Home A Cavalier is helping Hokies understand why dog breeds are predisposed to heart conditions
Health, Virginia

A Cavalier is helping Hokies understand why dog breeds are predisposed to heart conditions

Crystal Graham
brooks dog virginia tech richmond
Image courtesy Virginia Tech

A 5-month-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel is participating in a cardiology study at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

The spaniel, named Kenny Brooks, or Brooks for short, makes regular six-hour round trips from Richmond to the vet school to examine his heart for indicators of abnormalities.

Cavalier King Charles spaniels are predisposed to heart conditions including myxomatous mitral valve disease, or MMVD. This disease, characterized by the improper closure of the heart’s left valve, typically affects older dogs. However, in certain breeds like the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, MMVD can manifest earlier and more aggressively, potentially leading to congestive heart failure and an early death.

Brooks is owned by Dave and Betsy Kohnke, and their two daughters, Katie and Elise, all who share a love of the Hokies.

“The only way I could bring a cavalier into a Hokie house was to name him after a VT coach,” said Betsy Kohnke.

The Kohnke’s previous cavalier, Frank Beamer, inspired their love for the breed and was the catalyst for their involvement in the study.

“It’s important that we contribute to research. We may not find out anything from this study, but we also might find out a lot,” said Betsy Kohnke.

Researchers have observed that adult cavaliers, even those yet to develop the disease, exhibit distinct differences in the shape of their mitral valves when compared to other breeds.

“Naturally, our question then was: Are cavaliers born with a valve that is differently shaped?” said Mindy Quigley, clinical research coordinator, “Or do they develop these different shapes as they grow? And how does that predispose them to develop the disease compared to other breeds?”

Join the study

While enrollment for cavalier puppies is complete, the study is now looking for healthy puppies of other breeds to join the control group. Participating puppies will receive a comprehensive cardiology work-up, including an exam and echocardiogram, at no cost to the owner.

Participating puppies must:

  • Be between 14 and 20 weeks of age at the time of the appointment
  • Have an adult weight expected between 10 to 25 pounds
  • Dachshund puppies are not eligible.
  • Up to two puppies may be enrolled

To be considered for the study, an online screening form is required.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.