Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia (CM/SM) affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a number of unpleasant symptoms, including searing pain, vision and hearing loss and paralysis. Studies have revealed that up to 70 per cent of Cavaliers are affected because of being bred with skulls too small to accommodate their brains.
This week is the KC’s National Canine Health Testing Week (#NCHTW) – an initiative to raise awareness of buying puppies from health tested parents. However the Club has found itself accused of hypocrisy and its social media accounts filled with images from those asking why testing isn’t compulsory for Cavaliers: a breed so badly affected by genetic problems.
Harrowing photographs, including those of patients recovering from brain surgery and close ups of newly stitched shave skulls, have been posted on social media by sufferers. “Some days the pain is beyond excruciating. I can tell you, a dog can’t,” reads the selfie of Lynn Burton, who has been through two major brain surgeries.
“This is a rare and complicated condition. I can understand why many don’t want to acknowledge that it can cause terrible pain for dogs,” she says.
“A major concern of sufferers is passing this to their children. That people breed from dogs without doing all they can to reduce the risks is so sad.”
Lynn added:“I have heard people say that dogs with Chiari Malformation are fine; it doesn’t cause a problem so you can breed them safely. I think perhaps if the people who think like this had experienced the pain associated with Chiari Malformation they may think differently. Chiari Malformation is a congenital condition, meaning we are born with it, rarely is a Chiari Malformation acquired.
“I myself have gently stroked the neck of a CM dog, this lovely dog didn’t move his head, wasn’t aggressive but gave a low growl to let me know he wasn’t comfortable being touched, I didn’t realise at first what this meant but when my hand gently brushed his neck again the same happened. He had been running around, jumping excited to see me in his home, but then as in humans, this activity has a price….pain. His owner settled him with pain medication and he had a good night. But the pain was there and as someone with Chiari I knew exactly why he growled on being touched at the back of his head, there are many days when I feel the same way.”
Over 21,000, including a host of celebrities, are supporting a petition asking the Club to introduce mandatory testing for CM/SM and also a heart disease called MVD, which is 20 times more prevalent in Cavaliers than any other breed.
Amy Alldred from Kent is just 28 and has already undergone major surgery. She posted pictures of herself in hospital.
“I felt compelled to speak out. There’s no cure for this. Just like many Cavaliers, I take a cocktail of medication to control the pain but with little success. If MRI screening breeding dogs reduces the prevalence it must be worthwhile and the Kennel Club must make it mandatory.”
Dog owners have also taken to social media. One such is Donna Farrand. Her four-year-old Cavalier, Freddie, underwent cranial decompression surgery this week in an attempt to reduce his SM pain.
“While the KC has been messing around with soundbites, Freddie has had part of his skull removed.”
According to long-time owner Nicki Hughes, all kinds of breeders are guilty of not health testing properly: “The KC and breed clubs would like people to think it’s just backyard breeders and puppy farmers. I lost my beloved Teddy at six. He had MVD and SM. His breeder? An international judge. There is an official CM/SM screening programme but breeders have boycotted it.”
The Cavalier health crisis was revealed in the 2008 documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which showed top show Cavaliers with inherited disease being used for breeding against veterinary advice. The BBC later ditched its coverage of Crufts, the KC’s most prestigious event, because of the outcry.
The KC describes itself as “The UK’s largest organisation dedicated to protecting and promoting the welfare of all dogs” but TV vet Emma Milne believes it is motivated by money.
Emma says: “The UK is way behind much of Europe where countries have seen dramatic improvements in disease prevalence through robust testing. When will the KC stop seeing pound signs and starting seeing sense?”
Numerous famous faces are backing the campaign, including Tony Parsons, Binky Felstead, Linda Robson, Fern Britten, TV vet Mark Evans and many others:
“Please can I ask you to sign and retweet this petition to save dogs’ lives”, Pixie Lott has urged her Twitter followers.
“We need to make sure all Cavaliers are health tested before breeding,” believes Craig Revel Horwood, who has a Cavalier called Sophie with hereditary heart disease.
“We should be breeding for health, not creating problems for our loved pets,” says Deborah Meadon, who has been a staunch supporter of the Cavalier health campaign.
Follow the campaign on Twitter @healthycavalier and on the ‘Cavaliers Are Special’ Facebook page.