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When it comes to dog food there tends to be a “one size fits all” attitude. Yet each breed has their unique problems and diets whether they are complete formula, homemade or raw dog foods, may not include supplements that could be helpful in the prevention or treatment of a breed’s particular problem. This article looks at supplements that are thought to have benefits for the heart.
In a previous article in this issue we looked at research and how bias and media can lead to contrary reports. In one study a vitamin or mineral might be touted as good for the heart and then the results of another study are released which can be completely reverses a finding.
The Harvard School of Public Health in the USA suggests these guidelines when looking at research studies on vitamin supplements:
1. What was the dose and how long were the study’s participants on the supplement? Any benefits may not show up if the trial is short because it can take some time for a disease to develop and for the vitamin's protective effects to emerge. Lower doses may not be as effective as a higher dose to help with a particular problem.
2. Who was involved in the study and what sort of lifestyles did they have? Supplements are more likely to benefit someone who is lacking in a certain nutrient in their diets and lifestyles can certainly influence who might need a supplement. For example smokers have a greater need for certain nutrients than those who are non-smokers.
3. When was the supplement given? Supplements may be more beneficial at certain stages of a disease or condition than during others. For example folic acid can protect against neural tube defects but only if given in the early stages of a pregnancy.
4. What was being measured in the study? Studies tend to have a certain narrow focus and may miss out on the broader pictures. For example a study may be measuring whether a supplement is good for heart disease overall which can cover many aspects of heart disease but may miss that it has a protective effect against a certain condition such as stroke.
Not included in this list is another criteria that should be looked at - who funded or performed a study may also give some clues as to why the results may differ. If a study was funded by a supplement company they would obviously want to have a positive result but if a study was funded by those who might have an interest in more traditional medicines such as a drug company would the answers change?
Most of the benefits related to various supplements tend to be more anecdotal and not necessarily proven in research trials. For example some years ago I had a dog who suffered from a ligament problem and my vet recommended glucosamine and chondroitin. There was a significant improvement in the condition after a few months on it however every time I took him off the supplement the problem would re-occur after a couple of months. If he was put back on it there would be an improvement. There have only been 2 studies into glocosamine on dogs; one, which compared glucosamine use to NSAIDs, found little benefit to its use and another showed positive results over time (70 days). Unlike traditional medicines supplements tend to take longer to be effective and instant benefits to supplementation should not be expected.
Unlike traditional medicines which are often used to treat a disease, supplements are often seen more as preventatives, though in some cases they are thought to be able to reverse or re-build.
Heart problems are the most serious health issue that will face a Cavalier and the following vitamins and supplements are thought to be of benefit in keeping the heart healthy.
Magnesium – In a human study of Mitral Valve Prolapse it was found that those with this condition have lower than normal levels of this mineral. Magnesium may help with:
- Contraction and relaxation of muscles
- Function of certain enzymes in the body
- Production and transport of energy
- Production of protein
Potassium – is a mineral essential to health and must be kept in balance with sodium. Unfortunately commercially prepared dog foods can be heavy in sodium. Diuretics and heart medications can deplete potassium and dogs on heart drugs may need to be supplemented though this can be done naturally with apple cider vinegar or mashed bananas. Potassium may help with:
- Preventing strokes
- Heart and kidney lesions
- Heart arrhythmia
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – is an essential nutrient and antioxidant. It may help with:
- Boosting the immune system
- Preventing free radicals from damaging artery walls
- Lowering blood pressure
- Preventing cataracts
- Speeding healing
- Ensuring proper dilation of blood vessels
B Vitamins (B6, B-12, and Folic Acid) – are a combination of B vitamins which are thought to help with heart health, in fact a deficiency can lead to heart failure in dogs. They may help with:
- Reducing levels of homocysteine
- Enhancing the immune and nervous systems
- Maintaining healthy muscle tone
- Promoting cell growth
- Lower high blood pressure
Vitamin E – is a fat soluble antioxidant. Some recent trials have cast doubts on the effectiveness of this vitamin with respect to certain health issues such as cancer. It may help with:
- Protecting cell damage from free radicals
- Boosting the immune system
- Widening the blood vessels
- Preventing blood clots
- Protecting the heart against later heart disease
Taurine – this is an amino acid and antioxidant which has been seen to be helpful in keeping hearts healthy. It may help with:
- Enhancing the contractile strength of heart muscle
- Lowering blood pressure
- Preventing the development of atherosclerosis
- Regulating heartbeat
- Protects normal brain activity
