The following information has been collated in response to a
petition asking the Kennel Club to make certain health screening
for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels mandatory. The Kennel Club
ask that all those who signed the petition, or those who are
passionate about the subject, read all of the information below in
The issue of mandatory screening is not as black and white as it
may appear - and whilst we were responsible for developing the
health screening test that we are now being asked to make
mandatory, we have good reason to believe that such action could be
counterproductive - so we ask that you read the following material
to help understand the Kennel Club's position and what it is doing,
and what it recommends others can do to help improve the health of
What is being asked of the Kennel Club?
Over 20,000 people have recently signed a petition asking the
Kennel Club to "Stop registering Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Puppies unless their parents are MRI scanned and heart
tested". The MRI scan in this instance is to check for
Chiari-like malformations and syringomyelia (CM/SM), a very serious
and unpleasant condition that can cause intense pain and
neurological problems. There is currently no standardised heart
What is the Kennel Club's current stance on CM/SM
In 2012 the Kennel Club and British Veterinary Association (BVA)
introduced a screening scheme to enable a dog's MRI to be graded by
a panel of expert neurologists and radiologists to help determine
the degree of CM and SM. The purpose of launching this scheme
was to help reduce or eliminate the incidence of inherited CM and
SM in dogs.
The Kennel Club strongly recommends that breeders of Cavalier
King Charles Spaniels screen their breeding dogs prior to
mating. Since CM/SM is a condition that develops and worsens
over time, scans throughout the dog's lifetime are recommended,
generally at year one, three to five years and over five years.
What factors have affected the Kennel Club decision on
whether to make the CM/SM screening scheme, that the Kennel Club
itself developed, mandatory for anyone who registers with it?
The way that CM/SM is inherited is not currently understood so
the health scheme will not produce definitive results about which
dogs should or shouldn't be used for breeding, but what it will do
is collectively build a picture about the breed, over time.
As such, while it is hoped that following BVA/KC breeding
recommendations will help reduce the overall incidence of this
condition, the MRI scans cannot be used to accurately predict
whether the offspring of two screened dogs will be affected, nor to
what degree of severity. Two clear dogs may produce affected
offspring, while two affected dogs may produce offspring that are
clear. Making it mandatory could give false confidence to puppy
buyers who believe that a puppy from clear offspring will also be
Cost and risks of screening
The average DNA test may cost between £35 and £135, while a
single MRI scan may cost around £500. The BVA and Kennel Club
recommend that each breeding dog is MRI scanned three times
throughout its life, costing around £1,500 in total. In addition,
undergoing an MRI requires an anaesthetic which, while normally
very safe, does carry some risk to the dog.
Given the costs and risks involved, the fact that the test will
not give information that will accurately predict whether the
puppies they produce will become affected or not, and that current
research indicates that only 2 percent of the breed go on to
develop clinical signs of the condition, we cannot insist that the
test is mandatory.
We can however, work with breeders who are passionate about
improving the health of the breed to encourage and support those
breeders in taking the test, so that we can build a better
picture about the disease, the mode of inheritance of the disease
and how it can be reduced.
So, does using results from the health scheme appropriately
prior to breeding guarantee that puppies will be free from
No. CM/SM is a condition which is inherited in a
complicated way which is not yet fully understood by
scientists. Affected breeding dogs can produce unaffected
offspring, while unaffected dogs can produce affected
offspring. It is hoped that breeding appropriately from
screened dogs will reduce the risk of producing affected offspring,
but it must be stressed that this is not a guarantee.
By making CM/SM screening mandatory, the Kennel Club is
concerned that puppy buyers who do their research and ensure that
they buy from screened parents will have false confidence that the
puppy they buy will not become affected in future. This
could then lead to people breeding from these dogs outside of the
Kennel Club umbrella mistakenly thinking they are healthy, which
could further a health crisis.
