The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has been the favorite dog of kings, queens, and nobles for centuries. Portraits and paintings of spaniels resembling the Cavalier from the Restoration and the Victorian ages in Britain are still displayed in museums and castles.
It is one of the most graceful dog breeds of all, but despite its regal-like looks and its image of being the perfect lapdog, the Cavalier is still a Spaniel, and will truly enjoy flushing birds and running to attempt to retrieve them.
The dogs from this elegant dog breed are actually pretty athletic and even though they are in the Toy group according to the American Kennel Club, they are true sporting dogs that will enjoy running, hiking, agility, rally and flyball, and of course hunting.
They are also one of the largest of all dog breeds in the Toy group.
There are of course less active pups from this breed who are entirely happy as loyal family companions and therapy dogs.
Today, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the 18th most popular breed in the USA according to the AKC registry.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about these charming British spaniels.
Temperament: gentle, loving, regal-like
Height at the shoulder: 12-13 inches
Weight: 13-18 lbs.
Life expectancy: 12-15 years
Breed Group: Toy Group
About the breed
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the perfect combination of an athletic sporting spaniel and a gentle and loving toy dog. This makes the breed perfect both for active and for more sedentary owners. In fact, most dogs of this breed can adapt to the activity levels of their owners and families pretty easily.
It is a beautiful, graceful and even-tempered dog that has earned its spot among canine royalty.
Cavaliers are the largest of all toy dog breeds but will reach a height at the shoulder of just up to 13 inches.
Their most recognizable characteristics are those round, large eyes that express such sweetness and gentleness that they can melt anyone’s heart.
Of course, their trademark gorgeous long silky and colorful coats are another feature that makes these dogs so beautiful and so adored by fanciers of the breed.
And last but not least the constantly wagging tails of these small dogs are considered one of the top charming features of this breed.
They may look like little four-legged aristocrats, but being part of the spaniel family, Cavaliers will happily romp up and down chasing birds and squirrels.
Cavaliers typically get along with other dogs, pets and children. Actually, they are a highly adaptable breed and will do well in all kinds of homes and with all kinds of families – including highly active ones, and those who prefer to spend more time at home.
The dogs from this breed are very well-balanced toy spaniels that are active, vivacious and yet regally graceful. They have the athleticism and fearlessness of the sporting spaniels and the affection and lovability of toy dogs.
Their coats come in ruby, black and tan, Blenheim (chestnut with white) and tricolor colors.
They do not require any clipping or trimming, as their natural appearance and shape is what make the breed so special.
They do shed throughout the year and more heavily during the shedding seasons, so they require regular brushing and grooming.
These loveable tail-wagging pups are able to win over just about anybody, and can easily attain constant petting and endless treats. This increased the risk of Cavaliers becoming overweight which not only can ruin their perfect appearance but is also unhealthy and dangerous. This is why owners should be careful not to overfeed these precious and sweet dogs, and take them on walks and for playtime instead.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will typically follow their favorite humans everywhere they go. Just like small shadows, you can expect your pup to be beside you even when you go to the bathroom.
They get overly attached to their owners, and are definitely house dogs that need constant attention, and will not thrive if left isolated and alone at home or let alone outdoors. When left without the human presence and attention they thrive on, Cavaliers can suffer from separation anxiety and become loud, destructive or depressed.
Cavaliers are smart and are willing to try everything you ask them to do, so they are easy to train provided you use only positive reinforcement and treats. Yelling at these sensitive pups can hurt their feelings, and may cause them to hide away and sulk.
Instead of losing your temper on these sweet dogs, you should use a treat or praise them for obeying your commands or for staying out of trouble.
You will find that your Cavalier will do anything to find out what pleases you, in order to get more love, praise, and a treat.
Housetraining is a common problem for most toy breeds, and the Cavaliers don’t fall behind. Potty training can require more patience and may take more time than with other dog breeds, but if you give your pup an opportunity to do its business outdoors every few hours, and reward it for its good behavior, you can expect results and begin trusting it inside your home.
The personality of each dog depends on its genes, upbringing, socialization, and training, as well as how you care for it.
But when bred properly, and socialized, trained, and cared for, there are general traits that are most commonly found in the characters of these beautiful dogs.
The dainty and outgoing Cavalier will want to make friends with everyone – known or unknown. Although it can bark when someone is at the door, this will be to greet them rather than to protect or warn you. These dogs are everything else but not good watchdogs.
Then again, this loving temperament makes them much sought-after pets.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is also the perfect companion for any child of any age. The dogs from this breed are friendly, small and non-aggressive.
