Cheryl White fell in love with Cavalier King Charles spaniels the first time she locked eyes with a puppy in a pet store in the 1980s.
- Norway banned the breeding of Cavalier King Charles spaniels and English bulldogs at the beginning of the year
- Cavaliers are susceptible to heart mitral valve disease (MVD) while Brachycephalic dog breeds, like the bulldog, have breathing issues
- Animal Welfare advocates are hoping the decision will raise awareness of “quality of life” issues in dog breeding in Australia
“They’ve got these gorgeous chocolate-drop eyes, and when you get to know them, you find they are so sweet and loving,” she said.
Some 30 years later, she has shared her home with dozens of Cavaliers, both as an owner and foster-rescue volunteer.
And they’ve come handy on her property on the outskirts of Toowoomba.
But it is their heart that has been at the center of a court case in Norway.
Cavalier King Charles spaniels are susceptible to heart mitral valve disease (MVD), which affects many Cavaliers by the age of five, and nearly all by the age of 10.
The Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals argues breeding dogs with known health conditions violates the country’s Animal Welfare Act.
Along with the English bulldog, the Cavalier has been prohibited from being bred in the Scandinavian country.
“I really hope we can breed out MVD.”
Ms White said COVID-19 lockdowns, and the strong demand for companion dogs, had led to more backyard breeding, which had exacerbated the problem.
“Unfortunately, for some reason the Cavalier has become a dog of choice for backyard breeders,” she said.
“Backyard breeders charge a lot of money, but you have to add on the cost of caring for the dog on top of that.
“It’s not cheap to look after a dog with MVD.”
Heart medication can cost $100 a week for each Cavalier.
Alistair Webb is a Toowoomba vet and a director of the Australian Veterinary Association.
“We don’t want to pick on people who’ve got these dogs, but it’s very much about trying to change the future thinking so that generations in five and 10 and 20 years’ time don’t have this problem,” he said .
“Certainly every breed comes with its problems.”
He said Cavaliers may have been a little unlucky to be singled out with the English bulldog by Norway, as breathing issues in short-nosed dogs affect a large number of breeds.
“There’s absolutely no joy in having to treat animals for chronic breathing difficulties all their life,” he said.
I have pointed to modern efforts to breed out hip problems in German Shepherds as a positive.
“If you look at the breeding standards from 150 years ago dogs that were called pugs had cute little noses rather than no noses,” he said.
“So if we’ve bred them out, we could breed them in.”
But Dr Webb admits the short-nosed dogs could be too “good looking” for their own good.
“Good intentions disappear when you see a cute face,” he said.
“And this is where one of the problems lie; common sense often disappears [when choosing a pet] because the ‘cute factor’ takes hold.”
Calls for scientific approach to dog breeding
“I think we should be breeding for quality of life,” said Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behavior and Welfare at UNE.
“Norway tends to be a leader in animal welfare — they banned the whip in racing 30 years ago – Australia doesn’t generally get onto the list of leading countries for animal welfare.”
Professor McGreevy said that while the news of banning breeding of certain breeds, due to animal welfare, may come as a surprise, it had been a topic of discussion among vets and animal ethicists for decades.
“We’ve rewarded the extreme morphotypes — as they’re called — in the show ring, and haven’t kept a strong focus on the health and welfare of the animals,” he said.
“The Cavalier is a wild card in this because it’s nowhere near as airway-compromised as the bulldogs that are still booming in popularity.
“Brachycephalic breeds die younger. They have 30 per cent shorter lives.”
Professor McGreevy says he is hopeful the Norwegian court ruling will advance calls for more ethical dog breeding.
“And if it means that the ‘Brachys’ have longer noses, and can still be called Bulldogs — then bring it on.”
“But if we allow the demand for extreme morphotypes to prevail over the need for animals to have a life worth living, then we’ve got to take a long hard look at ourselves.”
He said veterinary schools in Australia were continually collecting clinical data from vets around Australia in a government-funded project called Vet Compass.
“Data is powerful, and will reveal how we as a country are shaping up. Are we doing more eye surgery, more dental surgery? Are we improving?
While he admitted these issues are emotional, as a dog owner himself, Professor McGreevy said we cannot “shy away” from serious questions.
“Animals are always holding a mirror up to us, and what we value,” he said.
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