So if the test results will not tell you if puppies are
affected what is the point of the test? How will it improve breed
The results of the health screening are critical to enable us to
build a picture about the breed's health over time, and to offer
solutions to this complex condition, whose mode of inheritance is
currently not understood.
The Kennel Club employs a number of geneticists who will use the
health information collected to develop of a genetic tool called
Estimated Breeding Values, which is much more precise in enabling
us to accurately determine genetic risk and understand the disease.
We firstly need to work with breeders to encourage them to test and
then we can produce these additional scientific resources that
could further improve the chances of producing unaffected
The Kennel Club believes that in order to reduce the incidence
of CM/SM, breeders, breed clubs, puppy buyers, veterinarians,
researchers and the Kennel Club must all work collaboratively.
The Kennel Club says that it will be detrimental to Cavalier
health to make the health test mandatory, why is this?
The health test is not a legal requirement for Cavalier breeders
and registration with the Kennel Club is only voluntary, so making
the test mandatory will simply drive breeders away from the Kennel
Club, meaning that we have fewer health test results and less
information about the condition.
Instead, we need to take time to understand breeders' concerns
about the test and support and incentivise them to use it. Because
the test does not produce definitive results about whether puppies
will be affected by the condition and because of the cost and risks
associated with the test, we believe collaboration with breeders
who are passionate about improving breed health will be much more
effective than making the test a mandatory requirement for Kennel
We are realistic and we know that not all breeders will wish to
put their dog forward for testing, but we do not need large numbers
to produce results and to build a picture about the health of the
A further concern about driving breeders away by using a heavy
hand and not listening to their concerns, is that they would no
longer be able to make use of thefree health resources we provide
to those who register a dog, use a dog for breeding, or are
considering buying a puppy produced by a Kennel Club registered dog
- meaning the power of these resources to improve breed health in
other areas would be lost. These resources include freely and
openly published inbreeding coefficient calculators and health test
results (such as BVA/KC eye test and DNA test results for Episodic
Falling and Dry Eye/ Curly Coat) - all of which improve breed
health in other ways, so we must engage with breeders and
understand their concerns about this particular health test, to
ensure we can continue to improve the health of the breed
It should be noted that Kennel Club registration figures for
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have decreased dramatically in
recent years, with 11,000 dogs being registered in 2005,
compared to around 5,000 in 2014. Although Kennel Club
registrations for this breed have more than halved in ten years,
the popularity of the Cavalier appears to be increasing, suggesting
that thousands of dogs are being bred outside of the umbrella of
the Kennel Club or breed clubs. It is likely that Kennel Club
registration figures represent only a small percentage of the total
population and we could damage the breed further by driving away
those breeders who we have the opportunity to collaborate with.
If you are not making the health test mandatory how are you
going to persuade breeders to take it up?
The issue of CM/SM screening is complex and so finding solutions
is complicated. Rather than forcing breeders to screen, the
Kennel Club believes that it would be more effective to:
- Find out why breeders are not using the BVA/KC scheme, which is
why it has launched a comprehensive survey to all Cavalier breeders
to determine this during National Canine Health Testing Week (week
commencing 23rd November)
- Provide financial support for those who want to participate in
the scheme which has started with the £30,000 the Kennel Club
Charitable Trust and BVA have made available to anybody who wants
to submit historical MRI tests for analysis. This means that we
will get more results and at no cost to the breeders who are
leading the charge and helping their breed
- Improve and enhance educational resources for breeders, puppy
buyers and owners to normalise screening
- Develop our understanding of the condition and its spread
throughout the breed
- Work closely with breed clubs, breeders, owners, veterinarians
and researchers to collaboratively tackle this problem.
What statistics are known about CM/SM?
A recent study carried out by the Royal Veterinary College found
that 1.9% of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had been diagnosed with
SM, CM or both.
Since the launch of the BVA/KC CM/SM scheme 195 Kennel Club
registered dogs have been graded by the scheme.
Why are some breeders not CM/SM screening?
