The English Cocker Spaniel is a relatively healthy breed and generally has a life expectancy of 12 to 16 years. English Cockers also age gracefully and often are still participating in conformation and performance events as veterans.
Health issues/defects can be divided into several different categories: Environmental, congenital and hereditary.
An example of environmental factors would be obesity. English Cockers are very prone to obesity and weight should be watched carefully so that they do not succumb to obesity induced disorders such as diabetes, pancreatitis, arthritis.
Congenital defects are those present at birth, generally cause unknown. An example of this would be cleft palette. These defects are very rare and are generally detected at birth and are dealt with by the breeder.
The English Cocker does have some hereditary defects. One such disorder is prcd-PRA (Progressive Rod and Cone Degeneration). This is a defect that affects the retina of the eye and results in gradual loss of vision and eventually total blindness.
Another hereditary defect is Familial Nephropathy (FN). Dogs with FN typically develop kidney failure between 6 months and 2 years of age. The disease is ultimately fatal.
Both prcd-PRA and FN are inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern. The good news is that, as a result of the committed work of researchers and the financial backing of concerned English Cocker breeders and fanciers, DNA based tests are available for both diseases. Prior to breeding, sire and dam may be tested so judicious decisions re: breeding can be made so that no Cocker should have to suffer from these disorders. More information can be found at www.optigen.com.
Other eye disorders than prcd-PRA can occur such as cataracts, glaucoma, distichiasis therefore it is recommended that breeding dogs be examined by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist once a year and the results registered with CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) CERF results are automatically registered with OFA (www.offa.org).
Orthopedic problems in English Cockers include hip dysplasia and luxating patellas. Cockers can be examined and certified clear through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.offa.org). Certification for patellas is done at one year of age, for hip dysplasia certification the dog needs to be 2 years of age.
Deafness occasionally occurs in English Cockers. Breeding animals can be tested by performing a BAER test (Brain Stem Auditory Evoked Response) by a certified veterinary neurologist. This test can be done on puppies as young as 5 weeks of age.
Currently research studies are ongoing in several different areas including anal sac carcinoma in Cockers and a form of late onset neuropathy in a small number of solid coloured cockers. More information on these disorders will be forthcoming as research progresses.
In conjunction with OFA (www.offa.org), English cockers are now participating in the CHIC (Canine Health Information Centre) registry. Requirements for registry vary by breed and for the English cocker the following is required:
- OFA evaluation for hip dysplasia
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (prcd-PRA) DNA test
- OFA evaluation for patellar luxation
Also TWO of the following:
- OFA thyroid evaluation
- Optigen FN DNA testing
- BAER testing
- CERF eye exam
Breeders may chose to utilize some or all of the health testing available.
It is important to find a breeder you trust and have an open discussion about the health concerns in the breed.