The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a sweet and affectionate dog that expects to be pampered. Traditionally a favorite among aristocracy, this dog's likeness has been seen in tapestries and portraits since the 15th century.

    History and Origin     

Spaniel-type dogs have been part of our lives for centuries. Some are large and some are small. Tapestries and paintings as far back as the 1400s have depicted small spaniel-like canines. The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is modeled after these ancient spaniels and is thought to have originated from the larger King Charles spaniel.

King Charles I loved small spaniels, and one of his favorites was the Cavalier. This toy spaniel was so adored by King Charles that the breed was eventually named after him. His successor, King Charles II, also loved and perpetuated the breed. This dog was a favorite of the aristocracy.

Upon the fall of the house of Stuart, the popularity of the breed rapidly declined. They were associated with luxury and wealth and seemed to have no purpose but as companions. At that time, the middle class could not afford to feed and care for a dog that did not work. In addition, William and Mary, rulers at that time, preferred the pug, so association with the Cavalier King Charles spaniel was thought by some to be a political liability.

The breed's fortunes improved during the reign of Queen Victoria. However, during her breeding and promoting of the small spaniel, and perhaps a few accidental interludes with the resident pugs, the appearance of the dog was altered. The head became more domed and the dog was eventually named the English toy spaniel. This resulted in a near extinction of the flatter headed Cavalier. In the 1920s, in an effort to restore the breed back to his original appearance, an American named Roswell Eldridge offered a financial prize for the best dog or bitch of the 'old type.' He offered this prize for 5 years.

Thanks to this offer of money, the breed was restored to his original form. By 1928, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club was founded in England and the breed was recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1944. By the middle of the 20th century, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel was one of the most popular breeds in England. By 1996, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel was recognized by the American Kennel Club as a member of the toy group.

Appearance and Size

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a small spaniel, standing a mere 10 to 15 inches at the shoulder and weighing 15 to 20 pounds. The breed has a characteristic slightly rounded but not domed head. The sloping shoulders give this dog his elegant and regal look. The muzzle is tapered and the head flat between the long well feathered high set ears. The eyes are large and round, giving the breed his classic soft expression.

The hair coat of the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is silky and of medium length. The coat is not curly but may have a slight wave. There is feathering on the ears, legs, tail and feet. The coat comes in four typical colors: blenheim, which is bright chestnut red markings broken up on a white background; tricolor, which is jet black markings broken up on a white background with rich tan markings; black and tan; and ruby.


The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a graceful and active toy breed. He is a born companion and lap dog with the temperament of an extrovert. This dog can be quite lively and even vocal. This breed does not like to spend time alone. He prefers the company of his family or other dogs. His most favorite place is in your lap. Should he have to settle for another place, it would have to be on something very soft and luxurious; such as anything cashmere, silk, fur, or really good sheets on your bed (preferably 300+ thread count). I swear, a Cavalier knows its Royal heritage and nothing but the best will do....

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a gentle and affectionate dog. This breed is a wonderful lap dog but has a sporting character and can do well in agility and even hunting. As a member of the spaniel family, this breed is mostly a natural retriever and loves to swim. It's favorite target: squirrels.

Home and Family Relations

The Cavalier King Charles loves to be pampered and relishes life indoors. Due to their small size, this breed can do well in an apartment as long as adequate exercise is provided. This breed is equally at home on the farm where he can participate in strenuous activity, as long as he is allowed to sleep and rest inside with the family.

Despite being a gentle and affectionate breed, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel does not have the patience for unruly children. Early socialization and obedience training are important in developing a beloved member of the family.


The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is an intelligent and eager dog. They learn quickly and can be trained in agility and hunting, among other things. They can also be trained (with treats) to do many tricks on command and to become a very well mannered companion. The Cavalier has the capability of a vast vocabulary.


Weekly brushing is necessary to prevent mats and tangles. Extra attention should be paid to the fine hair behind the ears.

Special Care

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel has a tendency to develop heart abnormalities early in life. Regular veterinary examinations are recommended to detect any underlying heart disease and begin treatment.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Chronic valvular disease is a disorder of the valves of the heart. This can result in congestive heart failure.

