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Health Problems in Cocker Spaniels
Eye Disease
Hereditary cataracts are a common hereditary eye problem in Cocker
Spaniels. (Cataract by definition is any opacity within the lens of the
eye.)  There are also non- hereditary cataracts which sometimes
occur, and examination by a 
Board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist is necessary to determine if
the cataract is or is not of concern from a genetic standpoint. If there is
any question, the dog is certainly not to be recommended for breeding. 
Some Cocker Spaniels carry genes for Central Progressive Retinal
Atrophy (CPRA) which is progressive deterioration of the
light-receptive area (retina) of the eye, and may result in complete
blindness at a fairly young age. There are also other eye defects, such
as retinal dysplasia, that prevent consideration of a dog as a breeding
Eyelid and eyelash problems also may occur in the breed; some with
an hereditary basis, and some sometimes due to other factors.
Entropion and ectropion are the turning in or turning out of the eyelids.
Trichiasis and distichiasis involve eyelashes or hairs rubbing on and
irritating the eye. Surgery may be needed to correct these problems,
and while it is a fairly simple procedure, such dogs should not be bred
and are ineligible to be shown under AKC rules. 
Nuclear sclerosis, the "bluish haze" of the eye seen in older dogs, is a
normal part of the age-related change in the lens of the eye and is NOT
a problem. 
Examination of breeding stock should be done annually, until at least
eight years of age and preferably longer, as hereditary eye problems
can develop at varying ages. The examination should be made by a
Board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, who has the special
equipment and training needed to properly examine the dog's eyes. 

Dogs that have been examined by a Board-certified veterinary
ophthalmologist and found to be free of hereditary eye disease can be
registered with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation. CERF assigns
the dog an number which, when properly understood, helps to make
eye clearances more meaningful. For example, CERF CS2845/98-63
means that this dog was the 2,845th Cocker Spaniel to be registered
with CERF; that the most recent examination indicating this dog free of
hereditary eye disease was done in 1998; and that the dog was 63
months old at the time of the examination. 
Dogs with hereditary eye disease should not be used for breeding. 

von Willebrand's Disease

Canine von Willebrand's Disease is an inherited deficiency in one of
the clotting factors of the blood. It is similar to hemophilia in some
respects, but may appear in either male or female.
"Carriers" may show no overt symptoms of the disease, but their
progeny can have severe bleeding problems.
There is a blood test available which will identify dogs with the VWD
trait; complete information can be obtained from Dr. W. Jean Dodds,
New York State Department of Health, Division of Laboratories and
Research, Albany, New York 12201. The laboratory will test, free of
charge, properly prepared samples sent to Dr. Dodds. 
As von Willebrand's Disease in Cocker Spaniels is considered an
incomplete dominant, dogs carrying the trait (whether showing
symptoms or not) will pass it on to half of their offspring, even if bred
to a mate free of the trait. If VWD carrier animals are bred, it is
recommended that they be bred only to mates that test free of this
gene, and that their progeny be tested for VWD. Animals clinically
affected with VWD should not be bred. 
Dogs affected with VWD may have symptoms varying from very mild to
severe or lethal. These bleeding problems include prolonged bleeding
from toenails cut too short, hemorrhage from even minor surgical
procedures, lameness, hematomas, stillbirths or early death of
newborn puppies, intestinal bleeding, and so on. The bleeding
primarily involves mucosal surfaces (gastrointestinal tract, nose-
bleeds, blood in the urine, vaginal or penile bleeding) and is
aggravated by stress situations (other physiological, pathological,
emotional or hormonal conditions). 
This is a generalized metabolic disease characterized by atrophy or
malfunction of the thyroid gland. Clinical symptoms include obesity,
lethargy, and/or coat problems. Hypothyroidism can also cause visciousness, temperament and biting problems in some dogs as well. 
Affected animals may also have various
reproductive problems, including irregular or absent estrus (heat cycle),
and lack of fertility in both male and female. 
Diagnosis of hypothyroidism is by laboratory tests measuring levels of
T3 and T4 (produced by the thyroid gland) in the blood. Treatment
consists of daily administration of thyroid supplement orally and, when
successfully treated, the prognosis is excellent and the dog's lifespan
is normal, although the dog may require lifelong thyroid
There is some question whether dogs requiring supplementation should
be bred, as early hypothyroidism may be hereditable. 
Indiscriminate use of thyroid supplementation should be avoided; it
can cause problems as well as remedy them. 