- Decreases muscle damage
- Improving glucose tolerance
Carnitine – is another amino acid thought to be of benefit to heart health. It may help with:
- Improving symptoms and complications of heart disease and heart failure (chest pain, heart attack, and other)
- Preventing fatty buildup especially in the heart, liver, and skeletal muscles
Arginine – another amino acid. It may help with:
- Improving endothelial function and cardiac output
- Improves exercise tolerance and decreased dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- Quickens repair time of damaged tissue
- Decreasing blood pressure
Co-enzyme Q10 – is a fat soluble ubiquinone compound found in the cells of the body and is required for mitochondrial synthesis and performs a critical function of converting nutrients into energy which is very important for the heart and heart cells. It is also an antioxidant. It may help with:
- Protecting cells from oxidation damage
- Increasing oxygen utilization
- Treating heart related ailments such as arrhythmia, angina, heart attack, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, mitral valve prolapse, atherosclerosis and congestive heart failure
- Strengthening the immune system
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (found in fish oil) – dogs with heart issues tend to have lower concentrations of the Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA in their blood. Omega-3’s may help with:
- Decreasing risk of heart disease
- Reducing inflammation and im-prove cardiac cachexia (lean muscle loss/muscle wasting)
- Anorexia (loss of appetite)
- Improving blood flow
- Lowering blood pressure
Before choosing to use supplements you will need to ensure you are giving the correct dosages for your dog’s size and weight. While adding vitamins and supplements to your dog’s diet may be helpful, overdose can occur. Consultation with a veterinarian who might specialize in holistic and alternative medicine may be helpful to work out the proper doses. There are also some prepared supplement formulas such as Bio-Cardio by Thorne Veterinary Products which contain ingredients such as Vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, potassium, L-Carnitine, L-Taurine, coenzyme Q-10, among others.
Without a doubt feeding a dog a healthy diet and keeping them exercised to maintain a healthy weight will be one of the best bets to help with their future heart health.
Previously published in The Universal Cavalier May/June 2012
Genetics tends to give me a headache, all those terms … And what about those words like co-dominance and incomplete penetrance? Sounds like the makings of one of those hot and heavy sexual fantasy books, doesn’t it?
Is it important for dog breeders to know at least the basics of genetics? Dog breeding has traditionally been a blame game …. many will blame the sire or dam if something turns up in a litter. Because you’ve never had it before … let’s use as an example long stifles where you’ve always had short stifles. You were known for your short stifles!! All of a sudden you get a litter of puppies with some having long stifles. It has to becoming from the sire, doesn’t it? Neither parent had long stifles though…. Long stifles are recessive which means you have just had the misfortune to breed the right bitch to the right dog to get those yucky long stifles!
Virtually every article on genetics starts with Gregor Mendel. You know that 19th Century Austrian monk and his pea plants that we studied in grade school biology class. I probably yawned my way through most of that class …. who knew it would become so important to me as a dog breeder? Anyway let’s skip over that section shall we? I’m yawning just thinking about those silly pea plants.
Every living thing is made up of cells within which are organized structures called chromosomes located on strands of nucleic acid twisted into a double helix called DNA. Basically DNA is the code which acts like a blueprint to build and make function each cell. DNA code is made up of a series of 4 letters A (Adenine), C (Cytosine), T (Thymine), G (Guanine) representing proteins which are subject to certain rules; A always pairs with T and C always pairs with G. This coding when put together into a specific string of letters makes up a certain gene.
Each dog has 39 pairs of chromosomes; 76 autosomal (non-sex) and 2 sexual, located in the nucleus of a cell. One set of chromosomes (39) is inherited from each parent in a random pattern to make up the entirety. It is this randomness that makes for the expression of different traits in the offspring and why a sibling might differ greatly from another.
Genes are the set of inherited instructions which supply the directions to build the proteins which make the body function. The specific location of a gene on a chromosome is referred to as a locus or loci and this positioning can dictate how different genes interact.
A gene has two parts (allele) to it, one inherited from the father and the other from the mother. Genes can be either dominant which is the stronger information and will normally win out over the recessive gene though the information from the recessive gene remains. If the allele is dominant, only 1 allele is required to express the trait; if recessive then 2 allele are needed.
In a genetic formula a dominant gene is represented by a Capital letter and a recessive is represented by lower case letter. When both alleles are the same (example: BB) this is referred to as homozygous but when the alleles are different (example: Bb) it is referred to as heterozygous. In the case of a heterozygous pairing one of the allele is usually dominant and the other recessive. The interaction of alleles is responsible for the traits found in an offspring.
