What to Know About Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 10, 2022
8 min read

You may think of British royalty when you see the small yet noble Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This toy breed was a favorite among 19th century British aristocracy and continues to be popular today.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are both playful and gentle. If you're looking for a lifelong companion, this type of dog could make the perfect pet. 

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel coat colors. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have coats of various colors, including:

  • Blenheim: rich chestnut and pearly white (the most common)
  • Black and tan: black with tan marks above the eyes, on cheeks, chest, and legs 
  • Black and white: white with bigger patches of black in different places on the body
  • Tricolor: black and white with tan marks above the eyes and on the cheeks 
  • Ruby: one color that's a brownish/red 

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel size. As a toy breed, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are on the smaller side. They can weigh anywhere from 13 to 18 pounds and are 12 to 13 inches in height. Unlike most breeds, there isn't much size difference between the male and female Cavaliers.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel personality. While small in size, this breed is big in personality. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is outgoing, playful, and craves attention and interaction.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel temperament. The gentle Cavalier King Charles Spaniel just wants to please you, but training takes repetition and persistence. 

Since these dogs tend to become timid with age, it’s important to let them socialize and play with other dogs and people when they're still a puppy. This will make training much easier. 

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel training. Overall, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are responsive to training. Reward your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy with treats so that they understand the power of positive reinforcement when they listen to your commands. 

By making your home a safe space and showing your King Charles what you expect of them early on, they can easily be trained.

Vet visits. Take your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to the vet once a year for general health checkups. Like with all dog breeds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels need regular immunizations, including their rabies vaccine every three years.

As a puppy, your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel needs basic vaccinations up until they are 18 to 24 months. These include vaccines to protect against distemper, parvovirus, and rabies. 

  • Distemper vaccine: 3 doses given to puppies between 6 and 16 weeks of age
  • Parvovirus vaccine: 3 doses given to puppies between 6 and 16 weeks of age
  • Rabies vaccine: 1 dose by 14 weeks of age

Be sure to ask your vet about any boosters your dog might need as they get older.

Medications. More than 200 species of fleas affect dogs. Fleas cause itchy, irritated skin and, in more serious cases, skin diseases.

Depending on where you live, fleas, ticks, and worms can be an issue seasonally or year-round. Discuss proper preventive treatment with your dog’s vet. They can advise you best on what medications to give your dog to prevent fleas and ticks. Most vets prescribe a monthly dose of a pill in the form of a treat. 

Grooming. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have more grooming needs than other breeds, mainly when it comes to their coats. Their silky and luscious fur should be brushed for about 10 minutes a day to prevent knots and maintain shine. King Charles Spaniels also have long fur on their legs and paws. Make sure to trim these areas as needed, especially if you plan to take your dog on long walks or outside to play.

Baths. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels should be washed frequently to keep their fur healthy. Unless you're raising a show dog, plan to bathe your Cavalier around once a month. Keep in mind that the King Charles Spaniel is not a hypo-allergenic breed and they do shed moderately. 

Nail trimming. Introduce your Cavalier to the nail trimmer while they're young. Let them sniff it and become familiar with the tool, then make nail trimming a weekly habit or when necessary. If you’ve never clipped a dog’s nails, get proper guidance from a vet or groomer.

Most Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have transparent nails, making it easy to figure out how much of the nail to trim. Trim at a slight angle and just below where the nail becomes pink. If your King Charles has black nails, avoid trimming past the curve of the nail and look for a chalky white ring on the nail — this is where you should stop trimming.

Dental care.Caring for your dog’s teeth is an important part of their overall well-being. Around 80% of dogs end up with dental disease by age three. 

Since Cavaliers are patient dogs, it can be easier to get your dog to hold still while you brush. Once a day is ideal, but if you can't find the time, 3 to 4 times a week should be enough. Most pet stores should carry dog-friendly toothpaste and toothbrush kits.

You can also give your Cavalier daily dental chews to prevent tartar buildup and keep their breath fresh.

Food. How much a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel eats per day usually depends on their age, weight, and activity level. Your vet will guide you best, but it’s generally recommended that you feed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels two meals per day — in the morning and evening. 

You can also give your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel treats during their training, but do so in moderation. Don't give your Cavalier too many table scraps as they may be more sensitive to certain foods. Avoid any cooked bones or high-fat foods.

