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American Cocker Spaniel Health Care & Feeding

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

American Cocker Spaniel

Start your American Cocker off on the right foot by feeding the right food, giving the right vaccinations, finding the right vet, and if you're going to spay or neuter, don't do it too early.


Jump down to this list of
American Cocker Spaniel Health Problems


Or check out my advice for raising a healthy American Cocker Spaniel puppy or adult dog:

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Information on spaying Spaying Your Female Dog: Pros and Cons
Should your female Cocker Spaniel be spayed? Current research says, "The AGE at which you spay can be vitally important to your dog's future health." So what's the best age? [read more]

Information on neutering your male dog. Neutering Your Male Dog: Pros and Cons
Have you been told that you must neuter your male Cocker Spaniel? Current research shows that the issue is not so simple. Pet owners are not being told about some risks associated with neutering male dogs, especially neutering too early... [read more]

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American Cocker Spaniel

Complete list of American Cocker Spaniel health problems

Eye disorders in Cocker Spaniels

Let's start with eyes. Severe cataracts can appear at 1-5 years old and often progress to complete blindness.

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) can appear at 3-6 years old and glaucoma at 5-8 years old – both leading to blindness.

Other eye diseases in Cockers include corneal dystrophy, cherry eye, dry eye, eyelid abnormalities (entropion and ectropion), eyelash abnormalities, tear duct disorders, persistent pupillary membranes, and retinal dysplasia.

Skin disorders

Moving on to the skin, American Cockers are notorious for itchy skin conditions such as allergies, pyoderma, and seborrhea.

Growths on the skin are common – both non-tumorous growths (especially sebaceous cysts) and tumorous growths (especially sebaceous tumors, basal cell tumors, and breast tumors).

Some black Cockers have been reported with a stubborn skin disease called follicular dysplasia.

Ear disorders in Cocker Spaniels

Ear infections and ear mites occur in American Cockers more frequently than in any other breed.

This is because breeders have created an abnormally long and narrow ear canal simply so the breed can look "elegant" in the show ring.

Here's how this abnormal ear canal provides such an inviting home for fungi and parasites.

  • The long narrow tube traps wax, providing a sticky medium in which fungi can grow and parasites can feed.
  • The folded ear flap blocks air from circulating and provides a dark, moist, dirty cave for fungi and parasites to hide.
  • And all the long hair inside the ears acts as a magnet for moisture, dirt, and wax.
  • Result: ear infections or mites move right in.

Ear hematoma (a large "blister" filled with blood) is also common on the outside surface of the abnormally long ear.

Orthopedic disorders in Cocker Spaniels

The American Cocker has the 5th highest rate of luxating patella (loose knee joints) of all breeds, at over 11% of the breed affected.

Hip dysplasia has a 7% affected rate.

And intervertebral disk disease is not uncommon in Cocker Spaniels.

All of these orthopedic disorders cause pain and lameness and can require expensive surgery.

Thyroid disorders in Cocker Spaniels

According to the Michigan State University Thyroid Database, American Cocker Spaniels have the 13th highest rate of hypothyroidism of 140 breeds (up to 23% affected).

Enzyme deficiencies

Enzymes are just teeny-tiny proteins in our bodies that help our metabolism to keep going, i.e. enzymes help keep us alive.

If an American Cocker (or English Springer) Spaniel is born without a specific enzyme called phosphofructokinase (pfk for short), he will not be able to make enough energy to maintain vigorous exercise. So when he runs too much or barks too much or even just pants too much, he may suffer a sudden episode of severe weakness and require IV fluids.

Other than these "breakdown" episodes, most affected spaniels can live a normal life as long as you keep them calm and avoid strenuous exercise, over-excitement, barking, and high temperatures.

A simple DNA test is available for PFK deficiency, so you can find out at any time whether your dog has the disease, carries the disease, or is completely clear of it.

Epilepsy & heart disease

Epilepsy and heart disease (patent ductus arteriosus and pulmonic stenosis) have become concerns in the breed.

Blood-clotting disorders in American Cockers

American Cockers are susceptible to three blood-clotting diseases – von Willebrand's disease, Factor X deficiency, and thrombocytopenia.

Other health issues in the breed include liver disease (hepatitis) and autoimmune hemolytic anemia. Occasionally reported have been lysosomal storage disease, cerebellar ataxia, and chondrodysplasia.

Preventing health problems

Some health problems are inherited. For example, if your dog inherits from his parents the genes for an eye disease called PRA, he will go blind and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

Dog feeding and health book by Michele Welton But most health problems can be prevented by the ways you raise your dog.

My best-selling book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy shows you how to raise your American Cocker Spaniel in all the right ways that help prevent health problems. Become your dog's health care champion!

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.