Patellar luxation is a disorder affecting the kneecap.

Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland does not function adequately. Without enough thyroid hormone, illness can occur.

Allergies and deafness also occur.

In addition, although these occur infrequently, the following disorders have also been reported:

Entropion is a problem with the eyelid that causes inward rolling. Lashes on the edge of the eyelid irritate the surface of the eyeball and may lead to more serious problems.

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that develops between the ages of 2 and 5 years.

Cataracts cause a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. The problem can occur in one or both eyes and can lead to blindness.

Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that results in pain, lameness and arthritis.

Cryptorchidism is a condition in which one or both testicles do not descend into the scrotum.

Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas related to insufficient amounts of insulin production.

The regular life span of the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is 9 to 11 years. However, with proper care, nutrition (no people food, but plenty of vitamins, minerals and omega fats), exercise and a non-smoking environment, they can live to 14-15 years.

Comparing English Toy Spaniels to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

English Toy Spaniels, affectionately called ‘Charlies' are known as the King Charles Spaniel in England and on the Continent. These are often confused with Cavalier King Charles Spaniels or ‘Cavaliers'. This is not surprising, given the similarity of their names – which both contain references to King Charles – but the confusion persists in the naming of their colors as well. Both breeds refer to the Blenheim as a red and white dog. In Cavaliers, the tricolor (black, white and tan) is called a ‘Prince Charles' in English Toys. A black and tan Cavalier is called a King Charles in English Toys and both breeds refer to a solid red dog as a ruby.

Both breeds share a common history and function from their inception in the 1600s to the mid 1920s in England and both breeds are considered toy spaniels. Beyond that the breeds differ quite radically in appearance, and temperament.

It is important to understand that originally, the ancestors of these little toy spaniels, were bred down as companion dogs from active gun dogs and crossed with other small spaniels that had likewise been bred down from other kinds of hunting dogs. Thus, the original Marlborough Spaniels, bred by the Duke of Marlborough, were small red and white dogs bred down from the hunting dogs he kept at Blenheim palace. The name Blenheim' stuck and is the reason why all red and white toy spaniels are called Blenheims today. King Charles kept small black and tan spaniels, called the Pyrame, which may have been bred down from French dogs used for water retrieving, such as the ancestors of Poodle and Portugese Water Dogs. The Pyrame had fused toes – better used for swimming perhaps. This may be why we see this trait so frequently in the English Toy Spaniel.

Hunting instincts are also still present in both breeds. I've seen both Cavaliers and English Toys do land and water retrieving – but their usefulness is obviously hampered by their small size and their eyes, which have been bred over the centuries to be large and melting in expression, and which are a liability in classic upland cover with it's thorny bushes and thick brush. It is wise to remember that for both breeds a butterfly and a grouse are equal interest and they will hunt whatever flies by. Thus, they should never be off lead unless in a fenced-in area.

Early toy spaniels were eventually cross-bred with oriental short nosed dogs, like the Pekingese, Japanese Chin and Pug and eventually produced the King Charles (English Toy or 'Charlie'). These dogs maintained their spaniel heritage but took on the round headed and full-bodied look of these more dignified and charming breeds. Later, when fanciers tried to recreate the appearance of the original toy spaniels – which emanated from hunting stock – they produced the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel by breeding long-nosed Charlies back to larger working spaniel breeds. This resulted in a slightly larger toy dog with more exuberance in character.

The Charlie is a dog who is likely to ‘choose' his owner. He is devoted and charming to those he knows well. In fact he is apt to be quite a clown and to enjoy moments of silliness when he is comfortable and is at play. The Charlie may need to be convinced that going on a lead is ‘his idea' or you are likely to get into a battle of the wills. Some Charlies can be extremely shy and it is typical of Charlies that they will often tremble in the hands of a stranger until they get very used to being handled. Some Charlies are quite outgoing and extroverted. They may not care whether they are patted, but what they really want is you, and they will do what you have asked and remain on the table until your return – watching all the while for a glimpse of your face in the crowd. Charlies remember who their friends are and look forward to seeing them… although it may take a few visits before they include a new person in their ‘inner circle'.