Exercise. Giving your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mental and physical stimulation, especially in their early puppy stages, will help ensure they stay out of trouble when inside. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are adaptable and enjoy all sorts of activities. 

These dogs will walk with you for hours if given the opportunity, but aim to give your Cavalier a 40-minute walk each day, aside from regular potty breaks. If you have the space, let your Cavalier out for a game of fetch as their daily activity.

With a natural desire to explore, sniff, and chase, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel makes a good adventure companion if you enjoy hiking. Start with smaller treks and build your Cavalier's endurance for longer ones over time.

Temperature sensitivity. Because they are a toy breed and have just a single coat of fur, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels cannot handle being outside for long, especially when it's cold. Aside from their designated playtime, make sure to keep your Cavalier indoors. If you let them play outside in hotter months, make sure to provide them with plenty of fresh water.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lifespan. At about 12 to 15 years, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a longer life expectancy than many other breeds. Cavaliers should live a long and healthy life, as long as you provide them with proper care and regular vet visits. They do tend to have more health issues than other breeds, though.

Eye problems. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca or "dry eye" happens when the dog's lacrimal (tear gland) stops producing as many tears. Around 30% of Cavaliers get this condition and it can cause partial or total blindness if untreated. Since this condition doesn’t typically fully heal, your dog will need lifelong treatment and management. Other eye problems in the Cavalier include cataracts and retinal dysplasia.

Other health concerns. The most common health condition in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels is called mitral valve disease (MVD). Nearly all Cavaliers eventually get it due to something called the "founder effect." The modern Cavaliers descended from the same six dogs. Because of the “founder effect,” if at least one of these six dogs has a health problem, that problem will pass on to all future generations.

MVD starts with heart murmurs, which can progress into heart failure. One survey found that around 42.8% of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel deaths are cardiac related, followed by cancer and old age, each around 12%. MVD is a disease that mostly affects older Cavaliers, though sometimes dogs as young as a year old have early-onset MVD. 

Veterinarians specializing in genetics and cardiology have worked to decrease the threat of MVD in puppies by creating a set of rules all Cavalier breeders must follow. If you plan to get your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel from a breeder, make sure to ask for all the paperwork proving your dog was bred following certain standards and ethical protocol.

While dry eyes and MVD are the most common health issues in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, you should also look out for:

  • Syringomyelia: a condition affecting the brain and spine
  • Episodic falling (EP): a neurological disorder that makes dogs unable to relax their muscles
  • Thrombocytopenia and macrothrombocytopenia: hereditary blood disorders affecting the number and size platelets in the blood
  • Knee and hip disorders: these include hip dysplasia and patellar luxation, the latter being a genetic problem that causes loose kneecaps
  • Ear disorders: Primary secretory otitis media (PSOM) or glue ear, in which a dog's ear is filled with mucus — this can affect more than half of Cavaliers 

Good with other pets and kids. One thing you’ll notice about Cavalier King Charles Spaniels is that they have ceaselessly wagging tails. These dogs make great family pets, especially if you have small children. Cavaliers are affectionate dogs that form close bonds with their family members. They require a lot of physical attention, including belly rubs and cuddles.

While Cavalier King Charles Spaniels generally do well with kids, it’s still important to keep a close eye on your dog when around small children and babies. Children may be unaware of how to behave around dogs, so avoid leaving your Cavalier alone with them for a long time — at least until your child is mature enough to understand how to play with dogs.

Require lots of attention. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels crave companionship, so it’s best to avoid leaving your Cavalier alone for too long. While they’re mostly docile and don't bark a lot, they could become destructive and yappy when bored or stressed. Your Cavalier may bark to call your attention to someone at the door, but mostly they’re calm and quiet.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is one of the most iconic dogs of British nobility. The breed was named after 17th century British monarchs, King Charles I and his son, Charles II, who had a special love for the black- and tan-coated Cavaliers. 

Cavaliers continued to be popular with British aristocracy through the 19th century. Through the years, these spaniels were bred with Asian toy dogs like pugs and Japanese Chin. Soon enough, the toy-style spaniel became the classic Cavalier King Charles Spaniel we know and love today.