They can adapt to people of all activity levels, so they can be excellent running buddies for the active types and at the same time perfect companion dogs for the elderly and for first-time dog owners as well.
These toy dogs can be timid, but this issue can be avoided if you socialize your pet from an early age. If you take it to meet new people, new friendly dogs, and to experience various sights, sounds and situations, you will end up with a well-rounded dog rather than a timid and fearful one.
One of the potential downsides of the temperament of the cavaliers is the fact that they are rather needy pets. They live for the attention of their humans and hate being left alone. If you have a pet like this, you will never be alone wherever you are in the house, because this Velcro dog will stay closely attached to you at all times.
This need for constant attention can be a problem for people who are out of home for long hours, and for those who do not have the time and energy to spend their days and nights with their pet.
This is why, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are suitable for people who work at home, or stay at home, such as freelancers, retirees, and others.
If left alone the separation anxiety of these dogs can cause them to bark excessively and to even start chewing on your shoes, furniture or on everything they find.
But as mentioned previously, although they are considered toy dogs, Cavaliers are also sporting spaniels, and have a strong prey drive. They will chase any small animal, bird, or anything moving when given a chance. This is why keeping your dog on a leash or in a well-fenced yard, as well as teaching to obey your recall commands are essential for the safety of your four-legged pal.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel needs about ½ to 1 cup of high-quality dog food a day in order to be healthy and stay in shape. Always divide the daily food into two separate meals.
Of course, the exact quantity of the food you feed to your pup depends on its age, its health, its weight, its metabolism, and its activity level.
Couch potatoes need much fewer calories than highly active dogs.
Also, the portion sizes depending on the type of food you choose to feed your dog with. The more nutritious and the more digestible the food is – the lesser the quantities your dog needs to be well and healthy.
It would be best if you always fed your dog with food and quantities of food suitable for its age too.
If you are planning on cooking your dog’s food at home, then make sure you use only ingredients which are safe and good for canines. Some human foods are incredibly fattening and unhealthy for dogs, and other foods which we truly enjoy can be dangerous and toxic for them.
Despite its irresistible sweet looks, those large sad eyes, and that ever-wagging tail, make sure you do not overfeed your dog. Resist the temptation to feed it table scraps, or fatty or sugary foods.
If your Cavalier will be eating canned or other liquid food, it is a good idea to use a headband, a scrunchy, or cover its ears with a hood to keep them from dipping in the dog bowl and getting all messy.
Also, look for dog bowls with smaller diameters in order to prevent the ears from getting into the water or food.
Cavaliers can be prone to gaining excess weight and even becoming obese, especially as they get older, or after they are spayed or neutered.
This is why you should not only measure the food portions for your dog but an eye on its body weight on a regular basis too.
In case, the weight of your pup is getting out of control, try limiting the caloric intake by decreasing the portion size, or switching to weight management dog food, and try increasing the amount of exercise your dog gets.
Obesity in dogs can cause all kinds of problems including heart problems, diabetes, bone, and joint problems, and many others, which can shorten their lifespans significantly.
It is good to know that obesity in dogs can be caused by certain health problems like Hypothyroidism, Insulinoma, and Hyperadrenocriticism, in which case the primary cause for the weight problem needs to be addressed first.
Speak to your vet or a nutritionist if you have concerns about your dog’s weight.
The coat of the Cavaliers is medium-long, slightly wavy, and has to feather on the chest, ears, tail, and feet.
The most common coat color is Blenheim which is rich chestnut patterns on a white background, with some dogs sporting a lozenge which is a small chestnut-colored dot on the forehead in the form of a thumbprint.
It can also be tricolor with black markings on the coat, and tan markings on the cheeks, on the eyebrows, and on the inner side of the tail.
Another possible color is the ruby color which is solid red-brown with no markings or spots.
The gorgeous, rich, and silky coat of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel does require combing or brushing 4-5 times a week in order to keep it from matting and getting tangled and unsightly. The feathery areas are especially prone to getting matted and tangled, so you will need to comb them gently and consistently. You may want to trim the hair in between the pads of your Cavalier’s feet to keep them as clean as possible.
Cavaliers shed moderately throughout the year, with heavier shedding occurring during the spring and fall.
Brushing the coat of the cavalier will be a treat for your dog which will love the attention, the closeness with you, and the pleasant body massage.
The dogs from this toy breed require occasional baths, but if your furbaby spends most of its time in your bed or on your furniture, you may want to give it a bath every week.
These dogs do not require any trimming or clipping of the, and for show dogs leaving the coat and the feathering in an all-natural and yet pristine state is a must.
As you are brushing and combing your pup’s coat, remember to examine its body for any unusual redness, rashes, scales, sores, lumps, or other signs of potential health problems.
