Long time ago I blogged about doing a blog about skull shapes and our dogs skulls. Finally I'm writing that blog.
For me being around Cavaliers for over 35 years it has always been the heart problems Mitrial Valve Degeneration (MVD) that has caused me the greatest loss with these charming little fellows, but in recent years with modern diagnostic equipment another problem in Cavaliers has emerged Chiari-like Malformation (CM), often then leading on to the condition called Syringomyelia (SM).
It is yet to be established scientifically whether the presence of CM, is the direct cause of SM, but most would agree that the shape of the skull is a major contributor to the onset of SM.
In humans and other animals we use an index called the Cephalic Index to categorize skull shape. 'The cephalic index or cranial index is the ratio of the maximum width of the head of an organism (human or animal) multiplied by 100 divided by its maximum length (i.e., in the horizontal plane, or front to back). The index is also used to categorize animals, especially dogs and cats.'
The Cephalic Index is the ratio between the width (side to side) and length (front to back) of the cranium and does not concern the muzzle or face, so should not be confused with the craniofacial ratio which compares the size of the cranium to the length of the nose. The two types of measuring are often confused and is why you will hear the Kennel Club (KC) arguing that breeds like the Cavalier are not brachycephalic, as they have a longer muzzle than most Brachycephalic breeds. Yep, even the KC have a problem getting this and they are supposedly looking out for the welfare of dogs.
There are three skull classifications on the Cephalic Index:
Dolichocephalic, these dogs are 'long-headed' and the length is greater than the width.
Mesaticephalic or mesocephalic, these dogs are 'middle-headed' and the length and width are equal, giving a square shape. When dealing with animals, especially dogs, the more correct and often used term is not "mesocephalic", but rather "mesaticephalic", which is then a ratio of head to nasal cavity.
Brachycephalic, these dogs are 'short-headed' and the length of the cranium is shorter than the width, giving the top and sides of the cranium a round shape, often referred to as 'apple-head'.
In 2011 a study of the skull type of the Cavalier left no doubt that they are not only brachycephalic, but extreme brachycephalic. Still though some in the KC will argue they are not. Which is of grave concern, when they happen to be vets and the person in charge of the Assured Breeders Scheme.
'Cephalometric Measurements and Determination of General Skull Type of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. M. J. Schmidt, A. C. Neumann, K. H. Amort, K. Failing, M. Kramer. Vet. Rad. & Ultra, 26 Apr 2011. Quote: "The general skull morphology of the head of theCavalier King Charles Spaniel (CKCS) was examined and compared with cephalometric indices of brachycephalic, mesaticephalic, and dolichocephalic heads. Measurements were taken from computed tomography images. Defined landmarks for linear measurements of were identified using three-dimensional (3D) models. The calculated parameters of the CKCS were different from all parameters of mesaticephalic dogs but were the same as parameters from brachycephalic dogs. However, the CKCS had a wider braincase in relation to length than in other brachycephalic breeds. Studies of the etiology of the chiari-like malformation in the CKCS should therefore focus on brachycephalic control groups. As Chari-like malformation has only been reported in brachycephalic breeds, its etiology could be associated with a higher grade of brachycephaly, meaning a shorter longitudinal extension of the skull. This has been suggested for other breeds."'
Now look where the Cavalier has come from. Domestic dogs ancestors are wolves and we have taken them from this skull shape to the Brachycephalic shape in a very short evolutionary time.
Being Brachycephalic serves no purpose to a dog, other than predisposing them to a litany of health problems.
The photos of Cavaliers heads from the 1970's all were show champions and show that at this time many Cavaliers were longer in the nose and flatter over the top of the skull and the skull had more length and from the photos do not look very brachycephalic.
The photos of Cavaliers now, show a shortening of the nose and the head has become domed and the skull length has shortened, so these dogs look extreme brachycephalic, all these dogs are also show champions. The show ring has been instrumental in the Cavalier being bred to look like this and unfortunately thus suffer.
