibiotics and/or corticosteroids.
Eye problems that may affect the breed include juvenile cataracts and dry eye. Dry eye is most common in senior dogs.
In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and preventing any new ones from emerging, the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). Cavalier breeders who want CHIC certification must test breeding dogs for eye disease, patellar (knee) luxation, hip dysplasia and heart disease and agree to have test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
The Basics of Cavalier Grooming
For a coated breed, the Cavalier is relatively easy to groom. The medium-length silky coat is not so heavy that it requires hours of brushing, and it sheds dirt easily. The Cavalier sheds, like all dogs, but regular brushing will remove dead hairs so they don’t float off onto your floor, furniture and clothing.
The long, silky hair on the Cavalier’s ears, tail, belly and legs, known as feathering, should be brushed two or three times a week to prevent mats or tangles from forming. Be sure to check behind the ears and where the leg meets the body; that’s where they commonly form. Use a slicker brush or stainless steel comb to remove tangles, then bring out shine with a bristle brush. The coat does not require any trimming for the show ring; indeed, such trimming is prohibited by the breed standard.
A bath every two to four weeks will keep the Cavalier smelling sweet. The only other grooming needed is regular ear cleaning, tooth brushing and nail trimming.
Choosing a Cavalier Breeder
To find the right puppy, you need to find the right breeder. Reputable breeders will match you with the right puppy, and will always be diligent about having completed all the health certifications necessary to screen out as many health problems as possible. For good breeders, the goal is getting puppies in good homes, not making big bucks.
Start your puppy search by finding a breeder who is a member in good standing of either the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club – USA or the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, and who has agreed to abide by the CKCSC’s code of ethics or the ACKCSC’s ethical guidelines, both of which specifically prohibit selling puppies through retail outlets such as pet stores and outline the responsibility their member breeders have to the dogs they produce and the people who purchase them. Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource as you train and care for your new dog throughout his life.
There are a number of red flags to look for when vetting a potential breeder. These warning signs include breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy, who have multiple litters on the premises, and who give you the ability to pay online with a credit card. Many of those qualities add up to a “convenient” experience, but are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Although it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish puppy mills from a reliable operation, doing your due diligence will save you money in the long run. No one can guarantee with 100% certainty you’ll never purchase a sick puppy. However, researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can mitigate the risk. Also, ask your veterinarian for advice. They can often refer you to a reputable breeder or rescue for your new Cavalier.
The cost of a Cavalier puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. Expect to pay between $2,000 and $3,000 for one of these popular pups. For that price, the puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Adopting a Cavalier from a Rescue or Shelter
There is no shortage of options if you want to adopt a Cavalier from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. However, with so many options available, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are some ideas to help:
Use the Web. The most popular websites for finding adoptable doges are Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com. In no time flat, these sites can help you find a Cavalier with very specific criteria (housetraining status, for example).
Looking for rescue groups in your area? AnimalShelter.org is the way to go. Beyond that, posting on your social media pages that you are looking for a specific breed can invite your entire community to be your eyes and ears.
Reach Out to Local Experts. The right person to connect you with an adoptable Cavalier might be right under your nose. Vets, dog walkers, and groomers in your area can be fantastic resources to reach out to with your desire for a Cavalier. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, these professionals are often the first people that person will turn to for help.
Talk to a Breed Rescue. Cavalier lovers tend to flock together. That’s why many breed clubs are dedicated to rescuing Cavaliers and getting them in loving homes. The American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club’s Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Beyond that, simple networking and searching online often yields success for people hoping to adopt.
Breed rescue groups are often very transparent about any health conditions the dogs may have, and also serve as a valuable resource for advice. Rescue organizations often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Cavalier home as a “test run” to see what the experience is like before committing fully.
Puppy or adult, the most important first step you can do immediately after adoption is taking your new pup to a veterinarian. This measure will help you spot problems early on and, if necessary, set up a a preventative regimen so your Cavalier can live a long and healthy life.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel FAQs
Why is my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel so big?
The average Cavalier stands 12 to 13 inches tall and weighs between 13 and 18 pounds. Genetic variability can sometimes lead to Cavaliers that are either smaller or larger than that, so there’s no real cause for concern. However, if your pup weighs significantly more than the average range, it may be a sign that your Cavalier is obese or is dealing with a separate condition, both of which can be major health concerns. If you are worried about the excessive weight of your dog, take him in to your veterinarian to get him checked.
Do Cavalier King Charles Spaniels shed?
Cavaliers shed a small amount, but nowhere near as much as double-coated breeds like Labrador Retrievers or Huskies. Cavaliers’ shedding is also not seasonal, so you can expect light shedding year-round with this breed. Lightly brushing their coat a few times a week can help keep them looking their best and manage any hair loss, a win for both you and your Cavalier.
How much is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?
Like with any breed of dog, the cost of a Cavalier puppy depends on location, sex, and his lineage. You can expect to pay between $2,000 and $3,000 for one of these popular pups from a reputable breeder. That price tag should come with an assurance that the puppy was raised in a clean home environment, and from parents with proper health clearances proving they are good specimens of the breed.
Are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels hypoallergenic?
No, Caveliers are not considered hypoallergenic dogs. Therefore, if you are considering buying or adopting a Cavalier and you suffer from dog-aggravated allergies, it’s best to reconsider.