Some examples of phenotypes which are dominant or recessive:
Dominant Traits Recessive Traits
Low set ears High set ears
Short Foreface Long Foreface
Coarse skull Fine skull
Dark eye Light eye
Short Coat Long Coat
Curly Coat Straight Coat
Heavy boning Light boning
Short stifle Long stifle
High set tail Low set tail
Good eye pigment Wall eyes
Black nose Dudley nose
Good mouth Overshot or undershot mouth
Normal palate Cleft palate
Two myths in the world of dog breeding genetics are 1) that inbreeding causes genetic diseases and 2) that cross breeds are healthier. The mis-perception with respect to inbreeding is because it tends to reduce genetic variation within a breed, as does popular stud syndrome; both of which emphasize the presence of recessive genes some of which may be deleterious. On the other hand crossed breeds still have the recessive genes but they may be masked by the outbreeding …. until two corresponding recessives meet up in the future often on the 2nd generation or F2 breeding, for example breeding the offspring of a Golden Retriever and Poodle breeding (aka Goldendoodle) together. In that 2nd generation you would see dogs that look more like Golden Retrievers and Poodles along with the accompanying health problems which one or other of the breeds have.
A defense of inbreeding may be that 1) they concentrate desirable genes and 2) inbreeding promotes homozygosity which in turn exposes deleterious recessive genes allowing the breeder to eliminate them through selective breeding; lacking any better method of identifying carriers of those undesirable genes such as DNA testing. Many breeders who continually outcross are often shocked when they find some genetic condition has “jumped” several generations and will often blame the condition on the sire or the dam, not recognizing the fact that their dog also carried that recessive gene and the trait didn’t appear until bred to a dog with the corresponding recessive gene.
Traits may include physical appearance, behaviours such as herding or retrieving instincts or predisposition to diseases. Some traits are simple and one pair of allele may dictate certain characteristics an offspring may exhibit. Other traits are complex and are caused by the interaction of numerous alleles.
The observable appearance of a trait or the overall appearance of an individual is called the phenotype and the underlying genetic makeup of a trait or the overall genetic makeup of an individual is referred to as genotype.
Below: Genotype (what you don't see Below: Phenotype (what you see)
OK I said I wouldn’t mention Gregor Mendel but here it is …. Mendelian principles relate to simple inherited traits which are determined by single genes; there are, however, exceptions to simple inheritance. These exceptions are referred to as non-Mendelian inherited patterns and include …. well-known to Cavalier breeders …. polygenic traits. Examples of polygenic traits might include body shape, coat colour and coat patterns.
Alleles may interact in different complex ways and variations to simple dominant/recessive inheritance can be seen as follows:
Polygenic traits are the result of the combined cumulative action of alleles of multiple genes. In order to be expressed several different alleles must be present and so hereditary patterns are more complex. Environmental factors may also play a factor in the expression of a trait. A very simple example of this is human height – multiple genes go towards determining height but while a person may have the genes to be tall if they suffered from malnutrition during growth may end up being short. Many congenital diseases are the result of polygenic inheritance such as Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) and Syringomyelia (SM). Please note that the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Animals website of the University of Sydney cites both MVD and SM as multifactorial which indicates that there is also an environmental aspect to the expression of these diseases).
Pleiotropy is where a single gene may influence several phenotypical traits simulatenously. Some of these traits may have conflicting effects with some being beneficial and others detrimental to the animal. An example of pleiotropy is the M allele which produces the Merle pattern but also is associated with deafness and eye defects.
Incomplete dominance or intermediate expression is seen when one allele for a trait is not dominant over another, rather there is a blending of the trait. An example might be if you have a dog dominant for black and a bitch dominant for brown – by mating them together you would get a blending of the two colours –brindle.
In the case of codominance neither allele in a gene pair is dominant or recessive and two traits might be expressed. In dogs gum coloration is codominant so if the sire has dark gums and the bitch has pink gums you will get offspring with a combination of dark and pink gums.
Penetrance refers the proportion of a population which might carry a particular gene AND express the trait. Simply put if a trait has 95 % penetrance this would mean that 95% of those that carry the particular allele responsible for a trait would express the trait and 5% would not.
The degree of penetrance can vary from complete to high to low. Complete penetrance would mean that every individual who has the gene would express the trait whereas low penetrance would mean the trait is only occasionally expressed in carrier individuals. Low penetrance is sometimes written off as thought of being caused by environmental influences. In the case of incomplete penetrance (generally refers to an autosomal dominant condition) a group may all carry an allele but some do not express the trait at all while others do.
Different from penetrance is expressivity which relates to the degree and variation of the expression of a trait in individuals that carry a certain gene. For example height has a variable expression in individuals.
