Cavachon

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Cavachon
olympusjohn / Flickr.com

If you’re not yet convinced of the merits of the designer dogs, prepare to be won over! The Cavachon is a small, cuddly dog that combines the appeal of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Bichon Frise to be one of the most appealing, good-natured, and playful dogs imaginable. While the Cavalier was probably the most popular breed or cross-breed presenting at my veterinary hospital in the noughties, it has been surpassed, in my region of Ireland at least, by this hybrid in recent years. The Cavachon is energetic and affectionate, and less delicate than some of the other popular crosses, so is a great choice for children, and its low-shedding coat makes it appealing to homes with allergy sufferers. Being a small dog, it can get most of its exercise within the confines of a garden, but it does need regular walks if expected to live in an apartment.

Like the Bichon, it can do a decent job as a watchdog, but most Cavachons are extremely friendly, and will soon shower affection on any visitors arriving into the home. Cavachons are generally healthier than their parent breeds, but can still develop some of the conditions seen in the pedigree lines; notably, heart and hormonal disorders. Most are expected to life for 11–13 years, though some can live considerably longer, especially if they can avoid these inherited health problems.

About & History

Whether a clever marketing ploy or based in fact, Gleneden Kennels in Berryville, Virginia, in the United States lays claim to being the first breeder of Cavachons, having established this hybrid in 1996. Since then, the Cavachon has travelled the world, and is now one of the most popular dogs, either pedigree or cross-bred, in the United States, United Kingdom, and throughout much of Europe. Although the Cavalier was developed to mimic the hunting dogs of old, both it and the Bichon are companion dogs first and foremost, and it was for this purpose the Cavachon was conceived. As well as being a great fit for this role in terms of temperament, it also inherits a very low-shedding coat from the Bichon, making it all the more appealing as a pet.

All cross-breeding involves an amount of luck, and because most Cavachons are first-generation crosses between pedigree parents, one can never be sure exactly how the pups will turn out. While their size is reasonably predictable, other traits are not, and some Cavachons will resemble one or other parent more closely. Most represent a happy marriage of the two breeds, and the description that follows gives an outline of the characteristics one can expect from an “average” Cavachon.

Appearance

Cavachon Large Photo

Most individuals are somewhere between 29 and 33 cm (12–13 in) tall, and weigh 4.5–9 kg (10–20 lb). Being small and adorable, it is not unusual for Cavachons to be spoiled by their owners (and everyone else they meet), so many are overweight, and quite a bit heavier than this – something to be aware of and to guard against if you’re thinking of buying a pup. They are quite solid little dogs, with a broad back and ribcage that they inherit from the Bichon, as well as having strong, well-boned limbs. The head and face vary in appearance, but the muzzle should be of good length, as some shorter-nosed Cavachons can suffer a degree of respiratory distress due to brachycephalic airway syndrome, as seen in the Cavalier. The ears are medium in size, and hang at the side of the head, and the eyes are almost always large and brown (and will melt the hardest of hearts!).

The coat is soft, and can be straight, wavy, or curled. It grows to several inches in length if left unattended. Cavachons can vary in colour, with the most common patterns being

  • White
  • Brown
  • Apricot
  • Tricolour
  • Red
  • White with patches of the colours above

Character & Temperament

Above anything else, the Cavachon is a happy dog. It goes through life with the absolute certainty that everyone is a friend, and that every day is an opportunity for fun. It makes a great companion for children and adults alike, and usually gets on exceptionally well with other pets. This is a very energetic hybrid that retains its joie de vivre into old age, and should be afforded every opportunity for socialisation and play.

That being said, those Cavachons inheriting more of the Bichon’s temperament, particularly male dogs, can attempt to assert themselves over their owners, especially if the owner is inexperienced or nervous, and so owners must always ensure they establish themselves firmly as the pack leader.

Trainability

Photo of Cavachon puppy

Training is a pleasure with the Cavachon, as it is highly motivated to please its owner, and is better than most at maintaining its focus for long periods, as long as it is receiving positive feedback and plenty of praise. Like most dogs, it does not respond well to criticism, and should be allowed a break if its attention appears to wander.

Many Cavachons seem slow to learn the basics of house-training, so crate training and patience are required for the first few months of life. Almost all dogs get the hang of crossing their legs eventually, and those that are not dry through the night by the age of six months should be assessed for anatomic abnormalities that can rarely occur.

Health

Unfortunately, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has significant problems with inherited heart disease, with the result that many Cavachons will also develop heart failure in middle and old age. Apart from this, there are several other conditions known to arise frequently in the parent breeds.

  • Atopic dermatitis – Allergic skin disease is quite common in Cavachons, and manifests as itchiness and reddening of the skin. The ears, lips, paws, and bottom are the areas most often affected, with signs appearing from as young as four months of age in some pups.
  • Cataracts – As well as age-related cataracts seen in older dogs, some Cavachon puppies are born with congenital cataracts that can affect their vision. These can be seen as crystal-like structures within the normally dark lens, and may be surgically removable in some cases.
  • Cushing’s disease – A syndrome caused by excess levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, circulating in the body. Also known as hyperadrenocorticism, this is most common in older dogs, and may be due to tumours of either the brain’s pituitary gland or of the adrenal glands within the abdomen. Usually treated with medication, rather than surgery.
  • Mitral endocardiosis – Degeneration of the mitral valve, which separates the two chambers on the left side of the heart, leading to backflow of blood through the valve. This raises the pressure within the left atrium, causing it to enlarge, and in turn leads to fluid accumulation in the lungs or within the abdomen. The classical signs of mitral valve disease include exercise intolerance, coughing, abdominal enlargement, and breathlessness. While the ideal treatment would be surgical valve replacement, most affected dogs do very well on a combination of medications for several years.
  • Patellar luxation – Subtle bone deformities in the hindlimb can allow the patella, or kneecap, to slip out of its normal position, causing lameness and a skipping gait. If causing discomfort or trauma to the joint, can be surgically corrected.
  • Patent ductus arteriosus – An uncommon congenital disorder, in which an embryonic blood vessel is retained after birth, causing circulatory problems. Detected by veterinary surgeons as a murmur when listening to young pups’ hearts.
  • Portosystemic shunt – Functional liver failure, caused by the presence of an accessory blood vessel that bypasses the normal circulatory route.
  • Syringomyelia – Cystic deformity of the spinal cord in the neck. Causes intermittent signs of extreme pain or compulsive itching in young dogs. Can be difficult to identify and treat.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Although the Cavachon is very energetic, it can get most of its exercise in a relatively small space, chasing toys in the garden or a large hallway. Those that are kept indoors do need to get outside for mental stimulation at least once a day, though 30 minutes of activity will probably suffice to prevent boredom and to keep the dog in good physical condition. Because this is a small dog that undertakes limited exercise, it is important that the Cavachon is fed a good-quality balanced diet in the appropriate amount; otherwise, it will be prone to gaining weight, which can lead to significant health problems.

Grooming

The Cavachon is a light shedder, but does still need regular grooming. Depending on the nature of the coat, it will need brushing two to three times per week, as well as monthly bathing and regular trimming. The hair around the eyes should be trained to grow away from the eye’s surface: this can be done using a piece of wet cotton wool to push the hair in the desired direction at least once a day.

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