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What’s the difference between a cavalier and a king charles spaniel?

Cavalier and king charles spaniels are two very similar looking dog breeds. At a glance, they may appear nearly identical. However, there are some notable differences between the two that prospective owners should be aware of.

Both breeds originate from the same stock of toy spaniel dogs that became popular companions among European nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries. Selective breeding led to the emergence of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and later, the smaller King Charles Spaniel.

While they share a common ancestry and retain similar physical characteristics, there are variations between the cavalier and the king charles in terms of history, size, temperament, and health issues. Understanding how the two breeds diverged over time can help determine which might make a better pet for different owners.


Cavaliers and king charles spaniels trace their history back to the same dogs, but have diverged over the last few centuries due to changes in breeding practices and preferences.


Both breeds originated from small toy spaniels that were popular as companions among noble families in England and continental Europe during the Tudor period. These little dogs were bred with flat noses and domed heads to match the aesthetics of the time.

King Charles II kept several of these dogs and was especially fond of them. As a result, they became associated with the English monarchy and the name King Charles Spaniel emerged during his reign in the 17th century.

Selective breeding continued among the small spaniels inhabitants of the royal households and the aristocracy favored. These dogs remained popular pets and status symbols of the elite through the 18th century.

Emergence of Cavalier and King Charles Breeds

In the early 20th century, American Roswell Eldridge offered a prize for anyone who could revive the old toy spaniels seen in paintings of King Charles II’s era. This spurred breeders in the UK to develop what became recognized as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, retaining the longer noses and flatter heads of their forebears.

Meanwhile, the original King Charles Spaniel breed had evolved to have shorter muzzles and domed heads. After the divergence of the Cavalier, this smaller variety with the more extreme features became known simply as the King Charles Spaniel.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club was founded in 1928 and the Kennel Club recognized the Cavalier as a separate breed from the King Charles Spaniel in 1945.


Both breeds grew in popularity as pets through the 20th century, but the Cavalier became especially favored and has ranked as one of the most popular breeds in the United States, UK, and Australia in recent years.

The King Charles Spaniel is less common, typically ranking around the 50-70th most popular breeds in those same regions. But its more extreme features and small size appeals to many dog lovers seeking a lap dog.

Size Differences

One of the most obvious differences between cavaliers and king charles spaniels comes down to size. As their names suggest, cavalier king charles spaniels are the larger of the two breeds.

Breed Average Height Average Weight
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel 12-13 inches 13-18 pounds
King Charles Spaniel 9-11 inches 9-14 pounds

The Cavalier stands 12-13 inches tall on average and weighs 13-18 pounds. Meanwhile, the smaller King Charles Spaniel typically stands 9-11 inches tall and weighs just 9-14 pounds.

While both are still considered toy breeds, the Cavalier is on the upper end of the toy group size while the King Charles is on the lower end of the spectrum.

This size difference comes down to the modern breeding that separated the two types of spaniels. Cavalier breeders favored the larger dogs of the past, while King Charles breeders selected for the smallest specimens.

Physical Appearance

In addition to the size difference, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the King Charles Spaniel do have some subtle differences in physical traits and appearance.

Head and Facial Features

The king charles spaniel has a domed head with a very short muzzle, giving it that cute, toddler-like visage. The cavalier retains a slightly flatter skull between the ears and a moderately tapered muzzle that is not as extreme.

Both breeds have large, round eyes that give them a soulful expression. However, the Cavalier’s eyes and eyelids tend to be a bit less prone to issues than the King Charles’s very prominent eyes.

The king charles also has more exaggeration in the stop between the forehead and nose, creating a pushed-in facial profile.


While both breeds have long, hanging ears, they are set slightly differently. The Cavalier’s ears are set higher on the skull and hang close to the cheeks. The King Charles Spaniel’s ears are set lower and may hang a little farther away from the face.


Aside from the size difference, the Cavalier tends to have a proportionally longer body than the King Charles. The Cavalier is classified as a well-balanced dog, while the King Charles Spaniel’s underbite and domed head shape skew its proportions somewhat compared to the average canine.

