The following are some more common health issues in dogs, in general and not considered specific to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, nor considered inherited in the breed at this time.
Allergies: like people dogs can have allergies. They can manifest in different ways, some dogs may have skin problems, others may have itchy eyes and ears and others may suffer from stomach problems. However, it is often difficult to track down the cause and much of this is done by a process of elimination. The causes may be food, inhaled substances (eg. Grass, ragweed, pollen, dust mites), reactions to drugs, vaccines or insect bites. In some cases, dogs may have such severe reactions that they could go into prophylactic shock which requires emergency treatment. In many cases itching, hair loss, chewing, rubbing themselves and persistent stomach ailments can be the signs of allergies. With the help of a veterinarian you can look for the cause of the allergies. If at a certain time of the year, the cause could be an inhalant like ragweed. Many times, the cause is food related and by methodically trying different foods the cause can be found. For inhalant or contact type of allergies skin tests may be done. Treatments vary from changes in food, special baths, antihistamines and/or steroids.
Anal Glands: these are two glands found on either side of the anus under the tail also known as “scent glands” which is why you often see two dogs sniffing in that location when they meet, as it is manner of identification. These two glands will normally express a brown, smelly liquid on their own during defecation. They can also be expressed by muscular contraction when the dog is frightened or excited. Sometimes the glands are not naturally expressed and become full or cause irritation which will cause a dog to “scoot” along the ground. An owner, groomer or veterinarian can express these glands manually when required. In some cases, the glands become impacted and infected which will require manually expressing the glands, sometimes under anesthetic and then treatment with an antibiotic.
Arthritis: there are different types of arthritis in dogs. Osteoarthritis which is a form of degenerative joint disease such as hip dysplasia (HD) and is progressive with the symptoms worsening with age. In this form the area around the cartilage and bone often deteriorates causing bone spurs which are painful. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory arthritis and immune-mediated. This condition may be seen in all the dog’s joints. Less common is Infectious Arthritis caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. The causes of arthritis is diverse ranging from genetic (HD), previous injuries or accidents, immune system problem, repetitive strain injury or infections. The different types of arthritis are treated differently ranging from pain medications, natural treatments such as glucosamine, steroids or antibiotics. Some natural stiffness in older dogs is normal but if excessive the dog should be assessed by your veterinarian.
Auto-immune (mediated) diseases: under ordinary circumstances the body’s immune system recognizes an invading infectious disease and sends cells to attack this disease. In the case of an auto-immune disease the body’s signals become crossed and the immune system inadvertently starts to attack the body’s own tissues and organs. There is much discussion about the causes of auto-immune diseases, in some cases there are genetic predispositions for auto-immune diseases, however there are indications that over-vaccination, drugs, diet may also have some role in these diseases. There are many diseases which may be considered auto-immune in nature, ranging from certain skin conditions, to diseases that attack specific organs like hypothyroidism or system-wide problems such as lupus and AIHA (autoimmune hemolytic anemia).
Cherry Eye: is a prolapsed gland of the third eye characterized by a bulge of the gland in the inner corner of the eye which is often very red in color hence the name “cherry eye”. Often requires surgical intervention to correct the condition.
Colitis: is caused by inflammation of the colon. There are many reasons for colitis including stress factors (boarding, thunderstorms, moving, etc.), parasites, digesting something that doesn’t agree or may be secondary to another condition. One of the main symptoms of colitis is diarrhea which may have the following characteristics: fresh blood, slime or mucus in the stools, not associated with weight loss, involves a stool that starts normal and finishes loose. Colitis often lasts for a short period of time but if chronic or episodic the actual cause should be looked for and treated by medication and/or change in diets.
Corneal Ulcers: is caused when the surface of the cornea receives a scratch or a tear and is more often seen in breeds with a larger eye such as the Cavalier, Shih Tzu and Bulldog. It is often caused when the eye comes into contact with a plant or bush, another dog, foreign body in the eye, scratching, etc. May be characterized by a blueish tinge to the eyeball and/or discharge from the eye. Some may not heal easily and require veterinary attention to save the eye from further serious damage.
Diabetes Mellitus: is a disorder where the body is unable to regulate body sugar levels adequately, caused by a lack of insulin. Signs of diabetes may be excessive thirst, urination and/or appetite, weight loss and lethargy. In advanced cases blindness, depression, lack of appetite and vomiting may be seen. Generally seen in older dogs at 7 plus with obese dogs or unspayed females at higher risk. There may be a genetic breed disposition or the condition can be caused by viral disease, pancreatitis, steroid or reproductive hormone drugs, predisposing diseases or be immune-mediated. Treatment usually involves insulin replacement therapy and diet control.
Elongated soft palate: this condition is seen in some toy and brachycephalic breeds. It is caused when the soft palate (the flap which prevents food and drink from entering the nasal passages) is elongated obstructing the airway or larynx. The main symptoms are usually snorting, reverse sneezing and excessive snoring. Reverse sneezing is commonly seen in Cavaliers, often when the dog is pulling against a leash, and is not a cause for alarm. Left alone it will correct itself though there are certain exercises that can be done to quicken the end of a spasm, such as holding the nostrils closed and gently tilting the head downwards towards the chest for a few seconds.
