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Dog owners have “gone to war” with Kennel Club over genetic defects in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels 


Dog owners have declared war on the Kennel Club for failing to act over two potentially fatal conditions affecting 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.

The Signatories
“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.”

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.

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 mareve047@gmail.com or call 01707 262035.


  1. Catherine Farnsworth 2nd December 2014

    Great report, just sad that “in excess of 1700 signatures” this was not enough to receive a satisfactory response from the kennel club.

  2. Chris Snyder 2nd December 2014

    Catherine, I thought the same thing. I bet 10,000 signatures would not make a difference, because they do NOT care about the health of dogs. They DO care about money.

  3. Marion palmer 3rd December 2014

    I do wish u success in getting Hugh numbers of support to try and push kennel club to consider your demands in the interest of dogs .

  4. Donna and Freddie 3rd December 2014

    Excellent, the kennel club and breeders may not care but hopefully it will educate puppy buyers.

  5. Pets Magazine 3rd December 2014

    Thanks to everyone for their comments. There is still time to make a difference. We hope the KC sit up and listen to responsible breeders and concerned members of the public alike. Please do take a moment to sign the petition – 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

  6. Margaret Spencer 9th December 2014
  7. Louise 9th December 2014

    The kennel club is just a registry primarily, they will not turn away money. But the biggest impact would be NOT BUYING from breeders who do not test. Simple

  8. Mark Ellis 11th December 2014

    The problem being that KC have no jurisdiction over anyone – particularly over pet owners, Back Yard Breeders and Puppy farmers. The article fails to mention the efforts by the UK Cavalier Clubs to get members to scan prior to any potential mating.
    So many dogs are being brought into the country from Ireland and Europe and sold as local dogs. We have numerous groups claiming to be genuine rescue groups who are actually bringing in and selling puppy farm dogs from Eire and Europe for the sole reason of financially supporting their own lifestyle.
    Does there need to be a massive change in law to stop all these imports, as well as to ban the agricultural breeding of unhealthy small animals – which is currently done with full Government support under the guise of farming diversity ?

  9. suzanne 11th December 2014

    Unfortunately your petitioning the wrong place..
    Its the BREED CLUBS that make the rules about testing etc not the kc
    You don’t goto the register of births deaths and marriages to complain about them registering abusive marriages etc
    Back yard breeders don’t care about testing either..
    The public need to research the breed and breeders before buying.. Not crying after their impulse buy has gone horribly wrong….

  10. Jane 11th December 2014

    The petition was SO badly worded it was an utter waste of time. It asked merely for tests to be carried out, but not that the results of those tests should meet any criteria.

  11. Lucy Hubbard 11th December 2014

    I would like to see a record of death from vets. We have to register the BIRTH of a pup…. why not a DEATH ? . This would incuded cause, age etc. Then Maybe breeders will find a probelm earlier and stop breeding from that line.

  12. jane 13th December 2014

    Where I live dogs must, by law, be identified and their death reported. Breed statistics are not available to the general public: information about identification is restricted. It would be useful to know. The average age of Cavaliers I’ve bred is a little over 11; the oldest just a little short of his 16th birthday. I currently have two aged 14. I know a show breeder who has three aged over 16.

  13. jane 11th December 2014

    Who checked this? “Beebee’s breeders have won several Crufts’ Best of Breed titles”. One breeder has won this title three times with the same dog, but the last time was more than a decade ago. One has won it with three different dogs and six have won it twice. These are from records from 1977 to 2014. At least five of those breeders have died and others retired from breeding some years ago. When there is vague and unsubstantiated information it makes one wonder whether to believe the rest of the report. I would hope that Beebee’s owners contacted the breeders: for one thing, they’d need to know if a puppy they bred had a health problem. Just because a puppy has a problem does not necessary mean that the parents or other ancestors showed the same problem. The same happens with people.

  14. Charlotte Mackaness 11th December 2014

    On Beebee’s breeders’ own website it states they have won Best of Breed at Crufts four times. I was in contact with them on a friendly basis until the CM/SM basis. Of course, I got in touch because naively I thought they would care or be interested. No acknowledgement whatsoever.

  15. Jane 12th December 2014

    Ok: just seen that one was a dog not bred by them, but over here in the UK to be handled by them. In these circumstances I think you could name them, and name the parents of your affected puppy.

  16. Charlotte Mackaness 12th December 2014

    So, not “unsubstantiated” as you claim. My facts are absolutely right.. unless the breeders have their facts wrong on their own website? Perhaps you’d like to take that up with them, as you obviously know exactly who they are. As I’m sure you are also aware, Beebee is not a one-off.
    However, whether her breeders have three, four or six hundred titles is absolutely not the issue – but this is of how such discussions go: those against testing try to divert attention away from the really important points.
    My little dog is curled up tightly in a ball as I type. We are making our second trip to the vets this week in an hour or for more top-up pain relief to add to the extremely strong neuropathic pain killers she is already on. I spend a good portion of time every week carefully dividing these capsules into Cavalier-sized doses. I am a mother with three small children. I resent the time doing this properly takes but not as much as I resent the fact Beebee will probably live a short and painful life.
    I fully understand and appreciate that testing can’t offer a guarantee but the current situation is far from acceptable and the vast majority of breeders (although not all) are doing far from what those who buy their puppies could consider “their best effort” in terms of health.
    My point about Beebee’s breeder is that lack of testing goes across the board: it isn’t just puppy farmers or hobby farmers as so many like to claim.
    If Beebee’s breeders had taken more care, perhaps she would have stood a better chance of being a healthy family pet and being the fun-loving two-year-old little dog she ought to be.

