Cocker Spaniel Health Problems
Common cocker spaniel health problems include ear infections, deafness, eye problems, and some autoimmune diseases. Let’s take a look at each.

If you are thinking of getting a Cocker Spaniel, you need to know about the common health problems that may affect this dog breed.

Of course, not all Cocker Spaniels will be affected by the common health problems as described below, but keep in mind that they are more predisposed to these illnesses.

Cocker Spaniels are divided into two groups – American Cocker Spaniel and English Cocker Spaniel.

American Cocker Spaniels are smaller and are more commonly kept as pets as opposed to English Cocker Spaniels who have still remained as hunting dogs.

This page looks at common American Cocker Spaniel health problems.

Cocker Spaniel Health Problems – The Ears

Because Cocker Spaniels have long ears, they are prone to develop ear problems. Common Cocker Spaniel health problems related to the ears include:

Ear Infections

Ear infections are common in Cocker Spaniels because of their long, floppy ears.

A typical sign of canine ear infection is a foul-smelling, waxy or pus-like discharge from the ear. The ear will be painful so the dog will scratch the affected ear incessantly and rub it against furniture or on the floor. There will be a lot of violent head-shaking, and the dog will tilt his head to the painful side, and cry out if the ear is touched.

To avoid ear infections in your Cocker Spaniel, keeping his ears dry and regular ear cleaning are essential.


Congenital deafness sometimes occur in American Cocker Spaniels and can affect one or both ears.

A puppy can respond to sound around 11 days after birth, and if your Cocker Spaniel puppy fails to be woken up by a loud noise, he is likely to have bilateral deafness.

There is no treatment for canine deafness, but most dogs cope very well with a hearing disability and can be trained to respond to signals using lights.

Cocker Spaniel Health Problems – The Eyes

Cocker Spaniels are also predisposed to certain eye problems. Below are some Cocker Spaniel health problems related to the eyes:

Dry Eye

Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is a disorder of the tear glands in which there is inadequate tear production and a resulting dry cornea.

As a result, the affected eye becomes irritated, and the conjunctival tissues becomes red. A thick, stringy, mucoid discharge covers the eye. The cornea eventually will become dry and brown. Blindness can result.

Cherry Eye

Cherry eye (prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid) is believed to be a congenital defect characterized by a weak connective tissue that attaches the gland of the third eyelid to the surrounding structures of the eye.

Due to this weakness, the gland comes out of its normal position and is exposed to the air, coming into contact with airborne irritants which can cause infection to the gland. As a result, the gland often becomes irritated, red, and swollen.

The preferred treatment of this eye condition is to surgically reposition the gland.


Primary glaucoma is a congenital eye disease that commonly affects Cocker Spaniels. Glaucoma is a serious eye problem that can lead to blindness if untreated in a timely manner.


Congenital cataracts, also called juvenile cataracts, affect many dog breeds including Cocker Spaniels. They appear in puppies younger than 6 years old. Surgery may be possible but expensive.

Entropion and Ectropion

Entropion is a condition where the bottom eyelid rolls inward and causes the eye lashes to rub against the cornea, resulting in pain, tearing, and inflammation. It can be present in both eyes.

Ectropion is an eyelid that rolls outward so that tears are not channeled into the tear ducts but drain on the face. Both of these conditions can be treated by eyelid surgeries.


Distichiasis is a rather common congenital condition in Cocker Spaniels in which an extra row of eyelashes grows from the eyelid and is directed inward, placing the eyelashes in direct contact with sensitive eyeball tissue.

If left untreated, the eyelashes rub continuously on the eyeball, causing constant irritation and eventual corneal abrasion which may result in scarring and vision loss.

A dog with this condition squints constantly and rubs the affected eye against furniture or with his paws. The eye may look irritated, red and/or swollen.

Distichiasis is treated by removing the eyelashes that are causing the problem.

This can be done by cryotherapy (chemical freezing), surgery, or electrolysis which involves placing a tiny needle inside the hair follicle and then killing it with a pulse of electricity.

Cocker Spaniel Health Problems – The Skin

Certain skin problems affect Cocker Spaniels quite often. They include:


Primary seborrhea is an inherited skin disorder to which Cocker Spaniels are predisposed. Dogs with primary seborrhea may have dry flaky skin, or oily greasy scaly skin, or a combination of both. They are also smelly with a rancid doggy odor.

Dogs with seborrhea are also prone to chronic ear infections.

Food Allergies

It has been found that Cocker Spaniels are prone to develop food allergies, which are caused by an allergic reaction to one or more ingredients in the dog’s food.

Dogs with food allergies show signs of intense itching, sometimes accompanied by other skin problems such as skin rashes and hair loss.

Characteristically, the rashes appear on the ears, feet, backs of the legs, and the underbelly. Dogs with food allergies also tend to have recurrent ear infections.

Autoimmune Problems in Cocker Spaniels

Some autoimmune diseases that affect Cocker Spaniels are:

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is an autoimmune disease in which the red blood cless are destroyed by the body.

Symptoms of AIHA are usually vague and indistinct, such as poor appetite, weakness, listlessness, and lethargy. The dog may have a rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing.

If you examine his gums, you may notice that they are pale, or they may be yellowish due to jaundice as a result of the breakdown of red blood cells.

Reduced red blood cell counts means reduced oxygen being transported to the organ tissues. Most dogs that die with this condition do so in the first few days due to kidney, liver, or heart failure, or because of a bleeding problem.

Autoimmune Thyroiditis

Autoimmune thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that is one of the main causes of hypothyroidism in dogs. Symptoms and treatment of this condition are similar to those of hypothyroidism.


Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the body produces insufficient amounts of thyroid hormone. As mentioned above, hypothyroidism can be caused by problems in the dog’s own immune system (autoimmune thyroiditis), but sometimes it can be caused by other factors, such as poor diet, certain medications, or toxins.

Other Cocker Spaniel Health Problems

Other health problems that may affect Cocker Spaniels quite often include:

Luxating Patella

Luxating patella is a congenital disease in which the alignment of the bones and joints of the hind leg is abnormal, resulting in a displacement of the patella to the side of the joint.

The main symptom of luxating patella is an intermittent hopping on the limb when the patella pops out of place. Depending on the severity of the problem, dogs with luxating patella may need surgical correction.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart) is a common cause of canine congestive heart failure.

Cocker Spaniels are predisposed to this heart problem. The age of onset is 2 to 5 years. Dogs with this problem usually tire easily. They are lethargic and may be unwilling to exercise.

In more severe cases, they may cough, have difficulty breathing, bluish gums, and fainting spells. Treatment is to use medication to improve the force of the heart muscle, to control arrhythmias, and to prevent fluid buildup in the abdomen and lungs.

Supplements such as vitamin-B, Coenzyme Q-10, taurine and carnitine are also recommended.


Cocker Spaniels are predisposed to certain types of cancer, such as lymphosarcoma, which is cancer arising from the lymphocytes in the lymphatic system, and malignant melanoma, which is a form of skin tumor that arises from melanocytes, the cells in the skin that produce dark pigment.