Response to the Cavalier Petition MVD


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 full. 

1) 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 malformation and syringomyelia.  It is assumed that the heart testing mentioned is for MVD (Mitral Valve Disease).  

Mitral Valve Disease is a health problem that can occur in older dogs of all breeds, but has a higher incidence of an earlier onset in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The disease causes a deterioration of the heart's mitral valve - a valve that separates the upper left heart chamber from the lower left heart chamber.  This fault in the mitral valve is often picked up as a heart murmur in younger dogs. Many dogs diagnosed with Mitral Valve Disease continue to live to a good age and enjoy a happy life, while others can go on to develop congestive heart failure.

2) What is the Kennel Club's current stance on heart screening?

The Kennel Club promotes and strongly recommends that breeders of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels screen their breeding dogs through the breed club heart screening scheme for Mitral Valve Disease.  This screening requires a veterinarian or a veterinary cardiologist to use a stethoscope to listen to the heart.  A check-up for Mitral Valve Disease on an annual basis is usually recommended; this can be done by your own vet, or alternatively, most Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed clubs run health clinics with free or low cost checks by a veterinary cardiologist.

3) What factors have affected the Kennel Club decision on whether to make a MVD screening scheme mandatory for anyone who registers with it?


No standardised scheme is available

Currently, there is no standardised heart screening scheme available for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The Kennel Club, the British Veterinary Association, and the Veterinary Cardiology Society are working together to establish a standardised, breed-specific heart screening scheme for a number of breeds, including the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. As these screening schemes are developed, they will be released. The Kennel Club is also undertaking research into heart schemes that are available outside of the UK, which may be suitable for development into an official scheme. Standardisation is important to ensure that the screening assessments on each dog have quality assurance, follow the same protocol, and lead to the collection of robust data that can be used to develop breeding resources for dog owners.

Until such a scheme is available, the Kennel Club strongly recommends that breeders of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels screen their breeding dogs through breed club heart testing scheme for Mitral Valve Disease.

Recording results

The Kennel Club can only make health tests mandatory for Assured Breeders when it officially records the results, and the breed club scheme for MVD does not fall into this category.  The Kennel Club is only able to record data from a test if there is a standardised protocol and assessment, the results are definitive (i.e. such as a DNA test that can determine predictive genes, not just risk) and the disease and its mode of inheritance is understood, so that advice on how to reduce the risk can be given.  Any tests for which data cannot be recorded, but that may be related to improving health and welfare, are instead made recommendations, such as the breed club scheme for MVD.

We can, however, work with breeders who are passionate about improving the health of the breed to encourage and support those breeders in using schemes, so that we may be able to build a better picture about the disease, the mode of inheritance of the disease and how risk can be reduced.

4) So, does appropriately using results from the breed club MVD testing scheme prior to breeding guarantee that puppies will be free from MVD?

No.  MVD is a condition which is inherited in a complicated way which is not yet fully understood by scientists.  This means that it is very difficult to predict the risk from parents passing on the disease, and how the disease may present in an individual dog. Some dogs do not seem to be as affected by the condition in their day-to-day lives as others, despite having a similar sounding murmur. It is hoped that breeding appropriately from lower-risk dogs will reduce the risk of producing affected offspring, but it must be stressed that this is not a guarantee.

By making MVD testing screening mandatory, the Kennel Club is concerned that puppy buyers who do their research and ensure that they buy from screened parents would 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 be of further detriment to the breed.

5) So, if the screening results will not tell you if puppies are affected, what is the point of screening? How will it improve breed health?

The results of health screening are critical to enable researchers 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 well understood.

The Kennel Club believes that in order to reduce the incidence of MVD, breeders, breed clubs, puppy buyers, veterinarians, researchers and the Kennel Club must all work collaboratively.

Little is known about the inheritance of MVD and there is currently no official screening scheme.  While the Kennel Club has recently started recording data from breed club testing schemes, such as BAER testing in Dalmatians, we are unable to make a test mandatory if we do not receive results directly from the testing/grading body, or if there is no standardised protocol.  Also, without directly receiving results we are unable to determine the uptake of test amongst the breed, or how breeders are using the results.

The Kennel Club, the Veterinary Cardiovascular Society and the British Veterinary Association is investigating developing a heart scheme for a number of breeds, which we hope will generate data that will help us to develop breeding tools and resources.  Developing a new testing scheme is not straightforward, but is even more difficult when dealing with a wide range of complex cardiac conditions, and so is taking a considerable amount of time to develop.

6) What statistics are known about heart issues in Cavaliers?

A recent study carried out by the Royal Veterinary College found that 31.7% of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had been diagnosed with cardiac conditions, while 5% had been diagnosed with MVD. 

In another study by the same group, it was found that a level of general cardiac disease was found in 5.6% of dogs across all breeds, indicating that Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are more likely to suffer from cardiac disease than the general dog population.

7) Does the Kennel Club make health testing mandatory for other breeds?

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 which 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 that:

  1. We must know how the condition is inherited so that the test can give definitive answers as to whether the offspring will be affected
  2. The test must be accepted by a majority of breeders so as not to discourage breeders.
  3. A DNA test must be available, and must have been running as a voluntary official scheme for a minimum of 12 months on average.

Unfortunately the assessment for MVD does not currently meet any of these criteria, which is why we are working on possible solutions as a matter of urgency. 

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