Seizure disorders may arise from a variety of environmental factors
including viral infections, other diseases, and trauma. In some cases
there is no ascertainable cause other than perhaps some inherent
factor resulting in a low threshold to the stimuli setting off the
seizures. While an isolated seizure does not necessarily constitute a
problem, dogs subject to recurring seizures should not be bred; low
seizure threshold is inherited. A veterinarian can prescribe medication
to control recurring seizures, but medication is not always completely
effective. Epilepsy generally does not affect a dog's health or
longevity; the condition is much more traumatic for the owner than the
Hip Dysplasia
The term hip dysplasia means poor development of the formation of
the hip joint, and describes a developmental disease in young dogs of
many different breeds. Unsound hipjoints are a common problem in
the larger breeds, and hip dysplasia can be a serious problem in any
dog that is to be trained for a demanding activity. 
Hip dysplasia is an inherited defect with a polygenic mode of
inheritance. The degree of hereditability is moderate in nature,
meaning that the formation of the hip joints can also be modified by
environmental factors such as overnutrition, excessively rapid growth,
and certain traumas during the growth period of the skeleton. As with
any quantitative trait, hip joint conformation can range from good to
bad with all shades in between. 
Signs of hip dysplasia cannot be detected in the new born puppy, but
usually appear in the rapid growth period between four and nine
months of age. Signs of the disease can vary widely from slight
irregularities of gait to crippling lameness. Improvement or even
apparent disappearance of lameness can occur as the dog matures, as
a result of the joint stabilizing, inflammation subsiding, and
musculature strengthening. However, the dysplastic dog will usually
develop arthritis later in life. 
Hip dysplasia may be diagnosed by X-ray between six months and 1
year of age, but this is not entirely reliable, and dogs intended for
breeding should be X-rayed when fully mature in order to select for
sound hips. Two years of age is considered to be the minimum age for
accurate radiographic determination of desirable conformation. 
X-rays should be sent to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for a
diagnostic evaluation. The charge is $15 for a preliminary evaluation
(for dogs X-rayed prior to two years of age), and $20 for the
assignment of a permanent OFA Registry number (for dogs two years
of age or older). 
The dysplastic dog should not be used for breeding. 

Other orthopedic problems

There are a number of orthopedic problems in addition to hip dysplasia
which sometimes occur in the growing dog. Among these are
panosteitis, osteochondritis dissecans, luxated patella, and other
problems. It is suspected that there may well be some hereditary
predisposition to such conditions, so even though surgery may be
able to correct some of these problems, there is some question
whether dogs affected with any of these conditions should be
considered for breeding. 



Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that is well known
by food animal producers. It causes abortions,
infertility and decreased milk yield in cattle. 
Brucellosis can infect cattle, sheep, goats, dogs and
humans as well as pigs. Cats, however, seem to be
somewhat resistant to the bacteria. 
The major route of brucellosis transmission in dogs
is through direct contact of an infected, aborted
fetus, or uterine discharge. They may also become
infected by eating contaminated meat, fetal
membranes, aborted fetuses of livestock or
drinking contaminated, unpasteurized milk. The
bacteria can also be shed in dog feces and be
cultured from lymph nodes of an infected animal. 
Signs of infection in dogs may include abortion,
infertility, infected reproductive organs, arthritis,
disc disease, fever, hind limb weakness, lethargy,
and/or general lymph node swelling. Since these
may be signs of many diseases, take your pet to
your veterinarian if it shows any of them. He or she
will need to draw a blood sample to determine if the
problem is brucellosis. 
Brucellosis is difficult to treat. It may take a
long period of antibiotic therapy to fully rid the dog
of the bacteria. Since blood samples need to be
taken to monitor the progress of the drug treatment,
it may also become somewhat expensive. It is also
possible for humans to become infected with
canine brucellosis, although transmission from
dogs to people seems to be uncommon. 
Since this disease is sexually transmitted, it is
important for breeders to make sure all of the dogs
in their kennel test negative for the bacteria. If they
are not, they should not be bred. The dog may show
no clinical signs, but still transmit the bacteria in
semen or vaginal fluid. Female dogs should be
tested a few weeks before they come into heat and
males should be tested twice a year. Any new animal
brought into the kennel should be isolated until it
tests negative twice. The second test should be done
one month after the first one. 
The bacteria is relatively easy to kill with common
disinfectants, such as diluted bleach water solution.
There is no vaccine available for canine brucellosis
at this time. Eliminating the positive animals from
breeding stock is one way to help control the
disease. Proper disposal of waste and wearing
gloves to handle any fetal membranes or aborted
fetuses, followed by thorough disinfection of the
area will also help. If you have any questions about
canine brucellosis, see your veterinarian.