Sex-linked genes – most traits are determined by autosomal genes but there are a number of genes that are carried on the sex chromosome. The sex chromosomes are referred to as the X or Y genes. Most genes on the XY chromosomes relate to gender characteristics. In the case of a female they have 2 X genes but males have both the X & Y. As females never carry the Y gene they can only get X-linked traits. It is extremely rare that a female will be anything other than a carrier for an x-linked trait as they would have to have a mother who was a carrier and a father who was affected as males cannot be asymptomatic carriers. Perhaps one of the best known X-linked traits is hemophilia.
Compared to the X chromosome the Y chromosome tends to have a smaller amount of genes mostly related to male anatomical traits including sperm production. If there are missing or defective genes on the Y chromosome the results may be infertility or low sperm production. It is interesting to note that the Y chromosome is essentially cloned from generation to generation.
Modifying and regulator genes can also affect the expression of traits. Modifying genes can alter how certain other genes might express a trait. An example is a type of cataract which may have a variable degree of visual impairment depending upon the presence of a certain allele which acts as a modifying gene. Regulator genes, on the other hand, can block or start the expression of other genes. After conception regulator genes act as a master switch for the development of various body parts and are also responsible for the maturation and aging process.
Some traits have more severe symptoms in each succeeding generation as a result of Stuttering Alleles. This is due to segments of the genes being doubled in succeeding generations; a well-known example of this is Huntington’s Disease in humans.
A breed may be thought of being predisposed to a certain disease, i.e. the disease is likely inherited. Certain typical characteristics may lead to a suspicion of a breed being predisposed for a condition or disease:
1. If a disorder occurs more frequently in a group of related animals.
2. Analysis of pedigrees show a familial clustering pattern which suggest that a specific gene or group of genes may be responsible.
3. A defect occurs in the same anatomical site in a group of related dogs.
4. A disorder is seen to increase with inbreeding
5. Hereditary diseases tend to have an early onset or a consistent age of onset.
One cannot underestimate the influences of environmental factors on genetics from conception through formative years and into later life. A dam which does not receive proper nutrition or is under stress when pregnant can affect the phenotype of their offspring. Likewise an animal that lives near a toxic waste area can have their phenotype altered. Weight or lack of exercise can contribute to an animal’s likelihood of developing a genetic disease. So while genetics play a role in the looks and health of an animal so may environmental factors contribute.
The effects of some genes do not normally occur without certain environmental factors being in evidence. For example in the case of Type 2 Diabetes, which in humans is a polygenetic inherited disease, while a person may carry the genes for the disease they may never get the diabetes without environmental factors such as chronic weight issues, persistent psychological stresses and regular sleep deprivation.
In any article on dog genetics one must mention the development of DNA tests with respect to inherited disease. There are approximately 576 inherited disorders in dogs and the associated genes have been established in 151 of these conditions. Certainly success has occurred with some DNA tests being developed for simple inherited autosomal recessive or sex-linked traits but the likelihood of developing DNA tests for polygenic diseases in the near future is small.
Two diseases which have been noted in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are Episodic Falling and Curly Coat/Dry Eye Syndrome and DNA tests have been developed for these conditions. Both of these conditions are autosomal recessives. The specific gene in the case of Episodic Falling is the BCAN gene, which encodes brain-specific extracellular matrix proteoglycan brevican and the condition is caused by a mutation which caused a deletion in the particular gene.
The gene responsible for congenital keratoconjunctivitis sicca and ichthyosiform dermatosis (Curly Coat/Dry Eye Syndrome) is FAM83H and is caused by mutation of a single base deletion in exon 5 on the gene. (Please note that Curly Coat/Dry Eye Syndrome is not linked to Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye) which is another condition. There is no DNA test for regular dry eye at this time.)
Another disease which has been noted in approximately 14 breeds including Cavaliers, Brittany Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Rottweillers, German Short Haired Pointers, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers and Samoyeds is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy or X-linked Muscular Dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease. This is caused by a mutation in the dystrophin gene and males are affected but females are carriers. For some of the breeds including Cavaliers a PCR-based (polymerase chain reaction) test is available to identify the mutation.
A condition also known in Cavaliers is Thrombocytopoenia and the mode of inheritance is recognized as autosomal recessive with the associated gene being TUBB1 (tubulin, beta 1 class VI). At this point there is no genetic test for this condition.
Many also view DNA testing in a somewhat simplistic manner – you test and if your dog does not get a clear you don’t breed. Not true! A DNA tests gives 3 possible results – clear, carrier and affected. While you would not breed an affected (a dog who expresses the disease) or 2 carriers together because they always have the possibility of producing the disease; you can safely breed clears and carriers together. Breeding clears and carriers together will get you a certain percentage of clears and carriers but no affected. See the chart above. In the next generation you once again test and then can safely breed any carriers to clears. This method allows one to maintain desired traits and keep a certain amount of breed diversity while slowly breeding away from a condition.