Breeding the Cavalier to be brachycephalic has predisposed them to several health issues and here are some of the health conditions you can expect to encounter having an extreme brachycephalic dog:
1. Dental problems, due to the same amount of teeth trying to fit in a smaller space. 'August 2013:Canadian vet urges "Stop brachycephalism, now!", including cavaliers. In a
reasoned rant in a February 2013 Canadian Veterinary Journal article, veterinary dentist Dr. Fraser Hale expresses his frustration with the mouths and teeth of brachycephalic breeds, including the cavalier King Charles spaniel. In his article, he states:
"In many Canadian jurisdictions, veterinarians have advocated for and achieved a ban on tail-docking, ear-cropping, and dewclaw removal as these are considered unnecessary cosmetic procedures that cause (temporary) pain with no benefit to the animals. I believe that as protectors of animal welfare, veterinarians should start a public awareness campaign to inform people of the serious, life-long negative impacts of brachycephalism. I believe we must stop referring to these conditions as 'normal for the breed' and refer to them as 'grossly abnormal in accordance with breed standards' because there is nothing remotely normal or desirable from the animal’s perspective. I believe we must stop using photographs of these deformed but comical breeds in advertising and promotional materials as this just increases public demand because they are 'so cute.'"
2. Brachycephalic Airway Obstrction Syndrome (BAOS) is an inherited condition in the cavalier King Charles spaniel. The breed is pre-disposed to it, due to the short length of the cavalier's head and a compressed upper jaw 'Cavaliers were most common breed for BAOS surgery among 155 Australian dogs. In a study of BAOS surgery on 155 Australian dogs, the cavalier was the most common breed (29 dogs, 18.7%). The researchers found: "All CKCS had an elongated soft palate and accounted for 41% of the laryngeal collapse cases."'
3. Primary Secretary Otitas Media (PSOM) 'consists of a highly viscous mucus plug which fills the dog's middle ear and may cause the tympanic membrane to bulge. The mucus has also been referred to as "hyperintense material'
4. Chiar-like Malformation (CM) is deformation of the occipital bone at the back of the skull.
5. Syringomyelia (SM) is when the cerebellum prolapses at the back of the skull causing pressure on the spinal cord.
'UK surgeon opines CKCS's brachycephalic disorders and PSOM are related to Chiari-like malformation. Robert N. White, a board certified veterinary soft tissue surgeon practicing at Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service in Solihull, West Midlands, observed in an October 2010 presentation before a meeting of the UK's Association of Veterinary Soft Tissue Surgeons, that the cavalier King Charles spaniel does not appear to be a classically brachycephalic breed, despite the extent of BAOS in the cavalier, and that the extent of both PSOM and SM in the breed suggests that the CKCS may suffer from a combination syndrome of the three disorders, all associated with Chiari-like malformation.'
4. Stenotic Nares are abnormal narrow or obstructed nostrils, especially when inhaling. Can be surgically corrected.
5. Everted Laryngeal Saccules is a secondary abnormality to either an elongated soft palate or stenotic nares.
6. Laryngeal Collapse is an advanced form of brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome
7. Corneal ulcers caused by being more prone to injuring eyes, due to their size and positioning.
8. The skull shape makes birth harder and brachycephalic breeds are more likely to be born by c-section than dogs that are not brachycephalic. The Boston terrier, Bulldog and French Bulldog are all brachycephalic and over 80% of their litters are born by c-section.
Anyone thinking that maybe being brachycephalic is actually the health condition and these are the symptoms of it?
In July 2014 the Royal Veterinary College opened a clinic for brachycephalic dogs http://www.rvc.ac.uk/News/PressReleases/pr1407-specialist-clinic-for-short-muzzled-dogs.cfm
No where in the article on their website do they mention being brachycephalic as the real issue and Senior Lecturer Dr Gert Ter Haar in Soft Tissue says, “This can lead to a patient (Dog) being passed from specialist to specialist with the root symptoms never really being found, or with inefficient use of time and money and the need for repetitive anaesthetic procedures. This can also happen in animal care, especially with animals with a complex set of symptoms, like those often associated with short-muzzled breeds.
Therefore at RVC we have found the most effective way to treat an animal is our transdisciplinary approach. This means at our clinic we will have all the specialities under one roof so the patient and their owner can be rest assured they are receiving the best possible bespoke care, all during the same visit.”