Epilepsy: is a term used for multiple seizures. Some seizures may be symptomatic (or secondary) in nature i.e. as a result of a condition or disease such as brain tumors, heart conditions, liver shunt, hormonal imbalances, poisoning, etc. Idiopathic epilepsy is multiple seizures with an unexplained cause. Generally, in idiopathic epilepsy the first episodes occur between the age of 1 and 3 years of age. Some breeds seem to have a predisposition for this condition and so may be inherited. Idiopathic epilepsy does not present in the same way for each dog. Some dogs may only have the occasional seizure throughout their lifetime, others may have more frequent seizures, all with varying degrees of severity. Dogs who seize infrequently may not require medication. In most cases those dogs that require medication will live reasonably normal lives with only the occasional seizure.
Epithelial/stromal (Corneal) dystrophy: is a condition where there are whitish crystalline lipid deposits, usually cholesterol, found on the surface of the cornea. In some cases, they may come and go. They generally do not present any long-term problems though a white or grey opacity may be noticed in the affected eye.
Flycatching: continuous behavior of a dog snapping at non-existent flies. It is unclear whether this condition is epileptic in nature or of a repetitive obsessive-compulsive problem, or a combination of both.
Fontanel (open): some dogs, particularly toy or brachycephalic breeds, may be born with an open fontanel or soft spot on the top of the skull where the skull plates join. As the puppy grows this spot generally disappears as the skull develops and the plates join and fuse. In most cases this soft spot closes usually by 3 or 4 months of age. Occasionally they never close completely but are not a problem unless secondary to another condition called hydrocephalus or “water on the brain”. In the case of this condition other symptoms such as seizures, vision and eye tracking problems, extreme domed head, and restlessness are also present.
Hip Dysplasia: this is an inherited condition where there is abnormal development of the ball (femoral head) and socket (acetabulum) joint of the hip. In the case of a dysplastic dog if the joint is not structurally correct there may be too much laxity of movement which causing further injury to the joint over time. The only way to really diagnose Hip Dysplasia is to take an x-ray of the hip joint and have it graded. There are 9 different gradings ranging from Excellent to Severe Dysplasia. There may be clinical signs involved with this condition but they do not indicate the level of severity. Some dogs are able to “manage” the condition better than others. Some symptoms of Hip Dysplasia may include lameness, morning stiffness, reluctance to move, pain particularly on first rising, overdevelopment of shoulder and fore-limb muscles and underdevelopment of hindquarter muscles. Treatment can range from arthritis medications to surgical repair of the hip socket.
Hypoglycemia: is most often seen in puppies of toy and small breeds and is caused by low blood sugar often brought on by stress situations such as visits to the vets or over exercise. Some of the symptoms may include weakness, confusion, wobbly gait and seizure-like episodes. They can often be avoided by feeding a susceptible dog frequent small meal. During an episode sometimes a water and glucose solution will help, though in severe cases intravenous glucose may be necessary.
Hypothyroidism: is a condition where there is a deficiency of thyroid hormone. It may have several causes such an immune-mediated destruction of the thyroid gland, natural atrophy of the gland, a deficiency in the diet, etc. The symptoms of this condition may be varied from dog to dog and can include skin conditions, dry, brittle coats, lethargy, obesity, temperament problems and infertility. Testing for this condition usually involves a blood test to measure levels of T3, T4 and TSH. Treatment for this condition is relatively simple requiring daily oral administration of replacement hormone for the life of the dog.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease: relates to a chronic irritation of the stomach or intestines. If the irritation is in the stomach then chronic vomiting often occurs, if in the intestines then accompanied by chronic diarrhea. With some dogs both stomach and intestines would be involved so may have both vomiting and diarrhea. Generally seen in middle aged to older dogs, it may be an immune related condition, though bacteria such as Helicobacter may be involved. To diagnose the condition a biopsy is generally required. Treatments may involve diet changes and steroid use.
Inguinal Hernias: a protrusion of soft tissue, possibly fat or abdominal organs through the inguinal ring found in the groin region. They can be on one side or both. They may be congenital or acquired. In the congenital form they are usually seen before 12 weeks of age and may be self-correcting but can require surgical repair. If acquired it may occur in middle age, usually in unspayed bitches. This condition should be checked by a vet. This is an inherited condition and an affected animal should not be bred.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye): is a condition where there is insufficient tear production which can result in dryness to the corneal surface. Tear production is needed to keep the aqueous surfaces of the eye moist and without proper tear production damage can occur leading to permanent damage including blindness from secondary causes. This condition is most likely auto-immune and can develop in older dogs including Cavaliers.
Liver Shunt (Portosystemic): a portosystemic shunt is a blood vessel present in fetal animals which bypass the liver carrying blood directly from organs such as the stomach and pancreas to the heart. Upon birth the shunt closes down allowing the liver to take over filtering, storage and production functions. In some cases, the shunt does not close down properly and the liver is unable to grow or function properly. Symptoms are generally seen at a young age and may include poor growth, excessive drinking and urinating, vomiting, diarrhea, behavioral problems such as seizures, circling, staggering, unresponsiveness and depression. Quite often the signs are seen several hours after being fed. In some dogs the condition may be acquired and clinical signs would be seen later in life. In less severe cases treatment may involve low protein diets and drugs but generally surgery to close the shunt is required.
Megaesophagus: this condition is characterized by a dog’s inability to properly swallow their food due to poor muscle contraction and relaxation of the esophagus and so instead of being moved into the stomach the food remains in the esophagus, causing the dog to regurgitate. There are two forms of megaesophagus – congenital which is seen when a puppy is put on solid food and adult which may be caused by diseases which may cause nerve/muscle damage and leads to megaesophagus. Once diagnosed this condition may be managed. The major danger is aspiration pneumonia as the dog may inhale regurgitated food materials.