Genetics may be mind-numbing for some of us but nevertheless if we wish to be responsible breeders some basic understanding of the mechanics are necessary.
Don’t worry there’s no test! Or rather your future breeding decisions are the test.
Previously published in The Universal Cavalier July/August 2012
Muscular Dystrophy (Duschenne Type) is an x-linked recessive, progressive muscle wasting disease seen most commonly in the Golden Retriever but also in other breeds including the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It is considered inherited with the condition generally seen in males though females may be carriers (females would have to get the affected gene from both parents to be symptomatic). There is a similar form also found in human boys.
It is caused by the muscle tissue's cytoskeletal impairment to properly create the functional protein dystrophin and dystrophin-associated protein complex. Dogs who carry this defective gene for the protein dystrophin will be unable to form normal muscle and become progressively weaker until there is cardiac and respiratory impairment.
Symptoms generally start to present around 6-10 weeks. Some of the symptoms are:
- Gait abnormalities such as a shuffling gait or bunny hop
- Muscle spasms
- Muscular weakness
- Muscle wasting
- Lack of interest in playing/exercise
- Difficulty swallowing due to an enlarged tongue
- Inability to completely open jaw
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty moving tongue
- Limb deformity
As this disease can mimic some others, a muscle biopsy is necessary to confirm. There is no cure or treatment, though the use of steroids can slow down progression. Prognosis is generally not good with some dogs living only days and others up to a couple of years. There are some new treatments for this condition under study which are looking hopeful; one is stem cell replacement (injecting the dog with cells from a healthy dog) and the other is called “exon skipping” which tries to trick the body into skipping over the bad segements in the affected genes.
A PCR based DNA test is now available for the type of Muscular Dystrophy seen in Cavaliers.
In this section we offer a range of articles which are more general in nature; than specific to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
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 anaesthetic 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 and addisons 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 colour 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 appetitie 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 tumours, 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 behaviour of a dog snapping at non-existant 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, restlessness and unthriftiness 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 suspectible dog frequent small meals. 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 bacterias such as Helicobacter may be involved. To diagnose the condition a biopsy is generally required. Treatments may involve diet changes and steroid use.
Inquinial Hernias: a protrusion of soft tissue, possibly fat or abdominal organs through the inquinial 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 aquired 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, behaviourial 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.
Megasophagus: 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 megasophagus - 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 megasophagus. Once diagnosed this condition may be managed. The major danger is aspiration pneumonia as the dog may inhale regurgitated food materials.
Pancreatitis: an inflammation of the pancreas causing the digestive enzymes to become active while still in the pancreas which may cause acute (rapid in onset) or chronic (develops over a period of time) pancreatitis. The exact cause is unknown but may include an incorrect diet, tumours, injuries, other conditions such as Cushings or diabetes, or drug complications. Some of the symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain (tucked up posture) and lethargy or depression. There is no long term cure for this condition but treatment is to allow resting of the pancreas to reduce inflammation and prevent secondary complications such as dehydration or bacterial infections. Often pain medications are required as this condition is extremely painful during an onset. Long term management includes low fat diets and weight loss in obese dogs.
Umbilical Hernia: often seen as a lump or mound of fat found on a dog's belly. This is where the umbilical cord was attached through the abdominal wall to the placenta allowing for the fetus to receive nutrition and blood from the mother. After birth this area generally closes up. In some cases the area may be slow in closing or not close at all. In the case of those that do not close properly surgical repair may be required. However generally what is seen is a little fat left on the outside of the abdominal wall and rarely requires surgery. Often breeders will recommend gently massaging the fat through the opening while the puppy is growing and the hole is closing.
Sometimes is it seems that breeders are speaking in “tongues” when discussing their dogs and breeding. We’ve included this glossary with some of the more common terms as a quick reference guide.
Artificial Insemination - a breeding where the sperm is collected from the male and manually inserted in a female.
Breech birth - the positioning of the puppy when the feet come first down the birth canal, instead of head first. This position can occasionally present a problem with a puppy getting stuck.
Brood bitch - a female dog used for breeding purposes.
Canine Brucellois - a highly infectious venereal disease in dogs, which causes abortion, reabsorption, stillbirths and sterility.
Chromosomes - the rod like structures of DNA which come in 39 pairs in dogs on which the genes are located and determine the genetic features of the dog.
Cleft Palate - a congenital abnormality where there is a hole in the palate. Culling of all affected puppies is necessary as they generally cannot nurse correctly.