Also, make sure you brush your pet’s teeth at least 3-4 times a week. Brushing the teeth will help avoid the buildup of plaque, and will remove the bacteria, and thus reduce the risk of tooth decay, gum problems, and bad breath.
The nails also need regular trimming, especially if you can hear them clicking on the floor. Make sure you keep the nails properly trimmed to avoid injuries and breaks, and also to keep the pup’s feet in good condition.
Always trim the nails carefully and without cutting through the quick which is a blood vessel that can cause bleeding and pain if damaged. Most dogs need trimming of nails once a month if they do not wear them down naturally.
The ears of your Cavalier are also something you should clean and check regularly. Use dog ear cleaner on a cotton ball to clean the inner parts of the ears. Watch for redness or a bad smell, which can indicate an ear infection. Never stick anything in the ear canal of the dog, and let the vet do the proper cleaning there.
To get your cavalier king Charles Spaniel used to the grooming process, start training it from an early age. Reward it and praise it for standing still and not fighting you while you comb, brush, clean, trim and inspect it. This will make the grooming process much easier for you, the dog, and for your groomers and vets in the future.
Although Cavaliers are the quintessential toy and lap dogs, they are still sporting spaniels and do require moderate daily exercise, as well as outdoor playtime or other activities.
Cavaliers do have a strong prey drive, which will make them chase any small animal or other moving things. This means that you should keep the dog on a leash, or let it run around a properly fenced outdoor area to keep the dog safe from straying away, getting lost or getting injured in a traffic accident.
These dogs will enjoy walking or even jogging, and it can be trained to perform amazingly in various canine sports. At the same time, they will thoroughly enjoy spending most of the time on your lap.
Thanks to this adaptability, your Cavalier will most probably adapt to your activity level. This makes the breed perfect for elderly owners, or people who lead more sedentary lifestyles. Then again, they are perfect for highly active people too.
Thanks to the small size and the gentle temperament of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, these pups are perfect for apartment and city living. They will be happy if you have a small fenced yard too.
Because the dogs of this breed have rather short noses, make sure you protect your pup from overheating in the summer and avoid taking it outside when it is scorching hot without any shade or freshwater.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a very even-tempered, sweet and gentle dog breed. These pups will do everything to please their owners.
They are amazingly friendly with just about anyone, and are perfect companions and playmates for children and get along with other dogs as well.
Thanks to their natural intelligence, the dogs from this toy breed are very easy to train.
Because they thrive on getting the attention of and being with their owners, the Cavaliers will actually enjoy the training sessions and will do anything to please you.
Training these tender and sensitive pups should always be by positive reinforcement. Praise your puppy, give it a treat, and show it your love when it obeys your commands. Then gently correct it if it doesn’t.
Pretty soon after your dog receives a reward or praise every time it obeys your command, it will learn that good behavior leads to good things.
The first basic commands to teach the puppy include: sit, come, down, stay and quiet. Keep a treat in your hand, and give it to the pup as soon as it obeys your command. Along with the treatment, you should use a praise word like “yes”, “good girl/boy”, or another which the dog will start associating with a reward.
Later as the puppy grows up, you can use fewer treats, and use more of the praise word for your training sessions.
Punishment, striking, jerking, yelling or confining the dog in a crate are absolutely ineffective, and can even be harmful when the puppy is young.
Along with the basic obedience training, you should start socializing your puppy from as early as possible. Even though Cavaliers are extremely friendly, they do have a proneness to being too timid. To avoid your dog growing up to be fearful and timid, make sure you meet it with friendly dogs, other puppies, and different people when it is still young.
Also, take it to different places where it can see different things, hear different noises and get accustomed to the surrounding world. You can enroll your puppy to puppy kindergarten where it can play and communicate with other pups of the same age.
A properly socialized puppy will grow up to be a confident, friendly and well-rounded dog.
Crate training is good if you plan on traveling with your dog in the future, but do not use the crate as punishment, and let the dog feel like it is going to a safe and peaceful place where it can rest instead. Also, do not keep the pup crated for too long, and only place it in a crate after it has gotten its exercise, and when it is time to take a nice nap.
The fact that these dogs are so smart and desperately eager to please makes them one of the best dog breeds for first-time owners with no experience.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will also enjoy learning new neat tricks, as well as training with you for various dog events and sports like agility, obedience, flyball, hunting and others too.
They make excellent therapy dogs as well.
If you have children, make sure you explain to them how to properly interact with the dog, without mistreating it, and without attempting to take away its food when eating, or approaching it when it is sleeping.
