The Kennel Club, working in association with the University of Copenhagen and the Danish Kennel Club, has approved a new health testing programme for myxomatous mitral valve disease (MMVD) in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, which will help to dramatically improve heart health in the breed.
The decision follows a 2016 scientific paper that was published on the decrease of MMVD prevalence following the use of the existing heart programme for Cavaliers in Denmark. This prompted the Kennel Club to open discussions with specialists from the University of Copenhagen, the Danish Kennel Club and the Danish Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, with the aim of setting up the programme in the UK to benefit the breed in this country.
In the Kennel Club’s Pedigree Breed Health Survey 2014, heart failure was the most commonly reported cause of death for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, affecting 19.73%, while heart murmurs (9.73%) and mitral valve disease (7.32%) were the most commonly reported conditions in live dogs. Furthermore, research from Vet Compass found cardiac conditions to affect over 30 per cent of Cavaliers.
Myxomatous degeneration is a process that occurs when a valve in the heart thickens and grows small nodules. This abnormal growth stops the valve closing correctly and can cause a leak, resulting in blood flowing back through the valve. Over time, the valves in the heart compensate by enlarging. The leak can get worse over time causing an increase in pressure, which can cause the valves to become unanchored from their tendons: this is mitral valve prolapse.
Although most dogs with MMVD have no clinical signs, if it progresses the mitral valve prolapse can cause a build-up of pressure on the lungs and airways, which can lead to fluid in the lungs, known as congestive heart failure (CHF) and in turn reduces the blood flow out of the heart and the blood flow to major organs. Known clinical signs of CHF are coughing, fatigue, difficulty breathing, poor appetite, weight loss, collapsing, with most dogs dying within a year of developing clinical signs.
Aimee Llewellyn-Zaidi, Head of Health and Research at the Kennel Club said: "Heart problems are the most prevalent condition in Cavaliers and this heart scheme will help breeders make informed decisions when it comes to breeding, enable potential puppy buyers to be aware of issues which could affect their breed, and ultimately further improve the health of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. We are pleased that we will be able to offer a means of centralising the data obtained through this testing which should go a long way in protecting the health of the breed.”
The Kennel Club have organised a training day on 2nd December, presented by Dr Lisbeth Høier Olsen who co-developed the heart scheme at the University of Copenhagen, to train UK veterinary cardiologists on how to perform the MMVD examination and measurements.
Once the training has been completed the Kennel Club will publish further information including a list of veterinary cardiologists that have been approved to perform the test across the UK, and where Cavalier King Charles Spaniel owners can have their dogs assessed.
During testing, the trained veterinary cardiologists will assess if a dog has any degree of murmur. The heart scan is recorded on a disc by the veterinary cardiologist and sent to the University of Copenhagen, where Dr Olsen measures the heart valve in order to assess whether the dog has a malformed mitral valve - it is also called mitral valve prolapse.
Each dog assessed will be issued with a certificate from the University of Copenhagen, with both a murmur and mitral valve prolapse score, which will also be forwarded to the Kennel Club. This will see the result recorded on the tested dog’s registration record, making them available for publication via the Kennel Club’s Health Test Results Finder.
Updated breeding recommendations for the breed will be published on the Kennel Club website.