Complete Guide To the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Care, Health, Grooming and More

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are fun-loving companions with endearing temperaments, big brown eyes and soft, sweet faces. Recognized by the AKC in 1995, these pint-sized toy spaniels have an aristocratic history but down-to-earth charm.

In my 20+ years as a veterinarian, I don’t think there’s a cuter puppy than a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. They’re also the most sweet and loving dogs as well. I’ve never owned one, but I see them all the time in practice and my clients are completely in love.

How Big Do Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Get?

They can grow to 12″-13″ and weigh about 13-18 lbs. Males generally are a little bigger than females. I have lately seen some larger Cavaliers that seem like outliers but may be a breed deviation that becomes more common depending on how breeders develop their stock.

What Do Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Look Like?

The irresistible Cavalier King Charles Spaniel averages a compact 12–18 pounds. They stand a petite 12 inches with a graceful carriage and balanced musculature. Round eyes rimmed in black are perfect for pleading for treats.

Silky mid-length coats come in shades of black, chestnut, red and tan in four distinct patterns:

• Blenheim – chestnut (almost an orange/brown color) mixed with white
• Tricolor
• Ruby
• Jet

A smooth finish is preferable but a gentle wave is allowed for breeding and show — no trimming except for the feet is allowed for competitions. Docked tails are optional.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a unique look and are rarely mistaken for other breeds, but it’s not uncommon for people to think full-grown Cavs are Springer Spaniel puppies.

What Is The Personality Of A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?

Bright and energetic, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a mellow but playful personality suitable for city or country living. Equally happy playing in the park or binge-watching the latest drama on the sofa, they’re people-pleasers that like to be included in activities.

Exercise and fresh air are musts for their health, and like most spaniels, they have an aptitude for canine sports. They still retain a strong hunting instinct and will chase an intriguing scent or small animal as far as you’ll let them. Keep them on a leash or in a fenced-in yard for their safety.

How Much Grooming Does A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Need?

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a manageable single coat. Its luxurious texture requires more care than average to maintain, but it’s not fussy and well within the capability of most dog owners. Occasional professional grooming is recommended but not required.

Daily brushing keeps knots from forming in trouble spots around the ears, chest and tail — use a steel comb to gently tease out mats. A light mist of water before brushing can be refreshing and helps whisk away surface debris. Non-show dogs can benefit from a puppy cut that keeps hair trim where it’s most likely to tangle, preserving some of its length while making regular care easier.

Bathing schedules depend on lifestyle. A bath every few months for a couch potato will do, but outdoor enthusiasts will be quick to pick up dirt. Plan to bathe active dogs every few weeks or when visibly soiled.

Avoid harsh shampoos. Silky coats respond best to a pH-balanced formula made just for dogs. A light conditioner or crème rinse seals in shine and helps prevent matting.

The nail on Cavaliers have a predilection to grow inwards towards the pads as they age. This can cause pain in some of the breed as older dogs when they walk. Keep the nails trimmed as short as possible by having them addressed at least once monthly.

What Are The Exercise Needs Of A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?

As puppies, these dogs are like tornados as they spin and run and play non-stop. My older clients speak of having to watch very carefully where they step when they first get their Cavalier pup as they are all over the place.

As puppies and younger dogs, the Cavalier needs a lot of exercise. Long and vigorous walks (meant to be exercise and not as a way for the dog to relieve itself only) of at least 30 minutes daily will be needed.

Short, frequent sessions of playing with toys and balls will also be needed for most Cavaliers as they always want to be near you and interact with you. If you don’t get them tired out, the Cavalier will turn more into a needy little fellow. They want to cuddle and sit with you on the couch so make sure they’re well exercised before that so you both can enjoy the time together.

What Is The Best Food For A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?

Most small kibble dry dog foods will be suitable for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. These little dogs have a pretty small mouth so large kibble will be a lot more difficult to chew.