Now I'm sure Mr Haar is a well meaning chap and if a dog is suffering it needs to be treated, but we should not pussy foot around because we actually know what the "root" problem is here, it is being brachycephalic and the time the veterinary profession is delaying in telling the truth the more dogs are being bred to suffer. Unfortunately the veterinary profession have become part of the problem, silence is one of the biggest killers. The best care for dogs would be if vets would stop sitting on the fence and tell brachycephalic breeders and people buying these breeds the truth, "It is animal cruelty to intentionally breed dogs to be brachycephalic." All clinics like this tell a breeder or an owner of a brachycephalic dog is, "Don't worry keep breeding and buying dogs like this, because the problems it causes we can sort out for you." Unfortunately no one speaking up loud enough and in enough numbers from the veterinary profession has seen dogs bred more and more to suffer. Now we have a vast amount of veterinary medicine dependent on dogs being bred to suffer, which has lead to vets not being prepared to bite the hand that feeds.
This article in the Daily Mail 2009 Why-Im-ashamed-vet-shocking-expose-profession-puts-pets-painful-unnecessary-treatments-fleece-trusting-owners tells an all to common story. Vets take an oath when becoming a vet, 'I promise and solemnly declare that I will pursue the work of my profession with integrity and accept my responsibilities to the public, my clients, the profession and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and that ABOVE ALL my constant endeavour will be to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care." By not speaking out about the health issues that breeding dogs to be intentionally brachycephalic cause and that it should be stopped, vets are not endeavouring to ensure the health and welfare of animals in their care.
Now I think that's enough ranting for one blog. Let's take a look at some of our dogs heads. Treacle is a F1 Cavapoo we bred and we hope to breed from in 2016. Crossing the Cavalier with the Miniature Poodle we can see an improvement in nose length straight away and the skull is less brachycephalic. We have gained a bit of length of the skull. Treacle's nose length is 6cm, her cranium length is 8.5cm and her width is 8cm.
Dolly who is Treacle's Mum and a pure Cavalier, her nose length is 4cm, her cranium length is 7.5cm and the width is 8cm. So with Treacle there has been an improvement in skull shape.
Although I have been pleased with the cross between the Cavalier and Miniature Poodle, it is not a total solution to the Cavaliers problems, but a starting point for me. This year saw us doing our first Brittany spaniel cross with the Cavalier. I had trawled through many breeds and the Brittany was one I just kept coming back to for health and temperament. We got Henry a Brittany spaniel a couple years ago as an eight week old pup and maybe I've been lucky, but he has been everything I hoped for and I was pretty excited to see what he would produce with our Smudge a pure Cavalier.
In April nine vigorous Brittany cross Cavalier pups arrived and so far this looks like a good cross and the skull shape improvement is more noticeable with this cross. We have kept back two bitches, Blottie and Bumble who are now five months old, not yet fully grown, but enough grown to take a first comparative look at their skulls.
Millie who is Blottie and Bumble's Grandmother has a 1970's skull shape, so less extreme. She shows that this less extreme head shape is still in the breed, but unfortunately to maintain her head shape, the gene pool is so small for dogs of this head shape in the breed, you would end up with even more inbred dogs and more health problems trying to keep this head shape using dogs within the breed.
So here are the nose length and cranium width and length measurements for our two Brittany cross Cavalier girls, along with their parents and Grandmother, Millie.
Blottie: Nose length 7cm, cranium length 11cm and cranium width 9cm.
Bumble: Nose length 6cm, cranium length 10cm and cranium width 8.5cm.
Smudge: Nose length 5cm, cranium length 9cm and cranium width 9cm.
Millie: Nose length 5cm, cranium length 9cm and cranium width 8.5cm.
Henry: Nose length 8cm, cranium length 11cm and cranium width 9.5cm.
I nearly did not put measurements down, as I'm not a fan of tape measure breeding. I think you can see the improvement without looking at the measurements. If you can't see the improvement without referring to the measurements, please don't give up the day job and start breeding dogs. Let's start using our heads to stop the heartache being brachycephalic is causing in dogs.
“The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you,but he will make a fool of himself, too.”
― Samuel Butler
Me (Jane) with Puddin' and Teagol, waiting patiently to flush a patch of kale, December 2019
Hello, I am Jane!