Congenital - a condition which exists from birth and is generally inherited.
C section (caesarian) - surgical removal of the puppies.
Culling - generally refers to the putting to sleep of puppies who may be malformed or unhealthy.
Dam - mother of puppies.
DNA testing – these are tests which are used to identify the mutated genes which cause specific diseases and can identify those dogs which might be affected, carrier or clear of a condition. Most DNA tests currently being develop relate to autosomal single gene mutations. Testing is usually done by examining blood or skin cells of the mouth (swabs).
Dominant - an inherited trait that will express itself in an offspring.
Dystocia - refers to difficult or problem whelpings.
Eclampsia - a condition that may occur in pregnant or lactating females due to a metabolic upset where the body's calcium becomes depleted. Signs may include nervousness, panting, vomiting, problems navigating, temperature rise and convulsions. Extremely serious requiring immediate veterinary assistance to prevent death.
Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) – these are statistical models which calculate the likelihood of offspring developing certain conditions. Commonly used in livestock and plant breeding it is just being developed for use in dogs, primarily the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
Fading Puppy Syndrome - a condition where a previously healthy puppy suddenly stops nursing, becomes limp and dies fairly quickly. Generally thought to be caused by the herpesvirus.
False Pregnancy - a condition where the bitch may show many of the signs of pregnancy, including milk production but actually produce puppies.
Free Whelp - when a mother is able to give birth to the puppies naturally, without surgical assistance.
Genes - the sequence of material located along the chromosomes which are the carriers of genetic information.
Genetic - traits that are inherited by a combination of genes from the dog's parents.
Genotype - the makeup of a dog's genes, the blueprint of every trait that it has inherited and may pass on to subsequent generations. Gestation - the period of time from conception to birth, on average lasts 62 days.
Heat - a female dog's estrus cycle usually lasting around 21 days during which time she may be bred. Usually re-occurs approximately every 6 months.
Herpes virus - a disease which may affect puppies, often picked up from an infected dam during birth. Signs are puppies that suddenly become limp, ceasing to nurse, crying continuous and die within 24 hours. Quite often the whole litter will be infected, so veterinary assistance should be immediate to save the puppies.
Heterozygous - means two different genes in a pair and is a hybrid and will not breed pure for a characteristic. In a pair of heterozygous genes one will be dominant and the other recessive.
Homozygous - means an identical pair of genes. If a dog has a set of homozygous genes then it will breed pure for a certain characteristic. A pair of homozygous genes may be either dominant or recessive.
Horns of the uterus - a dog's uterus is divided into a Y shape of two separate sections in which the puppies can form. Puppies can occasionally "traffic jam" if they meet coming into the vagina at the same time.
Hydrocephalus - a congenital abnormality where there is water on the brain of the puppy. All affected puppies should be culled.
Inbreeding - the breeding of two closely related individuals within one generation of a pedigree, ie. brother to sister, father to daughter, etc.
Linebreeding - the breeding of two individuals which are closely related through a common ancestor.
Mastitis - inflammation of the milk glands.
Metritis - an inflammation of the uterus, usually caused by a retained placenta or fetus, or introduction of bacteria in the genital tract during birth by unsanitary practices. Signs are lethargy, smelly vaginal discharge and abdominal pain. Requires immediate veterinary attention to save bitch and puppies.
Outcrossing - the breeding of two individuals with no common ancestors within a five generation pedigree Pedigree - written family tree of a dog.
Phenotype - it is how the genes that a dog possess come together to present the outward appearance of the dog. Pick of litter - generally the best puppy in the litter as determined by the breeder.
Placenta - tissue which is attached to the mother's uterus during pregnancy allowing the puppy to receive blood and nutrients while developing. The placenta detaches from the uterus prior to birth.
Polygenetic - traits which are caused by the interaction of more than one gene. Re-absorption - a process where the pregnant bitch may absorb fetuses back into her body, possibly due to deformity of the fetus, disease or stress.
Recessive - an inherited trait that may remain hidden or suppressed.
Season - a female dog's estrus cycle usually lasting around 21 days during which time she may be bred. Usually re-occurs approximately every 6 months.
Standard - written blueprint or guidelines depicting the important points which will distinguish a certain breed.
Structure - the construction of a dog. May vary from breed to breed.
Stud - male dog used for breeding purposes.
Stud Service - the use of a male for breeding purposes usually for renumeration.
Temperature - a dog's regular temperature ranges between 100 degrees F and 102.5 degrees F. Up to 48 hours prior to whelping a pregnant bitch will usually have a drop in temperature of around a degree.