Looking at Kennel Club registration data reveals that only 0.28%
of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel litters registered in 2013 and
2014 have come from parents that have both been BVA/KC graded.
CM/SM screening is very expensive, around £500 per MRI scan, and
since the Kennel Club and BVA recommend three MRI scans during each
breeding dog's lifetime, it would cost around £1,500 per breeding
dog. Although screening is expensive, and despite reducing
the chances of producing affected offspring, it gives no guarantee
that puppies produced from screened breeding dogs will be free from
the condition. In addition, undergoing an MRI requires an
anaesthetic, which, while normally very safe, does carry some risk
to the dog.
The Kennel Club is currently undertaking a survey of all
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels to find out why breeders choose to
screen, or decide not to, so that we can help to offer better
support and solutions.
Does the Kennel Club make health testing mandatory for other
Yes. The Kennel Club is completely committed to mandatory
health testing where this will improve the health of a breed and
not have a negative impact, which is why where are 19 health tests
and schemes for 91 different breeds that are compulsory under the
Assured Breeder Scheme.
There are also breed-specific compulsory tests in certain
breeds, which are put in place to eradicate breed-specific disease
if it is strongly affecting the health of the breed. These
are known as Control Schemes and are mandatory for anyone
registering a litter from breeds to which they apply.
These schemes require owners to DNA test their breeding
dogs before they are able to register any puppies from this
mating. The criteria for these mandatory testing schemes are
- We must know how the condition is inherited so that the test
can give definitive answers as to whether the offspring will be
- The test must be accepted by a majority of breeders so as not
to discourage breeders.
- A DNA test must be available, and must have been running as a
voluntary official scheme for an average minimum of 12 months
Unfortunately the screening scheme for CM/SM does not currently
meet any of these criteria.
What can the Kennel Club do in the future?
The Kennel Club and the BVA would like to find out why breeders
are or are not screening their breeding dogs. It is hoped
that this data can be used as a basis for a workshop which breed
club representatives and breeders will be asked to attend in order
to discuss how to resolve the problem as a matter of absolute
What can breeders do to help further our understanding of CM/SM
and to improve breed health?
The BVA and the Kennel Club Charitable Trust have pledged up to
£30,000 to support dog owners concerned about CM/SM. This funding
will allow owners who had MRI scans taken before the start of the
BVA/KC CM/SM Scheme in 2012 to have their scans accessed by the
scheme, and the results published for free - a process which would
normally cost around £100.
To participate in this offer, MRI scans must have been taken
before January 2012 and they must be from Kennel Club registered
dogs. Not all MRI scans are suitable for assessment.
To find out more about the offer:
Additionally, the current best practice is to screen those dogs
being used for breeding, under the BVA/KC CM/SM scheme before
breeding, at mid-age, and at an older age. By selecting those dogs
who do not currently have the disease, or older dogs who show very
minor or no signs of the disease, breeders are more likely to
reduce the risk to puppies of passing on the most severe grading of
What can breeders do to help further our understanding of why
they do or do not MRI scan their dogs or take part in the BVA/KC
Ahead of National Canine Health Testing Week (week commencing
23rd November) the Kennel Club and BVA has launched a survey to
gather information from UK breeders of Cavalier King Charles
Spaniels on why they do or do not screen their dogs for Chiari
malformation (CM) and syringomyelia (SM).
All breeders who have bred a litter since 1st January 2012 are
invited to take part in this survey. The survey is open to
all breeders regardless of whether they register with the Kennel
Club. The Kennel Club will directly contact registered
Cavalier breeders and will publicise the survey via social media in
an attempt to reach those who choose not to register their
dogs. For further information please visit the Kennel Club's
Facebook page or
Twitter account during National Canine Health Testing Week.
We would particularly like to hear from those who do not (or do
not always) screen for CM/SM, as well as those who do not (or do
not always) use the BVA/KC CM/SM scheme.
The survey will remain open until midnight on 6th