Charlie are often described as being ‘dignified' in their demeanor. They are. After their initial joyous greeting, they are more likely to exhibit a contended watchfulness of your behavior. They have found their place in life and it is with you. Cavaliers, on the other hand, are more likely to venture out and explore the universe in which you are their sun. They will come back and share their finds with great enthusiasm! One friend has stated that Cavaliers think they are human and Charlies think they are better than humans. Well, I guess that's one way to look at it! The Cavalier is expected to be ‘fearless and sporting in character'. The Cavalier is almost always eager to please and affectionate in nature. People sometimes refer to the Cavalier as a ‘love sponge'. A Cavalier may love you deeply but is just as happy to trot off after your dinner guest without a second thought, just because they love people so much. Cavaliers tend to want to be with their owners all the time. They are more likely than Charlies to follow you to the kitchen from the couch and back again. Cavaliers will probably need more affirmation from you of your devotion than a Charlie. As a result, Cavaliers are a breed that is more likely to be ‘in your face' seeking pats and kisses. Cavaliers are so eager to please that they are unbelievably quick to leash train and are lots of fun for the beginner in obedience classes. One should never leave one's Cavalier on a grooming table unattended at a show, as they will be easily distracted and run off. Cavaliers can be a relatively busy breed and are more likely to dash off and investigate something than a Charlie. To the Cavalier, life is an adventure and they can be highly distractable!

It's sometimes a good idea to put Charlie and Cavalier puppies together to socialize them, when the opportunity presents itself. The Cavaliers will liven up the Charlies and give them more courage. The Charlies can tone down the Cavaliers. Both breeds tend to get on very well together in this way as adults as well.

Because Charlies are more sedate and boundaried than Cavaliers, they tend to do well as pets for the elderly or infirm. They are not as quick to rouse and are not as demanding. Cavaliers are great in families with young children because of their higher energy level and forgiving nature. One must be cautious having young children around either breed, however, because if dropped or fallen upon, both breeds could suffer from major injuries. If this is a concern, a cat might be a better pet. Respectful children and Charlies can be an excellent pairing, but as Charlies are easier to overwhelm at a young age, this should be closely supervised, at least initially.

As performance dogs, Cavaliers are fun for the novice to show because there are more of them at AKC shows than Charlies. They are easy to train for the ring, obedience or agility and they can be flashy. The competition at the ‘specials' level can be quite intense because there are quite a few good quality Cavaliers about, so for the beginning handler, this will represent the biggest challenge. Charlies can be difficult to finish as there are fewer Charlies, and they ar less likely to be outgoing. Having a Charlie as a serious show prospect will probably require traveling out of your region to complete attending at least one of either of the two Specialties in the breed. However, the Charlie's devotion to his handler can be well rewarded with ring work and lots of socialization and practice. There are also ample opportunities to perform at the group level. So for the committed show enthusiast, showing a Charlie can be well worth the effort in the long run.

Breeding Charlies in not for the faint of heart. They can be terrific mothers but it is often difficult to get them bred and they are prone to need c-sections about 50% of the time. Compared to Cavaliers. Charlies puppies are more likely to need additional attention to get them up and running. One should be prepared for tubing or supplementing puppies. One is also more likely to see problems associated with some brachiocephalic breeds (i.e. bull dogs, pugs etc), such as cleft palates, missing tails, hydrocephalus and so on. Cavaliers on the other hand are easy whelpers and have slightly larger litters. Puppies have a higher survival rate, but Cavaliers may be more prone to early onset heart disease than Charlies – although this remains medically unconfirmed. Beyond this, both breeds seem to share similar health problems, albeit to different degrees.

So depending on weather you would like a royal and dignified pet with an unexpected comedic side (the English Toy)or a fun-love exuberant one, whose busyness will delight rather than annoy you (the Cavalier) one of these should provide you with a delightful companion.