Almost none of the following problems are congenital (i.e. present at birth), but they develop later with no upper age limit for the age of onset. Actual symptoms generally show up between 2 and 6 years of age, although younger and older ages of onset are possible. Breed-wide, the average lifespan of a Cavalier is about 9-10 years.
With the exception of syringomyelia, the following problems are diagnosed through simple, non-invasive, inexpensive, readily available, and painless tests.
Chronic, degenerative mitral valve disease (MVD). The first indication is a murmur. Other heart defects include pulmonary and aortic stenoses and PDA (Patent Ductus Arterious). Diagnosis should be done by a board certified veterinary cardiologist.
Juvenile cataracts and retinal dysplasia or folds. Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) has also occurred in Cavaliers but is not prevalent. Diagnosis should be done by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist.
Known as slipping patellas. Even quite bad patellar luxation may not cause much, if any, discomfort; especially while the Cavalier is young. Surgery is an option if the Cavalier is in pain, his quality of life is impaired, or to prevent irreversible joint deterioration. Diagnosis should be done by a General Practioner and is the easiest of all the tests to be performed.
Because of the breed’s small size, obvious clinical symptoms usually don’t occur until the Cavalier is older and then mainly in severely affected dogs only. Diagnosis should be done by X-rays taken at 2 years of age or older and sent to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and are good for life. X-rays taken under 2 years are considered Preliminary diagnosis and it is recommended that the hips be re-evaluated at 2 years.
Degenerative disc disease
Gran mal seizures are possible but various forms of focal (petit mal) seizures can also occur. The most common focal seizure is called “Fly Catcher’s Syndrome”, where the dog snaps or lunges at imaginary flies. There are many other types of focal seizures that can occur. All types of seizures may be treated with phenobarbital and/or potassium bromide and other drugs if necessary
Total deafness is rarely congenital. Cavalier deafness is usually of a partial and/or premature nature. Some Cavaliers become totally deaf by 6-8 years. BAER testing is available to assess hearing loss.
These disorders can include, but are not limited to, allergies, digestive or metabolic disorders, dry eye, cancer, fertility and/or breeding problems, muscle or nerve disorders, thyroid problems, blood problems (mainly autoimmune hemolytic anemia and/or thrombocytopenia), etc.
A condition potentially caused by an overly small occipital bone (part of the back of the skull), preventing cerebrospinal fluid from circulating freely. The fluid is forced into the spinal cord creating a cavity called syrinx. The most common sign of this condition is shoulder/neck/ear scratching (with no evidence of skin or ear disease), especially when excited or walking on a lead – typically to one side only but may become bilateral. Affected dogs may also be sensitive around the head, neck and forelimbs and often cry/yelp/scream for apparently no reason. Pain may be related to head posture and some dogs prefer to sleep or eat with their heads up. Some severely affected young dogs develop a neck scoliosis, i.e. – their neck is twisted. Some dogs may develop a wobbling hind limb gait and/or a forelimb weakness. Signs are usually recognised between 6 months and 3 years, however dogs of any age may begin showing symptoms. The only definite way to diagnose syringomyelia and the associated skull malformation is by a MRI scan. Unfortunately this expensive test, usually performed by a neurologist, is only available at specialist veterinary centers. (Reference: www.cavaliersonline.com/health/syringoinfo.htm, www.thecavalierclub.co.uk/health/syringo.html)