Once your children learn how to communicate and play with the cavalier, they will most surely become best friends.
As for living with other pets, the dogs from this toy breed are friendly with other pups, but due to their strong prey drive could have a problem living under the same roof with birds or other small animals.
They can become pals with your cats, as long as they are introduced to each other from an early age.
Like all purebred dogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are more prone to some inherited and some acquired health conditions and problems than to others.
Although your Cavalier may never get any of these diseases, it is essential for owners of this dog breed to be aware of them and watch for any worrying signs.
Here are the most common health conditions which affect the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels:
Mitral Valve Disease (MVD)
Unfortunately, Mitral valve Disease is pretty common in Cavaliers. It is in fact, the leading cause of death among dogs from this breed.
The condition begins with a heart murmur, which gradually worsens until it leads to heart failure.
While heart disease among all senior canines is quite common, Cavaliers are prone to developing this problem from an earlier age. It can sometimes occur when the dog is only 1-2 years old.
There is no cure for MVD, and the cause for it is not completely clear. Research shows that there is a genetic component, which is why responsible breeders should get their dogs evaluated by veterinary cardiologists to reduce the risk of the deadly disease to be passed down to the next generations.
Syringomyelia is another common health condition that affects the Cavaliers. In fact, a study showed that about 70% of all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels display symptoms of this health problem by the age of 6 years.
It is a malformation of the skull caused by a small occipital bone on the back which prevents the cerebrospinal fluids from circulating freely, and also reduces the space for the brain.
The condition can cause mild discomfort, serious pain, and even partial paralysis in dogs.
The first symptoms usually appear between the ages of 6 months and 4 years. They can include sensitivity around the neck, the head, or the shoulders. The pup may look like it is scratching the area but without actually touching it. This behavior can sometimes be seen even when the dog is walking on a leash or when it is excited.
Pups affected by this condition of the skull and spine may also whimper or cry suddenly for no reason.
Other symptoms include forelimb weakness, hind limb wobbling, a preference for sleeping and eating with head up, and others.
Syringomyelia is diagnosed via an MRI scan.
Episodic Falling Syndrome
This genetic problem in Cavaliers is commonly confused with epilepsy, but the main difference is that the pup remains conscious when it falls or has a seizure. The reason for Episodic falling syndrome is the inability of the dog to relax its muscles.
The symptoms may be mild but could also be quite severe leading to falling and seizure-like episodes which can last for several hours.
The symptoms usually appear before the age of 5 months but can appear later in life as well.
This is a hereditary disease, which is why dogs with this condition should not be bred, and why breeders should test their dogs before mating them.
Hip dysplasia is another hereditary disease that affects many different dog breeds including the Cavaliers. It is caused by misalignment and an improper fit of the thigh bone in the hip joint.
Hip dysplasia may cause no discomfort to the dog, but in some cases may cause pain and lameness. It can affect one or both of the hind legs of the dog.
The condition usually worsens as the pup ages, and it can become worse as a result of an injury or of excessive weight gain.
It is diagnosed with X-ray examinations and can be managed and treated with supplements for joint health, a weight loss diet, or with surgery for hip replacement.
Dogs with hip dysplasia should never be bred, and every responsible breeder should be able to provide you with documented health clearance for both parents of the puppy for tests for this condition.
Like hip dysplasia, Patellar luxation is an inherited disease, which causes a misalignment of the bones connecting at the knee joint of one or both hind legs.
As a result of the misalignment of the femur and the kneecap, the bone and joint can sometimes slip out of place and cause discomfort, pain, and lameness.
Unfortunately, it is a very common condition among most toy breeds, and female pups are more than twice as likely to have this condition.
Apart from genetics, the luxation of the kneecap can also be trauma-related.
The first signs are displayed as early as the age of 4 months.
Corrective surgery is the only effective treatment for this condition.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye)
This is an auto-immune reaction that causes the tear glands to stop the production of tears, or to decrease their production. The condition is very easily managed and treated with daily administration of eye drops.
But if left untreated, Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca can lead to complete blindness.
Middle ear infections
Because of the long drop ears of the Cavalier, this breed is prone to various ear infections, but the most common ones are middle ear infections.
The causes for these infections can be: irregular or too often cleaning of the ears, water in the ears, humidity, bacteria, hypothyroidism, yeast, ear mites, allergies, antibiotics, and others.
The earlier the condition is detected, the easier and faster it is to be treated.
The vet will treat any underlying condition causing the infection and will thoroughly clean the ear, and sometimes both ears, just in case. Then, an antibiotic or another medication will be prescribed to treat the infection and remove the mite infestation or the fungal growth.
