Dog owners have “gone to war” with Kennel Club over genetic defects in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
They claim the Club is failing to ban shoddy breeding practices that cause pets to die of heart failure or an agonising condition where a dog’s brain becomes too big for its skull.
In a matter of days more than 1,700 owners have signed an online petition demanding that only the puppies of Cavaliers screened for Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) and Syringomyelia (SM) could be registered by the Kennel Club. Breeding from dogs screened clear significantly improves the chances of producing unaffected offspring.
MVD is the same disease Sophie, the Cavalier of Craig Revel Horwood, suffers from. The Strictly judge recently admitted his agony when the terminal condition was diagnosed.
Has the KC learnt nothing?
Despite labelling itself “the UK’s largest organisation dedicated to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs”, campaigners say the Kennel Club has failed to take a strong stance, despite outrage caused by the TV documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed that showed Cavaliers screaming in pain that resulted in the BBC ditching its coverage of Crufts in 2008.
“The Cavalier is in serious trouble and the Kennel Club needs to do so much more. Mandatory testing for both these conditions is the bare minimum,” says Jemima Harrison, who directed the documentary. “How many more scientists need to raise the alarm before something is done? How many more Cavaliers have to suffer before we see real action to save this breed?”
A “Cavalier” attitude to health and welfare
While signatories were leaving comments describing the distress involved with losing and caring for dogs with serious painful and life-limiting conditions, the Kennel Club was promoting National Canine Health Testing Week. “What an irony. Our breed is heading for disaster yet the Kennel Club is asking for people to post ‘healthyselfies’,” says Margaret Carter, petition organiser and long-time campaigner.
“Many people wrongly believed losing the BBC’s coverage of Crufts was a watershed but most breeders continue to mate Cavaliers that are untested and, because of the lack of rules regarding testing, even puppy farmers are able to register their litters with the Kennel Club,” she reveals.
KC and breeders blame everyone but themselves including owners
In a statement the Kennel Club blamed poor uptake by breeders of its voluntary MRI screening scheme for CM/SM. “It is true that even of those breeders who do MRI scan, very few submit the results to the scheme,” concedes Carter. “Breeders claim the scheme is imperfect but how can researchers improve it if nobody uses it, and how is the puppy-buying public able to make informed choices without information being made available? The need for an official scheme for MVD was agreed in 2008 but nothing has materialised, showing there is no genuine will for reform.
The statement also said more pet owners should volunteer their dogs for the scheme. “To ask Cavalier owners to shoulder more responsibility, when they are already have the emotional and financial burden of caring for sick dogs, is astonishing. Medication is extremely expensive. Plus, an MRI to diagnose SM costs well in excess of £1,000, while the official scheme for breeders is a mere £350,” says Carter.
“My own experience of pain has at times made me feel like I just want out,” says Lynn Burton, who suffers the human version of CM/SM. “How people can breed Cavaliers without doing everything possible to reduce the risks is unbelievable. I can explain how I feel. A dog has no voice.”
Catherine Farnsworth bought two-year-old Kookie the Cavalier from a Kennel Club assured breeder. “Kookie’s parents were not tested. He started showing severe symptoms of CM/SM at just four months old,” she recalls. “He has seven different daily medicines. On bad days, he is very vocal. It’s distressing to watch and I worry about the long-term impact of the medication.”
Mother-of-three Charlotte Mackaness says her family was distraught when their first Cavalier died of MVD. “Just months later our two-year-old, Beebee, was diagnosed with CM/SM. My young children find it hard to understand why she’s no longer a lively little dog. Like many with SM, much of Beebee’s pain is around the head, neck and spine so the children can’t play with her like before.
“The Kennel Club is all talk,” she continues. “The breed club seems exactly the same. Pet owners understand testing isn’t a guarantee. All we ask is breeders do everything possible to reduce the risk. Beebee’s breeders have won several Crufts’ Best of Breed titles and came highly recommended from a Cavalier Club puppy coordinator but we’ve since learnt their health record is poor so we are taking legal advice. While they collect trophies, all our darling dog has to look forward to is a life of pain.”
WHAT IS MITRAL VALVE DISEASE?
MVD is a degenerative disease of the heart valves that leads to congestive heart failure. In 2009 a report by a leading veterinary cardiologist stated that 50 per cent of Cavaliers develop MVD heart murmurs by their fifth birthday. It is the biggest killer of Cavaliers under 10.
WHAT IS CM/SM?
Syringomyelia is a painful neurological condition most often seen in Cavaliers, although other breeds like their close relations the Brussels Griffon are also seriously affected. It is often attributed to Chiari-like malformation (CM) of the skull. Put in lay man’s terms, the skull is too small for the brain causing severe pain and forming fluid-filled that cavities that destroy the spinal cord.
View the petition at https://www.change.org/p/the-uk-kennel-club-stop-registerin-g-cavalier-king-charles-spaniel-puppies-unless-their-parents-are-mri-scanned-and-heart-tested
For more information, please contact Margaret Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01707 262035.