English Cocker Spaniel Breed Health

Cockers like humans are subject to their own particular health concerns, illnesses, and diseases and genetic defects the mantra of a balanced diet, exercise and awareness also apply to the long-term health of your Cocker.

Owners should be as concerned about the health of their pets as they should of their own health.

A specialist breeder will know the breed, their stock, have detailed knowledge of their bloodlines, have years worth of reports back from owners of their pups and will have experienced many times the heartache and loss when one of their own passes for whatever reason. It is in the interest of a specialist breeder to have the health of their Kennel lines in the forefront of their minds - always because they deal with it every single day.

Then there is the a puppy famer who out to make easy money their selling is nothing to do with the good of the breed, the animal's health, the cockers life/ conditions or any sense of ethical breeding. Be warned, microchips do not just fall out and Mummy and Daddy are rarely running free by themselves in the far off fields when you pop by to buy a cheap pup from a small ads section of the local free paper.

The following is a listing of conditions specialist reputable breeders are concerned with for the English Cocker Spaniel Breed. The list includes heart, kidney, eye, joint, autoimmune and genetic concerns, as well as cancers and behavioural disorder.

All conditions have similar human equivalents.

Remember Cockers are one of the most common family pets and registered breeds with Kennel Club's worldwide for a reason. You as an owner need to be informed, aware, and concerned with their health, but you will get tons of Cocker affection in return.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy - PRA.

Are a group of genetic retinal diseases which result in progressive vision loss generally in Dogs but less commonly in Cats, of course there are human equivalents, a similar human condition is Retinitis Pigmentosa. The types usually seen in Cocker Spaniels are as follows.

General Progressive Retinal Atrophy - GPRA.

In this condition, atrophy affects all neural retinal structures. It can involve the light sensitive structures with in the eye developing abnormally or normal development, which later under goes degenerative changes. Typically resulting with onset as night blindness and progressing to total blindness. Onset occurs as early as eighteen months to seven years of age.

Progressive Rod - Cone degeneration - PRCD-PRA.

In this condition, the photoreceptive cells within the retina (Rods and Cones) develop normally, but later atrophy occurs, leading initially to night blindness and later full blindness. Onset occurs later in life, usually after four and under eight years of age.

Central progressive retinal atrophy - CPRA.

Occurring in older dogs, this condition results in central vision loss, while peripheral vision is retained for a longer period. Vision is better in low light for distant rather than close objects and there is more sensitivity to moving objects. Blindness does not occur for all dogs affected.

Generally, these conditions in Cockers are Autosomal Recessive, which means a copy of the affected gene must be inherited from both parents for the dog to become affected with the condition, if only inherited from one parent, the dog is a carrier of the gene, and a breeder must adopt an appropriate breeding strategy in this event.

Please bear in mind that the Cocker Spaniel Breed is for all effective purposes for about one hundred and fifty years old and it is unlikely any modern cocker does not have a pivotal ancestor who either was a carrier or affected by this condition. Genetic tests have recently been developed by which an owner/breeder can identify those of their Cockers are affected/carriers or are normal (Clear of the gene).

Realistically, trying to cull the Cocker population of this disease would reduce the genetic diversity of the breed and will only potentially produce a more disastrous genetic impact on the breed.

Responsible breeders have to adopt an educated breeding strategy where those physical and character traits we love in our Cockers are preserved and gradually the PRA genes will be managed and removed from the gene pool (although always potentially liable to reoccur).


An opacity of the lens within the eye usually associated with age as in humans and again more common with outdoor living and exposure to UV. If left untreated it leads to blindness. Cataracts can be removed quite successfully by surgery. A higher risk of early onset of bilateral cataract has been noted in the breed.


A condition where there is an abnormal increase in the pressure of the fluid in the front chamber of the eye. Treatment can involve medicines or surgery depending upon the type of Glaucoma.

Familial Nephropathy - FN.

A fatal kidney disease in young Cockers. Inherited, it causes typical symptoms of renal failure, including weight loss, loss of appetite, depression, and increased water consumption and urination. Usually developing under the age of four and is another Autosomal Recessive trait. It was quite prevalent in the breed in the 1980's; however, modern breeding schemes have reduced the number of confirmed cases in recent years. Again, a test has been developed recently to confirm genetic status of this condition.

Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

Is a disease of the heart muscle characterized by congestive heart failure and abnormal cardiac rhythms.

Autoimmune diseases.

This name covers a range of immune-related diseases such as, Hypothyroidism, Addison's disease, Haemolytic Anaemia, and others. The cause of autoimmune diseases is the production of antibodies against the animals own tissues. These antibodies are normally generated by to body to fight viruses, bacteria and other toxins within the body. Cocker Spaniels may be predisposed to develop autoimmune haemolytic anaemia.

Hip Dysplasia.

Abnormal development of the hip joints. While this condition can occur in any breed, it applies to our breed as well. In minor cases, no symptoms may be noticed; however, in severe cases it can cause lameness and pain. Although it may have a more complex genetic (several genes may be involved) influence other factors such as diet and exercise. If assessed by your vet, you cocker can be given a Hip - score which will grade the condition.

Patellar Lunation.

Dislocation of the kneecap. Effectively a slippage of the kneecap, which can cause severe discomfort and affect ability to walk on the effected leg. Can be surgically corrected.

Benign Tumours.

Particularly in Cockers that spend most of their time outdoors. Commonly on Lips and ears.

Mammary Tumours.

A higher relative risk ratio of mammary tumours was found in some dog breeds including cocker spaniels. Un-spayed, obesity and the feeding of high fat homemade diets have also been associated with an increased risk for these tumours. Onset generally occurs later in life.

Canine Rage Syndrome.

Is a serious but rare uncharacteristic behavioural problem that has been reported in several breeds (particularly in Spaniels).

Additional Information relating to Canine Rage Syndrome in Cockers.

Poor temperaments (as distinct from Rage Syndrome) are occasionally seen in all colours, because the Cocker Spaniel is a very popular breed and sadly, not all puppies come from knowledgeable, reputable breeders. Good temperaments depend on good breeding practices (careful selection of breeding stock, correct rearing, and socialisation of puppies etc.).

Always buy a Cocker puppy from an experienced specialist breeder and never from a multi-breed commercial establishment (kennels where a variety of popular breeds are always on sale) or puppy farm.

Additional Information.

Report from the UK Kennel Club / British Small Animal Veterinary Association Scientific Committee - 2004 UK Summary results of the Pure bred Dog Health Survey for English Cocker Spaniels.

The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America 2002 English Cocker Spaniel Health Survey Report


Founded in 1929. The parent Club of the English Cocker Spaniel breed in Ireland.

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