Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Blenheim Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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The cavalier King Charles spaniel is one of the largest and most popular toy dog breeds, often called the perfect lap dog. The affectionate, active, and family-friendly dog is known for its silky, wavy coat; short legs; floppy ears; and distinctive feathered features. Although only officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1995, they have a long, noble, and royal lineage.

Breed Overview


HEIGHT: 12 to 13 inches (to the withers)

WEIGHT: around 13 to 18 pounds

COAT: Long, sleek and silky coat with feathering around ears, feet, chest, and tail

COAT COLOR: Four color varieties include tricolor, Blenheim (red and white), ruby, and black and tan

LIFE SPAN: 12 to 14 years

TEMPERAMENT: Playful, affectionate, patient, graceful, sociable, gentle


ORIGIN: England

Characteristics of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Cavalier King Charles spaniels are known for generally being incredibly affectionate, sociable, happy-go-lucky, and eager to please. They usually thrive in the company of humans and other dogs and, for this reason, they would suit a household where they will not regularly be left alone.

They can make great family pets and are also popular with the elderly, as they are not too demanding or hyperactive. Even the most tolerant of breeds should, however, be left undisturbed when sleeping and eating, and children should be guided on the most appropriate way to interact with dogs.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly  High
Pet-Friendly  High
Exercise Needs  Medium
Playfulness  Medium
Energy Level  Medium
Trainability High
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark  Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

This companionable breed has long been associated with nobles and royals in Europe, particularly England, from as far back as the 17th century. At this point, the dogs were more widely known as toy spaniels and their appearance could vary somewhat. They were extremely popular with King Charles I and his son King Charles II, which is where their name is derived. King Charles II was said to be so besotted with these dogs that he decreed that they were allowed in any public building, including Parliament.

The Blenheim color variant was named as a result of the passion that the First Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, and his wife had for these dogs. They had many dogs of the breed at their home in Blenheim Palace.

Queen Victoria also loved the breed and her cavalier King Charles spaniel, Dash, was described as her closest childhood companion.

During Victoria's era, these spaniels began to be crossed more with flatter-faced companion breeds from Asia, such as the pug and the Japanese chin. This led to the development of the English toy spaniel (which is confusingly known as the King Charles spaniel in the United Kingdom).

In the 1920s, breed enthusiasts began to work towards revitalizing the look of the spaniels from King Charles II and the Duke of Marlborough's time, and this led to the development of the breed we know today. The American Kennel Club only officially recognized the breed in 1995, but since then, it has continued to grow in popularity, and in 2018 it was ranked as the 18th most popular breed by the AKC.

The First Duke and Duchess of Malborough with their Spaniel
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Princess Victoria and her Spaniel
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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Care

While this breed does often enjoy snuggling up for a cuddle on the sofa, it does not mean that this dog is a couch potato and, although it is classified as a toy breed, this pup still enjoys and benefits from plenty of exercise and training. In addition, if the cavalier's coat is neglected, it can become sloppy and knotted, particularly around the ears.


Though this dog will greatly appreciate a good, solid walk for about 30 to 60 minutes a day, a bit more exercise may be needed for the breed. If you walk your dog for half an hour, then another half an hour spent playing fetch will suffice for your cavalier.


If you are looking for a breed with a low-maintenance grooming regime, this may not be the dog for you. The dog's feathered ears and feet need regular maintenance to ensure that it does not get tangled or matted. It will need combing out a few times a week, or some owners choose to have the dog's coat clipped down for ease of maintenance and to help keep the pup stay cooler in hot climates. It is a breed that sheds its coat, but not excessively.


Cavalier King Charles spaniels are usually extremely eager to please, and they are very food motivated. This means that they will respond well to positive, force-free training methods and are generally easy to train. These dogs do well in competitive sports, such as agility and obedience.