  17. Jane 12th December 2014

    It did take some research to find out who the breeders were, but your further information was sufficient to find them. I am NOT against health testing per se. I don’t actually live in the UK; the Cavalier club of the country where I reside has health test requirements for its quality grading scheme, and the Kennel Club equivalent here does put some, but not all, information on dogs’ official pedigrees. The tests don’t include any for SM, for a very good reason: as yet, no neurologist here is willing to make any recommendation until there is more research and knowledge. There is an excellent heart scheme, proved to be working as the age of onset has increased since it came into practise. It requires an ultrasound and not just auscultation, but is NOT obligatory – except for breeders signed to the club’s quality code. It took several years of discussion with cardiologists and breeders to come up with a workable and affordable scheme that wasn’t so strict it “threw the baby out with the bathwater” and took into account observations and personal records made by cardiologists.
    SM doesn’t seem a big problem here: the “documentary” Pedigree Dogs exposed was aired on television, but that sort of documentary isn’t made here and it was regarded as sensationalist, unbalanced and to be taken with a BIG pinch of salt.
    The BIGGEST problem as far as SM is concerned in the UK is that there have been several places testing for CM/SM but the “new” scheme will not to recognise their results. There are a good many breeders who have already paid a lot of money to have scans carried out, and they are now told this is no good, there is a new scheme, so you’re going to have to retest your dogs. Is it surprising people resent this????? If you take a conservative average life span of 10 years for a Cavalier, (I have two who are sprightly at 14 and one dynamic 10 year old), and look at the records published by the UK Kennel Club, there are about 91,000 KC registered Cavaliers (the records for years 2004 to 2013) in the UK. Most of those are in pet homes; the majority bred by puppy farmers. I do not want to diminish the health problems, or suggest that no tests are done, but I think the problems are a bit exaggerated. I’ve bred Cavaliers for over 30 years and never had or seen a case of anything remotely like SM. I adhered to heart and eye tests guidelines way before any scheme was put in place, and do DNA tests for CC/E and EF. This doesn’t help if one is unlucky enough to have a pup with health problems, and I do think that breeders owe a responsibility to their buyers – again, where I live, a puppy must be “fit for purpose” and certain health conditions are actually stated as being the responsibility of the breeder. Not, I hasten to add, SM. 1,700 people signed a poorly worded petition: maybe more would have signed if it had a real purpose, but those who signed represent a mere 1.85% of Cavaliers in the UK.

  18. Margaret Carter 14th December 2014

    The petition is now just off 2,500 and steadily climbing as Cavalier owners become aware of its existence. Who knows how many signatures it will end with?
    The official Scheme that was started in 2012 will grade suitable scans from any MRI Centre. Unfortunately some of those submitted are of such poor quality that they cannot be accepted.

  19. jane 14th December 2014

    There are parts of this story that are really worrying. There is your implication that Beebee’s breeders don’t do health tests. What is your answer if they produce health tests? Are you able to substantiate your claim “we’ve since learnt their health record is poor so we are taking legal advice.”
    It is difficult to be objective when one is unable to see both sides of the story.

  20. jane 14th December 2014

    Are the previous scans graded free of charge, or do the people sending them in have to pay? Of course they have to pay, £100 a time on top of what they have already forked out! The Kennel Club made a very valid response: Aimee Llewellyn, Health Information Manager said: “Both CM/SM and MVD are very difficult disorders to understand and this makes treatment and prevention very challenging. We cannot make the current scheme that exists for CM/SM, or the breed club scheme for MVD mandatory, whilst the link between screening and the ability to predict and reduce future health problems is not proven or precise. Currently, for SM, it is possible for dogs with MRI scans which show structural signs of CM/SM to not develop clinical signs of the condition, whilst those dogs with MRI scans which show low-grade structural signs of CM/SM, can sadly develop serious clinical signs of the disease.” Basically the reason why my Country’s breed club has no SM scheme.

  21. Margaret Carter 15th December 2014

    Studies have shown that using parents clear of disease will reduce the incidence of both conditions. In other words early onset MVD and SM could be bred away from.
    If France has “an excellent heart scheme, proved to be working as the age of onset has increased since it came into practise” then presumably the KC could introduce the same protocols if they so wished.
    Doing nothing, which is the path the Kennel Club has chosen, despite the heart breaking comments on the petition website, will allow breeders to go on using untested Cavaliers and even more Cavaliers will be affected by MVD and SM.

  22. Jane 16th December 2014

    The heart scheme here has NOTHING to do with the equivalent of the Kennel Club and is not, as I wrote, obligatory, except for breeders signed to the Quality code. It was decided by the single breed club after a LOT of discussion with both cardiologists and breeders and not mandatorily introduced. It allows flexibility: a dog over age three with a slight deficiency of the valve may be bred from as individual cardiologists have all recorded that many dogs which showed slight MVD lived into their teens with a very slow progression of the disease. http://cena.asso.fr/cena/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=20:le-coeur&catid=12&Itemid=128 As of April 2014, more than 12,000 ultrasound heart tests had been officially recorded by the breed club, and there will be many more by now. There is an incentive: there is a quality scheme and health tests results as well as show results are a requirement for every level. The KC equivalent prints health test results on a pedigree, but this is in its infancy and so many pedigrees won’t have the results of the ancestors as they wouldn’t have been recorded. The quality grades, highest level of show wins and whether they have DNA identification (obligatory for quality grade 4 and above); also indicating whether the parental affiliation test has been carried out and proved; are all currently on pedigrees. The UK Kennel Club could learn a lot, but health tests are strictly the decision of the breed clubs.


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