It is rare for Cavaliers to be born completely deaf. But puppies can be born partly deaf. In this case, they will become completely deaf when they reach the age of 6-8 years.
The symptom of deafness is a lack of reaction to your voice, to sharp sounds, doorbells, squeaky toys, and others.
Canine epilepsy can be hereditary, but can also be caused by other underlying health problems such as hypothyroidism and others.
In Cavaliers, epilepsy usually exhibits itself in “Fly catcher’s syndrome” seizures which look like the dog is trying to catch invisible flies with its paws.
Other types of seizures include collapsing, twitching, stiffening of the body, foaming of the mouth, loss of consciousness, chewing of the tongue, running like being chased and others.
Epileptic seizures can be frightening to the owners but canine epilepsy can be managed with the appropriate medications, and by treating the underlying conditions causing them.
Toy spaniels have been the favorite dogs of many Kings, Queens, and members of European nobility for centuries.
Mary, Queen of Scotts, had a dog like this, and it even accompanied her to her beheading. Records claim that Mary hid her beloved spaniel in her skirts, and the devastated pup remained by her body for days.
In the 17th century, Marys’s grandson, King Charles I, and his son, King Charles II, were especially devoted to a particular black and tan variety of these small spaniels. Eventually, the breed was named after King Charles II.
Some historians claim that the King used to be more devoted to his spaniels than to ruling his country.
Records show that King Charles II never went anywhere without at least 2-3 of these dogs, and during his reign, he decreed that his dogs will be allowed to any public space including the Parliament.
The toy-sized spaniels remained the favorite companion dogs of British nobility in the 19th century as well. Among these aristocrats, one of the famous breeders was the Marlborough family. They bred a line of toy spaniels in red and white color at their Blenheim palace. Hence, the name of one of the most common colorations of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
The Duchess of Marlborough is credited for giving the breed the Lozenge thumbprint-like spot on the foreheads of some Cavaliers.
Later in the same century, during the Victorian age in Britain, breeders crossed the toy spaniels with Asian toy breeds like Japanese Chins and Pugs. The result from these crosses was the King Charles Spaniel.
Queen Victoria herself had a favorite toy spaniel named Dash for whom she had a tombstone inscribed which includes the moving description of her favorite pet: “His attachment was without selfishness, his playfulness without malice, his fidelity without deceit.”
They had flatter faces and domed skulls than the original toy spaniels from King Charles’s time, which have been immortalized in numerous portraits and paintings from the Restoration.
Soon they became the dominant type of toy spaniels and the favorite breed for both aristocracy and common people.
But in the 1920s, a group of fanciers of the traditional toy spaniels from the years of King Charles II began working on the possibility of restoring the original breed.
An American named Roswell Eldridge even offered a cash prize of 25 pounds sterling (which was a huge sum in those years) for any breeder who could produce the Blenheim Spaniels of the Old World Type.
A dog named Ann’s Son presented by Mostyn Walker in 1928 won the prize money, but unfortunately, the wealthy sponsor died a month before the dog was presented so he didn’t live to see it.
Thanks to this initiative, the breeders in Britain were stimulated to work on restoring these original-styled toy spaniels.
The resulting dogs were named Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, as a nod to the King who loved the breed, and to the monarchist party which supported the Stuarts in the Civil War in Britain. They are a different breed from the flatter-faced King Charles Spaniels, called English Toy Spaniels in the USA.
The first breed club Crufts was established in 1928, and the first dog presented was Ana’s Son. All members agreed that the dogs from this new breed should be kept as natural as possible with no hair trimming and shaping.
The breed was recognized by the Kennel Club in the UK in 1945.
The first two dogs from this breed were imported to the USA in the 1940s, but it was in 1952 when the first Cavaliers made a name for themselves in the US.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club USA was founded in 1954, and the breed was recognized as a breed by the AKC in March 1995.
Some of the famous people who have owned or still own dogs from this breed include Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Margaret, Frank Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, Mickey Rooney, Tom Selleck, Sylvester Stallone, Diane Sawyer, Courtney Cox, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Liv Tyler, and many others.
One of the most famous Cavaliers on TV was a dog named “Elizabeth Taylor Goldenblatt” in the TV Series “Sex and the City” and was the favorite dog of one of the main characters Charlotte (played by Kristin Davis). The beautiful Blenheim Cavalier had its own storyline in the hit series.
So, in fact, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a relatively new breed that was developed in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century, but it was based on the original prototype which existed many centuries ago.
Today, it is among the most popular dog breeds around the world, and given its gentile, friendly and loving personality, it may remain one of the top 20 most popular breeds in the world for years to come.