The hunting instincts of a spaniel can occasionally surface in this breed. Care must be taken to ensure your dog has a reliable recall and that it is not allowed to chase livestock or small furry animals.

3 Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
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Two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Puppies
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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel taking part in agility
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Common Health Problems

Unfortunately, in part due to their rising popularity and resulting unscrupulous breeding practices, the cavalier King Charles spaniel is a breed that is associated with several potential inheritable health conditions. It is crucial that, if you are buying a puppy, you seek out a responsible and accredited breeder that has done the relevant health screens on the parents.

Some of the conditions this breed is associated with are as follows:

Heart Disease: The breed is particularly associated with developing Mitral Valve Disease (MVD). This initially presents as a heart murmur, often at a young age, and it will continue to develop until the dog eventually develops heart failure. While medication can sometimes help to manage the condition, there is no cure, and premature death can occur.

Syringomyelia (SM): This is another serious condition typically associated with the breed. It results in cavities in the spinal cord filling up with fluid near the brain. It is a progressive condition, which can cause extreme discomfort and pain for the dog, and the speed at which it develops can vary greatly. It cannot be cured, but the pain can often be successfully managed. The condition is sometimes also referred to as "neck scratchers disease" as one of the first symptoms can be that the dog obsessively scratches at its neck.

Joint Problems: Cavaliers are commonly associated with developing hip dysplasia and luxating patella.

Eye Problems: Cavaliers are prone to eye issues, including cataracts, dry eye syndrome (as a result of problems with their tear ducts), cherry eye, and corneal ulcers.

Diet and Nutrition

As with every dog, you should feed your cavalier King Charles spaniel a high-quality and appropriately portion-controlled diet with food that is formulated for toy or small breeds. The breed is associated with obesity, so avoid overfeeding them, no matter how much they give you puppy dog eyes. If they gobble down their food and are always looking for more, why not consider giving them some of their meals from a slow-feed bowl or interactive treat toy.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

The popularity of the breed means that unscrupulous backyard breeders and puppy mills will take advantage of this. You may find dogs that are not appropriately socialized and bred from unhealthy dogs.

Always make sure that you see mom and puppies together in a nurturing home environment. Your pup should not come home to you until they are at least eight weeks old and fully weaned, and they should have had a vet check, too. Depending on the breeder, you can find a cavalier puppy for $1,000 to $2,500.

There are also lots of wonderful cavalier King Charles spaniels in rescue that are equally deserving of a loving forever home.

Begin your search for a puppy through the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club. The organization has many breeder and rescuer contacts for this breed on its site. Rescue cavaliers can be found at the Cavalier Rescue USA site.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Overview

  • Thrives in a family or multi-dog household

  • Eager to please, responds well to positive training

  • Flexible energy levels for walks of all types (slow and short to long hikes)

  • Prone to many inheritable health conditions

  • High-maintenance grooming regime necessary

  • Prone to obesity

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If the cavalier King Charles spaniel seems like a great dog for your family, try researching a similar breed, such as the:

With so many dog breeds out there, you will be sure to find one that is a good match for your lifestyle when you do your research.

  • Are cavalier King Charles spaniels aggressive?

    This breed is not known to be inherently aggressive. The only reasons this dog would show aggression is if it is in pain or left alone for too long. In fact, a cavalier may appear like it is sulking if it is yelled at or treated harshly. This is also one of the best breeds to have in a multi-pet household which includes cats.

  • Is this breed a good dog for apartment living?

    Absolutely yes. The small and quiet nature of the cavalier makes it ideal for apartment living. The cavalier also needs moderate outdoor exercise and indoors, this dog is content even living in a limited space.

  • Is the cavalier King Charles spaniel a good choice for first-time dog owners?

    This breed is an ideal choice for a first-time dog owner. A new dog owner will learn grooming skills with a cavalier, but this sweet-natured pup has a great personality for novice owners. Besides grooming, this breed needs lots of together time with its human so it does not develop separation anxiety.