Grain-free diets are a myth. Please do not feed your dog a grain-free diet unless there are specific food allergies that would benefit from a grain-free diet. Always consult your veterinarian before you decide to make any major diet changes.

Some good brands that I recommend include:

I usually tend to go with the bigger dog food companies because of the amount of time and money they have to research and test their products. They also have a stronger history of safe foods (very rarely will they have recalls) over the newer, more boutique-style dog foods.

It is important always to give your dog high-quality dog food. Monitor the number of treats and “people food” you give your dog to keep him healthy and fit. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is the best and easiest way to extend the life of your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. 

How Long Do Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Live?

12-15 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Conditions Do Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Have?

There are some potential health concerns with this breed that most owners come into my veterinary practice office knowing about. The most common include:

  • Mitral Valve (Heart) Disease
  • Dental Disease
  • Luxating Patella

The Cavalier is particular prone to developing heart disease as they age. For some reason, not only can Cavaliers develop mitral valve disease earlier in life than many dogs, but their disease seems to be more aggressive than in many other breeds.

While in most dogs, a heart murmur can be a benign change as they age, it’s always a concern in a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. For that reason, I am always more aggressive with treatment and monitoring than I am with any other breed.

The national breed club is trying very hard to limit mitral valve disease in the Cavalier. The official recommendation is to not breed any dog before they are 2 years of age and to make sure a veterinarian is listening to these hearts annually. If a murmur becomes present, and a veterinary cardiologist confirms mitral valve disease than that dog should never be bred again.

By following the lineage of Cavaliers and knowing their heart health as they age, the national club is seeking to minimize the emergence of mitral valve disease in younger and middle-aged dogs. I’m very impressed with the efforts taken by the national club to address this serious issue and try to produce future Cavaliers that are not only healthier but live longer.

Where Can I Find Out More About Cavalier King Charles Spaniels?

American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club (ACKCSC)

AKC Breed Page

Where Can I Find a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?

Start with the ACKCSC Breeder Referral Directory

AKC Puppy Page

Looking for a Rescue? Start with the Rescue Trust of the National Club

Interesting Facts about Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have an impressive pedigree. Here are a few facts you may not know about this lovable breed.

• These Royal Dogs Were Almost Lost

European nobility had a soft spot for toy spaniels. A favorite of 19th-century British aristocrats, the original King Charles Spaniel was developed by crossing an unnamed spaniel with small Asian dogs, such as the Japanese Chin and Pekingese. The population waned until the early 1900s when a cash reward was offered to revive the breed, and today’s version, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was born.

• Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are Named After Monarchs

The name Cavalier, meaning “horseman,” was once a derogatory term for King Charles I and II and their supporters during the English Civil War. Today, it’s an honorable title recognizing the country’s reconciliation.

• They’re Ideal Therapy Dogs

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are bundles of affection. With training, you can help your dog spread the love to people in need. The AKC Therapy Dog™ program doesn’t train therapy pets, but it awards official titles to dogs that serve the community.

• The Blenheim Pattern Is Named After a Battle

Legend holds the Duke of Marlborough’s wife was so concerned for his safety during the battle of Blenheim that she petted her pregnant dog’s forehead continually for comfort. Upon his safe return, the puppies, it’s said, were born with the characteristic Blenheim mark — a thumb-shaped chestnut patch in the center of their heads.

• Cavs Aren’t Just for Royalty

Musicians, journalists and movie stars alike claim Cavalier King Charles Spaniels as companions. They’re the 17th most popular dog in the Untied States. Amanda Bynes, Diane Sawyer, Tom Selleck, Teri Hatcher and Katherine McPhee are all fans of the breed.

President Ronald Reagan once gave his wife a Cav puppy named Rex. He lived a life of luxury complete with a designer doghouse boasting framed pictures of his owners on the walls. When the Reagans retired, Rex was presented with a White House-shaped doghouse lined with carpet from the official presidential retreat at Camp David.