Testing (a) - various tests that may be carried out on a dog to check the health of dog with respect to genetic defects for which a breed is predisposed. Tests may range for ausucilation of the heart to x-rays, ultrasound, blood tests, etc. depending upon the nature of the disease being tested for.
Testing (b) - a series of test that may be required prior to breeding to determine that neither the female nor the male has a venereal disease such as canine brucellois.
Tie - the process during breeding where the male and female lock together caused by the dog's penis becoming filled with blood and the sphincter muscles of the bitch's vagina contracting and holding it in place. May last minutes to hours.
Toxic Milk Sydrome - a condition when the mother's milk has become toxic to the puppies due to an infection developed by the dam. Signs are the puppies become bloated, cry, have greenish diarrhea and a red, sore rectum. Puppies should be removed from the dam and hand fed. The dam will require veterinary assistance.
Tube feeding - the feeding of a puppy by placing a small tube directly into the puppy's stomach. Usually required in newborn puppies if the mother is unable to feed due to death or disease, eg. if the dam dies during a c section. Should never be attempted without experienced help as there is a real possibility that the tube can be placed in the lungs in error.
Umbilical cord - the cord which attaches the puppy to the placenta a llowing nutrients and blood to reach the puppy.
Umbilical Hernia - an opening in the wall of the stomach where the umbilical cord had been. Occasionally a little fat may push through, though there is a small danger that organs could come through. Quite often heals over as the puppy grows older.
Uterine Inertia - a birth problem where the mother's uterus does not contract properly to push the puppies through the birth canal.
Water Bag - sac filled with fluid which surrounds the puppy while in the uterus. Provides lubrication in the birth canal.
Weaning - the gradual process where the puppies are changed over from mother's milk to solid foods.
Whelping - the procedure during which a female dog gives birth to puppies.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die...
We all have to deal with the death of a beloved Cavalier at some point whether the owner of a single dog or a breeder with many dogs. It is never easy. We all grieve differently and some more intensely than others. And often our grieving is not understood by others who make comments such as “it’s only a dog, get over it” or “it’s not like it is a human being after all”, which often can intensify our feelings of being alone after the loss of our four legged friend.
Grieving takes us through many stages and often starts before the actual death of the pet. In general, we have to make the decision as to the timing of the end which is often preceded by a time of illness such as congestive heart failure. We are faced with feelings of guilt which leave us wondering if we could have done more, if the time was right – did we take precious moments away? Did we miss something that if caught earlier could have saved or prolonged the dog’s life? We might face anger - at the dog for leaving us, at the vet for not saving our dog, at a breeder for selling us one that developed ahealth condition, at ourselves for perhaps missing something or not doing enough. Another normal feeling is depression, after all a big part of our lives is gone and we feel alone.
When is the time right?
This could be the million dollar question. I think many of us privately hope that we will find our beloved dog curled up in its bed passed on after a long healthy life. Dealing with terminal ill health and then making the decision to let our friend go with dignity provides an owner with a lot of stress and sadness. However this is likely to be one of the most important, hardest and unselfish decisions we will make for our friends. How do you decide when it is the right thing to do? I work on the general guideline that when the bad days outweigh the good days then it is clearly time but some-times it is not as simple as that especially when faced with a disease like MVD. Some dogs will be seriously coughing and having difficulties breathing especially during the night hours but still happily enjoy your company, eat and go for short walks. Some questions you will have to ask yourself are: What is the quality of life of the dog? Is the dog in pain or distress? Is the dog eating and drinking sufficiently to maintain weight? Is the dog still affectionate and happy to be with you or is it withdrawing? Is the dog still cognizant? Are there any other treatment options which may give the dog a comfortable quality of life? It is not always easy to answer these questions as dogs in general tend to be very stoic (though Cavaliers known “wimps” tend to be less so!) and so signs of their discomfort can be kept from us for a considerable time.
Once the time has come there are some decisions that are best to be made ahead of time. Do you wish to be with the dog when he is humanely euthanised? Some owners cannot face this and choose to drop the dog off to have the vets and their staff takes care of the dog. Knowing what to expect perhaps might help with this decision. The dog will be given a very concentrated dose of an anaesthetic by intravenous injection. Other than a prick in the arm the dog will usually not notice anything and will be unconscious within seconds, leading quickly to respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. Particularly in elderly and sick dogs this is such a kindness that one can almost see the relief as they are freed of pain or suffering.
Do you intend to have it done at the vet clinic? Most vet clinics will set up a room for you and your pet so you can say goodbye in privacy. Or you may prefer to have it done in your own home and you can ask your veterinarian if they will make a home visit.
