We at Evanlake Cavaliers are serious advocates of health testing all our dogs, whether they are used for breeding or not. Our job fundamentally is “the betterment of the breed” of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. I view health testing as one tool toward that goal, along with Temperament Testing and Structure Evaluation of all puppies.
The Parent Club for Cavaliers in the United States is the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club. They have made a recommendation that breeders follow a protocol of breeding animals cleared by Board Certified Physicians for heart, eyes, hips and knees prior to breeding.
HEART - Cavaliers often experience a condition called Mitral Valve Disease or MVD. Lots of dogs get MVD as they grow older, but the problem with Cavaliers is many get what is referred to as “early onset” MVD, meaning they come down with the disease before the age of 5. Responsible breeders are working to reduce the incidence of MVD by having the dogs visit a Canine Cardiologist annually to listen to the dog’s heart and make breeding recommendations.
EYES – Eyes are examined annually by a Board Certified Ophthalmologist and the results are also stored on the OFA data base. The dogs are mainly examined for retinal folds or geographic retinal dysplasia. If any of these conditions are found, the dog should not be used for breeding. Combining genes from two dogs with folds or dysplasia could lead to retinal detachment and blindness in the next generation.
HIPS – Many people are under the mistaken impression that small dogs do not have hip problems. I can tell you this is simply not true. Cavaliers for the most part have good hips but I would venture to say that at least 33% (my opinion) have some mild form of Hip Dysplasia. For the most part it is not noticeable or debilitating until the dog gets older, although some cases are so severe as to require surgery. To avoid breeding two dogs who have HD, we x-ray all our breeding dogs just after the age of two and those results are registered on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) web site.
KNEES - Luxating patella’s or “slipping knee caps” is also a problem with Cavaliers. Puppies can be diagnosed as early as 8 weeks and should be removed from breeding programs. Some dogs can benefit from physical rehabilitation and some require surgery. We have our dogs checked for certification purposes at the same time the hips are examined and those results are also forwarded to the OFA database.
CC/DE & EF – Curly Coat Dry Eye and Episodic Falling. There is a new DNA test that has been developed in England to test for these three conditions. Although somewhat rare, if we have a tool, I will use it. All my dogs were tested in August of 2012 and all were rated "Normal" meaning they did not have these conditions nor were they carriers.
IF OUR DOGS FAIL ANY ONE OF THESE TESTS, THEY ARE NOT USED FOR BREEDING
MORE ON HEALTH
SYRINGOMYELIA– Syringomyelia is a potentially debilitating neurological condition, which interestingly is found in all breeds of small dogs. SM has probably been around since the beginning of the breed, but it is just in the last 10 years or so we have been able to diagnose it as a "condition". The only way to diagnose SM is with an MRI and that can be prohibitively expensive for some people, ranging from $2000 up to $3500 depending on the availability of a qualified center. I am disappointed to say that in the last ten years, we really haven't come any closer to identifying the mode of inheritance although studies do continue throughout the US and Europe.
For breeders we only have the ability to look retrospectively at our breeding stock to see what has been produced and determine if there are any combinations of males and females that produce the condition. I used to MRI all my dogs, but found out over time this was relatively useless, as it did not tell me who the carriers were. Hopefully going forward we will have some new developments from the researchers.
CHIC – Canine Health Information Center
The Canine Health Information Center, otherwise known as CHIC, is a huge data base supported by the Orthopedic Foundation For Animals (OFA). The data base information may be different for each participating breed. Not all breeds participate. Cavaliers joined CHIC in 2005 and designated heart, hips eyes and patella as the most significant concerns for Cavaliers. Hearts and eyes MUST be examined by Board Certified specialists, hips and patellae can be examined and/or x-rayed by a regular Vet and after submission to OFA the radiographs are then evaluated by 3 Orthopedic Vets chosen by OFA. When the results are recorded, they can be accessed by anyone through the data base using many different searches and this becomes a wonderful reference tool for breeders and pet buyers alike.
OFA and CHIC are also setting up fields where breeders can submit results of various other DNA tests not required, as an added service to the breeding community.
Having a CHIC Certificate gives the breeder and the puppy buyer information on the parents of the puppy in an easy to read certificate. It is not a guarantee that the dog has passed all the tests, but merely reports that the tests have all been performed, and the results.
Read more about CHIC at www.caninehealthinfo.org