Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
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Question: When you mix together two popular dog breeds, both known for their sunny disposition, what do you get? Answer: The Cavador!

This bundle of furry-sunshine is the result of breeding together a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with a Labrador Retriever. Due to size differences, it’s usual for the mother to be a Labrador with paternal input coming from the Cavalier.

With both parent breeds being successful in their own right, why bother creating a hybrid mix? As with all hybrids or ‘designer dogs’ the answer lies in hybrid vigour. This is the theory that broadening the gene pool by breeding from unrelated dogs or breeds, produces stronger healthier pups.

Whilst a great idea in theory, this argument is flawed. There is nothing to prevent the pups inheriting the worst characteristics of either parent breed – double-trouble if you like. In practical terms, this means there’s no guarantee a Cavador pup won’t suffer from heart disease (a condition affecting a large percentage of Cavaliers) and hip dysplasia (prevalent in Labradors.)

Looking on the bright side, the Cavador is a delight to own. Slightly smaller than a purebred Labrador, they are the embodiment of friendliness-in-a-fur-coat, and make delightful family companions.

About & History

The deliberate mating of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers first came about in the 1990s in the United States. A lesser known hybrid than the super-successful Cavapoo or Cockapoo, the Cavador arguably deserve more popular recognition than they currently do.

Both parent breeds have long histories. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, as the name suggests, has a noble heritage where they were the favourites of royalty. No lesser personage than King Charles I, in the 17th century, sponsored the breed. Indeed, the King’s devotion to these small spaniels was famous during his lifetime.

Moving forward to the 18th century, the Duke of Marlborough, took a special interest in developing the Cavalier breed. It is from the Duke’s estate of Blenheim, that the most well-known Cavalier coat colour – Blenheim – takes its name.

Then in the 19th century, Queen Victoria favoured a close relative of the Cavalier King Charles, albeit with some pug blood in it. Such august owners did much for the popularity of this little spaniel, with the affectionate nature of the dog doing the rest.

On the other side of the family tree, the Labrador Retriever originated from Canada and the Island of Newfoundland. Back in the 16th century, the ancestors of the Labrador were called St John’s Dogs and their job was to help fishermen by hauling in their nets.

In the early 19th century, these dogs found their way to England. Their natural athleticism and ability to retrieve made them indispensable as hunting dogs. Although the St John’s Dog is now extinct, their offspring – the Labrador – regularly tops the charts of most popular dog breed, for their friendly nature and outgoing temperament.


In theory, the Cavadors’ looks are a blend of the parent breeds. This is often the case but cannot be assumed. Thus, it’s perfectly possible to get a Cavador that leans heavily to a Cavalier’s size and looks, or goes the other way and has mainly Labrador characteristics.

Thus, the prospective Cavador owner should never assume anything about what their pup will look like when full grown. But let’s for a moment run with the idea of a true mingling of characteristics. What would that Cavador look like?

A 50:50 mix produces a medium sized dog. The coat is soft and somewhere in length between short and slightly silky. The most common coat colour is golden but black can’t be ruled out. Instead of a solid coat colour, a white blaze or brisket can be expected.

One thing’s for sure, and that’s the dog with have drop ears. But those ears may have a flat velvety texture or be covered in soft silky hair. It’s also a tick in the box for a flag pole tail, and given the good nature of the parents it’s odds-on that it’s wagging most of the time.

Character & Temperament

Both Cavalier and Labrador purebreds have outstanding temperaments. They have earned their place as popular pets precisely because of their eager-to-please, affable, good nature. Blended together in the Cavador and the result is a perfect family dog.

But as with any dog, good socialisation as a puppy is essential. Only when exposed in a positive way to a wide range of sights, sounds, and smells, will they grow into a confident adult dog.

The Cavador generally regards people as a good source of attention, and while they may bark at strangers they are more likely to lick than bite. They also love human company, which makes them best suited for owners that are home a lot. Conversely, leaving the dog alone for long periods may cause a Cavador to become lonely and depressed, and develop antisocial habits, such as barking or chewing.


This is an intelligent breed, and combined with their eagerness to please this makes reward-based training a pleasure for both dog and pet parent.


Unfortunately both parent breeds have their fair share of health problems. It’s reasonable to assume that a Cavador could inherit disorders from either side of the family.

Mitral Valve Disease (MVD)

A distressingly high number of Cavaliers suffer from MVD. This disease affects the valves in the left side of the heart, which fail to close properly. This allows blood to flow in the wrong direction in the heart chambers, putting the organ under strain.

The severity of MVD ranges from mild to life-shortening. This is often a progressive condition, so a dog with a mild problem in early life may deteriorate as the years go by. Sophisticated modern medications undoubtedly extend life expectancy, but are expensive. Plus, there’s the potential for a much loved pet not to be able to fully participate in family life and die prematurely.

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

Hip dysplasia is prevalent on the Labrador side of the family tree. This condition involves poor formation of the hip joints, so they knock and grind when the dog moves. This causes inflammation and pain, which overtime can lead to premature arthritis.

HD can be an extremely disabling condition. Whilst mild cases can be managed with pain relief and restricted exercise, the worst cases need joint replacement therapy.

Syringomyelia & Chiari-Like Malformation

These conditions are strongly linked to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Both are neurological conditions that result in pain and bizarre symptoms, such as uncontrollable scratching or trying to catch phantom flies.

Syringomyelia affects the brain. It caused by a mismatch between the size of the brain (being too big) and the skull cavity (being too small.) This like putting a size 9 foot in a size 5 shoe, and causes the brain to be squeezed and compressed.

Chiari-like Malformation affects the spinal cord and causes pools of fluid to accumulation within the spine itself.

Sadly, neither condition is curable. Treatment options focus on relieving pain, but this is not always possible and euthanasia on humane grounds may be necessary to relieve suffering.

Diabetes Mellitus

The Cavador is prone to weight gain, which is a strong risk factor for developing diabetes. This condition is the result of an inability to maintain blood glucose levels, due to insufficient insulin production or a lack of tissue response to insulin.

Untreated diabetes leads to complications, such as cataracts and a life-threatening build-up of toxins in the body. The condition can be treated with regular injections of insulin, but requires careful (and costly) monitoring. By far the best solution is to keep the dog trim, thereby reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

Exercise and Activity Levels

A purebred Labrador is an extremely active breed, whilst the Cavalier is moderately active. Combine them together and you have an individual that will fall somewhere on the extremely to moderately active spectrum.

The Cavador will especially enjoy interactive games with their owner, such as fetch or ball. They will also enjoy long family walks and hiking. It’s important to recognise that both parent breeds are prone to weight gain when not given sufficient exercise. So be prepared to give at least two, energetic 45-minute walks each day to keep a Cavador in trim shape.


The Cavador has an easy maintenance coat that requires little by way of professional grooming. But they do need brushing several times a week, to keep the coat in tip top condition. Brushing helps to remove shed hair and also spreads natural oils over the coat for an extra glossy appearance.

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