Another consideration is disposal of the remains. You may choose to take the body with you and bury it on your own property. This option may not be open to those who live in a city where burial of pets is prohibited or if you live in an apartment. There are various other options available such as cremation, pet cemetery or common burial which may be decided upon depending upon preference and affordability. These sorts of decisions are best made ahead of time as most people are in such distress after the event they can’t cope with making any decision.
There is no “normal” way of coping with the loss of a pet. There are many self help books and websites devoted to pet loss which can certainly help with broad outlines but we all have our own individual ways of dealing and what might be right for one is not necessary the way for another. A good example was a couple who contacted me for a Cavalier a year or so ago. They had just lost their previous Cavalier a couple of weeks before and they wanted one right away. It is often suggested that owners do not get a new dog right awayand usually not the same breed or colour. Most people need time to grieve between pets and also have a tendency to compare the new dog to the old one. Needless to say I was very hesitant but they supplied me with the name of the previous dog’s breeder, their vet clinic, etc. and after a discussion with the other breeder I suggested they come for a visit as I had an older pup. They wanted to come that evening and they were 4 hours drive away but they did agree to wait for the weekend. They were lovely people and fell in love with the pup right away. This was their way of coping. They could not be happy without a dog to dote on and each time one of their Cavaliers passed they would immediately replace it. Other people as they know that the end is nearing for one dog will get a young dog so that there is continuity. This can often be good for the older dog giving them a longer lease in life as they may become more active chasing a younger dog around. Then there are those who will wait for a couple of years before the time is right to get a new pet.
Talking to grief counsellors who specialize in pet loss and support groups can be of benefit to those who are having difficulties coping. Talking about your pet and expressing your grief with people who understand is invaluable to help you come to terms with your loss.
Breeders are often faced with the loss of their dogs more frequently than a single pet owner and have a tendency to develop rituals to honour their lost Cavaliers. Rituals are often comforting and a way to ease the grief into acceptance. There is no right way or wrong way to deal with pet loss but everyone who has loved a pet must face this eventually.
Previously published in The Universal Cavalier May/June 2009
Primary Secretory Otitis Media (PSOM) is a condition of the middle ear which becomes plugged with highly viscous mucus and may cause the tympanic membrane to bulge and rupture. It is similar to the condition known as “glue ear” in children.
This is not caused by an infection and the cause is unknown though it is thought that it might be a dysfunction of Eustachian tube in the Cavalier, where there is an abnormal production of mucus or a decreased drainage of fluid through the Eustachian tube or even a combination of both factors.
Some speculate that there may be a link between the condition PSOM and the brachycephalic anatomy of the breed but at present the condition seems to be primarily reported in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, not other brachycephalic breeds. However since some of the symptoms of PSOM mimic symptoms of Syringomyelia, recognition of this condition (PSOM) may be heightened in the Cavalier and merely under-reported in other breeds; much as it happened in the early days of research in Syringomyelia where some researchers considered that condition peculiar to Cavaliers and later research found it commonly in other breeds as well.
Many of the symptoms are similar to those found in dogs with Syringomyelia. They include neck pain, head tilt, scratching at ears, ear itch or pain, facial paralysis, Vestibular disease, crying out in pain, lack of co-ordination, hearing loss, yawning and fatigue.
Diagnosis is usually made by a veterinary neurology or dermatology specialist through use of MRI or CT scans; though other methods of detection may be possible such as a BAER test or ultrasound. In severe cases where the tympanic membrane has bulged or rupture it may even be possible to see this on x-ray.
Treatment for this condition is surgery with a small slit made in the eardrum and then the inner ear is flushed to clean out the mucus. Corticosteroids and antibiotics are then administered to the dog. This procedure may have to be repeated in some cases. Just treating with antibiotics does not seem to work.
The condition is thought to be inherited in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel; mode of inheritance unknown.
Thrombocytopenia is a condition in the blood where there is a reduction of the platelets (thrombocytes) from the norm. Platelets play an important role in blood clotting and so the decrease can mean increased bleeding. Thrombocytopenia can be of a secondary nature which means the result of another condition, eg. Infection, tumour or drug reaction, or of a primary nature where no other causative factor is found and thought to be an auto-immune problem. Some symptoms might include nosebleeds, bruising on the skin or lips, blood in its stool or urine and lethargy or weakness. Treatment generally includes steroids and in more serious cases transfusions.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel owners please note:
Cavaliers may have a pseudothrombocytopenia where they may have a lower than normal platelet count or larger than normal platelets which cannot be counted by machine and should not be considered pathological. In Cavaliers manual counting of the platelets should be done. Unless symptomatic no treatment is required.