English Toy Spaniel


Your English Toy Spaniel

Caring for Your Faithful Companion

English Toy Spaniels: What a Unique Breed!

Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like King Charles Spaniels and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:

  • Intelligent and easy to train
  • Affectionate, easygoing, and lovable
  • Excellent companion
  • People-oriented and eager to please
  • Doesn’t need much exercise
  • Compact – does well in small living quarters

However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:

  • Wary of strangers, with a tendency to vocalize
  • An indoor dog that doesn’t do well in the heat
  • Prone to separation anxiety, with associated destructive chewing behaviors
  • Makes a lot of snorting, snuffling, and wheezing noises, and she may snore
  • Can be aggressive, fearful, or snappy if not socialized properly
  • Needs frequent attention from her family

Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is a lover of comfort and dedicated to her family, but she tends to form a deep bond with only one person.

The English Toy Spaniel originated in the Far East and was given to the English as gifts where they ultimately developed into the breed seen today. The English Toy Spaniel or King Charles Spaniel was a favorite among English Royalty; King Charles II delivered a royal decree that allowed free access to any court or palace in England to all English Toy Spaniels. They are quiet, gentle, and happy companions that are naturally well behaved and form a strong bond with their master. The English Toy Spaniel is a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan of 10-12 years.

Your English Toy Spaniel’s Health

We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Charlie. By knowing about health concerns specific to English Toy Spaniels, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.

Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed. That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen in English Toy Spaniels to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.

This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for English Toy Spaniels. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your King Charles Spaniel looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

General Health Information for your English Toy Spaniel

Dental Disease

Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your English Toy Spaniel is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Spaniel’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.


English Toy Spaniels are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections — the same ones that all dogs can get — such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, her age, and other factors.


Obesity can be a significant health problem in English Toy Spaniels. It is a serious disease that may cause or worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.


All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your King Charles Spaniel’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.

Spay or Neuter

One of the best things you can do for your Charlie is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.

Genetic Predispositions for English Toy Spaniels

Eye Problems

Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, English Toy Spaniels can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.



Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Charlies. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.

Glaucoma, an eye condition that affects English Toy Spaniels and people too, is an extremely painful disease that rapidly leads to blindness if left untreated. Symptoms include squinting, watery eyes, bluing of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye), and redness in the whites of the eyes. Pain is rarely noticed by pet owners though it is frequently there and can be severe. People who have certain types of glaucoma often report it feels like being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick! Yikes! In advanced cases, the eye may look enlarged or swollen like it’s bulging. We’ll perform his annual glaucoma screening to diagnose and start treatment as early as possible. Glaucoma is a medical emergency. If you see symptoms, don’t wait to call us, go to an emergency clinic!

Entropion is a condition where the eyelid rolls inward, causing the eyelashes to rub against the cornea (surface of the eyeball). This is an extremely irritating and painful condition that can ultimately lead to blindness. It can happen in any dog breed; however, your Charlie is especially at risk for this heritable disorder. Surgical correction is usually successful if performed early.

Distichiasis is a condition caused by extra hairs that grow inside of the eyelid and rub on the surface of the eye. This is one of the most commonly inherited diseases in dogs, and your Charlie is more likely than other dogs to develop this painful condition. If untreated, these abnormal hairs can cause corneal ulcers and chronic eye pain. Several treatment options are available, and the prognosis is good once the hairs have been permanently removed.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease in which the eyes are genetically programmed to go blind. Unfortunately, English Toy Spaniels are a bit more likely than other dogs to have this condition. PRA is not painful, but also not curable. In dogs with the bad gene, early symptoms such as night blindness or dilated pupils generally begin around three to five years of age. A genetic test is available for this condition.

Corneal dystrophy. Note the crystalline deposits on the cornea.

Corneal dystrophy. Note the crystalline deposits on the cornea.

The cornea is the clear outer layer at the front of the eye. Corneal dystrophy is an inherited condition in English Toy Spaniels that causes small white crystal deposits to form in one of the layers of the cornea. There is no known effective medical treatment to remove the deposits. Usually the disease progresses slowly, doesn’t hurt, and causes only minor vision obstruction, but partial or complete blindness is possible. In severe cases surgery may be considered, but unfortunately, the crystals may return.

Heart Disease

Heart failure is a leading cause of death among English Toy Spaniels in their golden years. Most heart disease in dogs is caused by weakening of a valve. A heart valve slowly becomes deformed so that it no longer closes tightly. Blood then leaks back around this valve and strains the heart. Pets with heart valve disease (sometimes called mitral valve disease) have a heart murmur. If your dog has a heart murmur or outward signs suggesting heart problems, we’ll perform testing to determine the severity of the disease. The same tests will need to be repeated at least every year to monitor the condition. If heart valve disease is diagnosed early, we may be able to prescribe medications that could prolong his life for many years. Veterinary dental care and fatty acid supplementation can help prevent heart disease and weight control can help diminish symptoms.

