Dr. John V. Ioia, MD, PhD

Reprinted from the AKC Gazette Magazine, December 2022

The 2022 ACKCSC National Specialty in Wilmington Ohio was a truly exciting place to be as we emerged from the disappointment of no national competitions for 2020 and 2021.  With over 452 dogs and 584 entries in conformation and companion events this was amazing both in terms of size and quality.

No competition was more exciting and no display was more beautiful than the Veteran classes and the Veteran Parade.  With 20 Veterans competing, including three in the over 11-year class and one a 15-year-old, there was much to cause excitement, including the fact that Best of Breed/Best in Show went to a Veteran.  Halfmoon N Cobb Rock It CA, a 9-year-old dog, bred by Lorraine Cobb and Jean Tremblay and owned and shown by Jean Tremblay took top honors.

This was an honor not only for this dog and his breeders but also for our breed in general.  In fact, the size and quality of the Veterans Classes and the beauty of all, including 15-year-old CH Rossbony Rebus bred by Elaine and Alan Shail and owned by Carol Rose and Darlene Petralia spoke to the merits of our breeders.

There was a time when simply having a senior dog, a Veteran over seven was enough to earn applause and a ribbon.  Cavaliers were thought of as a breed plagued with health problems and having a short life expectancy.  Now, though the efforts of reputable breeders, health testing and careful breeding practices we have come to expect dogs to be healthier and live longer, heathier lives.  It’s not uncommon to have dogs living into their mid-teens and I myself had a seventeen-year-old and a sixteen-year-old.

One of the most important issues to Cavalier Health and Longevity is heart disease.  It’s important when considering cardiac problems and Degenerative Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) in particular that we remember that it accounts for about 75% of cardiovascular disease in dogs and occurs in both mixed breeds and purebred dogs, including most Toy Dogs as well as the Cavalier.

At present, MVD inheritance in the Cavalier is speculated.   Research funded by the ACKCSC Charitable Trust is ongoing to confirm this hypothesis.  The inheritance is suspected to be polygenetic (several genes involved) with multifactorial influences (e.g., dog’s environment, food and weight).  In other words, there is a genetic predisposition for MVD but other factors come into play similar to other species (such as humans).  The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has been studied and screened for over 25 years thanks to the dedication and generosity of owners, breeders and cardiologists in the USA.

The recommended health screening for Cavaliers includes annual auscultation (listening to the heart with a stethoscope) by a cardiologist and doppler (Echocardiogram) if there is a question on auscultation.  ACKCSC Regional Clubs host health clinics each year with cardiologists accessible to breeders and owners throughout the USA.   Currently, the recommended practice is to wait until a Cavalier is two years old or older before the first breeding and to know the parents and ancestral cardiac status.  Cavaliers with early onset presentation of MVD (before four years of age) should not be bred and breeders need to work with the guidance of their cardiologists.

The ACKCSC Charitable Health Trust is working with scientists, including cell biology labs, through research grants to help with the prevention and treatment of this and other Cavalier Health issues.  This was well demonstrated by our 2022 Veteran Classes.