Coat and Coloring

Cavaliers and King Charles Spaniels both have silky, medium length coats. The Cavalier typically has feathering on the ears, chest, legs, tail, and feet. Feathering may be present but is less pronounced in the King Charles breed.

Both breeds occur in four recognized color variations:

  • Blenheim (chestnut and white)
  • Tricolor (black, tan, and white)
  • Ruby (solid mahogany red)
  • Black and tan

However, black and tan is the most common color for King Charles Spaniels, while the Blenheim markings tend to predominate among Cavaliers.


While the Cavalier and King Charles Spaniel share many behavioral traits, there are some subtle differences in personality and temperament as well.

Affection and Companionship

Both breeds make excellent companion dogs and are highly affectionate with family members. They tend to bond very closely with their owners.

Cavaliers and King Charles Spaniels usually get along well with other pets and enjoy canine company. Both breeds adapt readily to households with multiple dogs.

Activity Level

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has a moderate activity level, while the King Charles tends to be even more sedate. Neither are high energy dogs, but Cavaliers do require a little more regular exercise.

Cavaliers enjoy a good romp and play session each day along with walking. King Charles Spaniels are often content with shorter strolls and cuddle time.


These breeds are highly intelligent and food motivated, making training fairly easy as long as it is positive and reward-based. The Cavalier may be slightly more eager to please and responsive to commands.

King Charles Spaniels can have a more independent, stubborn side at times. But both breeds respond very well to training with praise, affection, and treats.


Cavaliers and King Charles Spaniels can both be vocal dogs. They will express themselves with various grunts, growls, and whines.

Some Cavaliers tend to bark more frequently, while King Charles Spaniels often reserve their barks for alerting owners to noises or visitors. But excessive barking is atypical in both breeds.

Apartment Living

Due to their small size and relatively low activity needs, Cavaliers and King Charles Spaniels are well-suited to apartment living as long as they get daily walks and attention. They do not require a yard to run around in.

Their insatiable desire for companionship also makes them content in smaller living spaces as long as their people are present. They should not be left alone for extended periods.


Unfortunately, both the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and King Charles Spaniel are predisposed to certain genetic health conditions that prospective owners should be aware of.

Common Health Issues

The Cavalier and King Charles Spaniel share many of the same health problems due to their close ancestry. These include:

  • Mitral valve disease – progressive heart disorder that can lead to heart failure. Affects over half of Cavaliers and King Charles Spaniels later in life.
  • Syringomyelia – fluid-filled cavity in the spinal cord that causes pain and neurological issues. More severe in the King Charles Spaniel.
  • Luxating patellas – kneecaps that pop out of place, often requiring surgery to correct.
  • Eye diseases – cataracts, corneal ulcers, and progressive retinal atrophy are concerns in both breeds.
  • Ear infections – pendulous ears trap moisture and increase infection risk.
  • Hip dysplasia – malformed hip sockets lead to arthritis. More of a problem in Cavaliers.

Responsible breeders will screen breeding dogs for these conditions and only breed the healthiest specimens. But any owner of either breed should be prepared to monitor for signs of illness and have funds set aside for vet fees.

Life Expectancy

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has an average life expectancy of 10-12 years. The King Charles Spaniel typically lives around 9-11 years. The difference is small, but Cavaliers appear to live slightly longer on average.

With attentive care and regular vet visits, members of both breeds can live into their early teens. But owners must be vigilant about signs of any potential health issues.


While the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and King Charles Spaniel share much in common in terms of origin, appearance, and temperament, there are some notable differences between the two breeds. Cavaliers tend to be moderately larger, more active, and slightly healthier overall. King Charles Spaniels appeal to owners seeking an ultra-small lapdog.

But both make highly devoted companions. For individuals or families looking for an affectionate, gentle dog that thrives on human bonding, either breed could be an excellent choice. Their sweet, charming natures have made Cavaliers and King Charles Spaniels continuously popular choices over the years, and with good reason.