Charlies are susceptible to a condition called Patent Ductus Arteriosis, in which a small vessel that carries blood between two parts of the heart does not close shortly after birth as it should. This results in too much blood being carried to the lungs, fluid build-up, and strain on the heart. Outward signs may be mild or you may see coughing, fatigue during exercise, weight loss, shortness of breath, or weakness in the hind limbs. We listen for a specific type of heart murmur to diagnose this problem during his examinations. If your pal has this condition, we may recommend surgery to close the problematic vessel.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

Both hips and elbows are at risk for dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the joints to develop improperly and results in arthritis. Stiffness in your Charlie’s elbows or hips may become a problem for him, especially as he matures. You may notice that he begins to show lameness in his legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis—the sooner the better—to minimize discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s bones to identify issues as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes a good option in severe and life-limiting cases. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering!

Young English Toy Spaniels may be prone to a painful degenerative hip condition called Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease. The exact cause of this condition is still not completely understood, but it is thought to be a problem with blood supply to the hip, which causes the femoral head (the top of the thigh bone) to become brittle and easily fracture. Ouch! Usually occurring between six and nine months of age, it causes pain and lameness in one or both rear legs, and often requires surgery.

Normal Knee

Normal Knee

Patellar luxation

Patellar luxation

Knee Problems

Sometimes your Charlie’s kneecap (patella) may slip out of place (called patellar luxation). You might notice that he runs along and suddenly picks up a back leg and skips or hops for a few strides. Then he kicks his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place, and he’s fine again. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from popping out of place.

Umbilical hernias, originating from the belly button, range in size.

Umbilical hernias, originating from the belly button, range in size.


An umbilical hernia is a hole or defect in the body wall in the area of the umbilicus, or bellybutton. Usually it is seen as a soft bulging in the center of the belly, with abdominal fat and sometimes intestines protruding through the hole. Considered the most common type of hernia in dogs, it is usually inherited, and your King Charles Spaniel is at greater than normal risk for this problem. In most cases, the bulging abdominal contents can be easily pushed back into place with gentle massage, but occasionally the intestines can become stuck in the hernia and require immediate veterinary attention. We’ll check your baby for this congenital defect at his first exam, and discuss treatment options at that time, if needed.

Digestive Sensitivity

Some dogs seem to have guts made of steel, while others have loose stools every time they eat something new. It’s not his fault, though, King Charles Spaniels are known for digestive problems. You might say diarrhea runs in his genes. To help prevent symptoms, feed a prescription pet food that we recommend. Most importantly, avoid snacks and table food. Treats that are high in fat (like people food), sodium, or artificial ingredients are bad for your buddy’s digestion.

Anal Gland Problems

English Toy Spaniels are prone to this painful, long term condition in which one or more areas around the anus develop sores. Signs include straining or apparent pain when defecating, bleeding, constipation, licking of the area, or smelly discharge around the rectum. The condition can be difficult to treat, and requires lifelong medications, prescription food, and sometimes even surgery.

Neurologic Problems

Several neurologic diseases can afflict English Toy Spaniels. Symptoms of neurological problems can include seizures, imbalance, tremors, weakness, or excess sleeping. If you notice any of these symptoms, please seek immediate veterinary care.

Hydrocephalus occurs when fluid builds up inside the skull and puts pressure on the brain. This condition is most common in breeds with dome-shaped heads, like your English Toy Spaniel. It is often present when the skull bones don’t fuse properly. Signs include seizures, difficulty training the puppy, dulled mental function, circling, and a spastic gait. It is usually diagnosed early in life, but occasionally we diagnose it in adult dogs. We’ll keep this risk in mind during her visits and recommend early testing and discuss effective treatment options if symptoms develop.

Cleft Lip or Palate

Your Charlie is more likely than other breeds to be born with a cleft lip or palate, which is an opening in the lip or the roof of the mouth. Mild cases may not require any treatment, but more serious defects require surgical repair to prevent complications. We’ll check for this abnormality during his first puppy exam.


Taking Care of Your English Toy Spaniel at Home

Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Charlies. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.

Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise

Build her routine care into your schedule to help your King Charles Spaniel live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.

  • Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
  • Brush her coat as needed, at least weekly to prevent mats.
  • English Toy Spaniels often have serious problems with their teeth, so you’ll need to brush them at least three times a week!
  • Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Make sure to keep her floppy ears dry. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
  • She is well suited for apartment living; she will need a short daily walk and regular inside play.
  • She can be sensitive to warm temperatures; avoid any prolonged exposure and be very alert to the signs of heat stress.
  • Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
  • Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
  • Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.

What to Watch For

Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your English Toy Spaniel needs help.

Office calls

Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Change in appetite or water consumption
  • Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
  • Itchy skin (scratching, chewing or licking), hair loss
  • Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
  • Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes


Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
  • Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
  • Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
  • Coughing, especially at night or upon rising after sleeping, rapid breathing at rest
  • General reluctance to run or play
  • Straining to defecate, bleeding, licking of the area around the rectum, or smelly discharge
  • Leg stiffness, reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, run, jump, or “bunny hopping”

Partners in Health Care

DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.

Your Charlie counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.


  • Ackerman L. The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs. Second edition. AAHA Press; 2011.
  • Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
  • Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
  • Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http:/ic.upei.ca/cidd/breed/english-toy-spaniel
  • Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http:/www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=english-toy-spaniel

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