Cocker Spaniel health issues: five every owner should know

26 September 2023 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
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With their silky coats, soulful eyes, and boundless affection, Cocker Spaniels are charming and adorable. They make for beautiful besties and phenomenal family pets.

But like any breed, they come with some unique health issues.

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The good news is that any health issues are manageable or preventable with proper care. This can include regular exercise and a balanced diet. And purchasing from an ethical breeder reduces the likelihood of early-onset genetic problems.

Eye conditions

Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniels suffer from several eye diseases, like hereditary cataracts and dry eye.

Hereditary cataracts appear as cloudy spots in your dog’s eyes. It's often noticed in early puppyhood and eventually causes sight loss.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited condition caused by a gene mutation. It causes cells in the back of your dog’s eyes to degenerate, leading to blindness.

Thankfully, genetic conditions aren’t painful. Cocker Spaniels can often tolerate sight loss too, especially with your help.

Dry eye is also common, which occurs when your dog isn’t producing enough tears. A lack of tears results in chronic inflammation of the surface structures of the eye.

The condition can lead to chronic infection, painful eye irritation and corneal ulceration. Treatment is possible but often lifelong.

Ear problems

Portrait of a golden English Cocker Spaniel looking up with a soft expression against a plain beige background.

The Cocker Spaniel’s long ears are prone to bacterial, yeast and parasitic infection. They are also more likely to suffer from foreign bodies, like grass seeds, getting stuck in their long ears.

Don't skip ear care. As mentioned, a Cocker’s floppy ears can trap moisture and debris, creating a breeding ground for infections. A weekly ear check and cleaning can help catch these problems early or even prevent them before they start.

Familial Nephropathy (FN)

FN is an inherited and fatal kidney disease in young Cockers caused by an unknown mutation. The condition causes early-onset kidney failure. This is because their kidneys are born with an abnormal structure. It prevents them from filtering waste products properly.

It's a serious condition that leads to severe illness, and the onset is between six months and two years.


Pancreatitis is where the pancreas has inflammation. The organ's involved in breaking down fat, producing hormones and regulating insulin.

During pancreatitis, a dog produces too many enzymes, hurting their gut or the pancreas itself.

Symptoms can include things like:

Appetite loss

Thankfully, treatment is available, but the intensity of it depends on the condition's severity.

Immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia (IMHA)

Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniels can inherit this autoimmune condition. IMHA is where the immune system attacks the red blood cells. This impacts how well your dog carries oxygen, leading to anaemia.

Symptoms include:

  • Collapse

  • Pale gums

  • Increased breathing

  • Weakness

Treatment is possible when diagnosed quickly.

How to care for your Cocker Spaniel

You can't anticipate every health issue your Cocker Spaniel might encounter, but proper care can go a long way toward keeping them healthy.

Preventative veterinary exams

When it comes to your dog’s well-being, your vet is your most valuable resource. For one thing, they can administer vaccines that will help protect your dog from common illnesses. And during routine exams, they can regularly check up on trouble spots like those notoriously sensitive eyes and ears.

Diet and exercise

Nutrition and exercise are the ultimate preventive measures.

A balanced diet rich in high-quality protein, essential fatty acids, and fibre helps. We would avoid high-fat foods as this can increase pancreatitis risk. It can help prevent other common Cocker health issues we’ve been exploring, like obesity and hip dysplasia.

If your dog suffers from food allergies, a vet-approved diet tailored to their pup's needs can be a game-changer.

Our discussion on pet nutrition can help.

Exercise is also important. Cockers need quite a lot of exercise to stay healthy and sane—as much as one hour to 90 minutes per day.

Giving your Cocker Spaniel the right amount of exercise can help prevent anxiety and behavioural problems. It also reduces obesity risk and strengthens your dog’s muscles, boosting their musculoskeletal health.

Coupling a balanced diet with exercise can help your Cocker Spaniel live a healthier, happier, longer life.

Genetic testing and finding a responsible breeder

Always be sure to buy your Cocker Spaniel from an ethical breeder. They need to perform genetic testing and tick all the right boxes.

Genetic testing is available for inherited genetic disorders. It's there for a reason. We recommend checking that breeders have done these tests beforehand.

You’d be amazed at how many prematurely ill dogs are the direct result of shoddy breeding operations. A responsible breeder will always use proper genetic testing and other health checks. This gives your Cocker Spaniel the best possible chance.

Be vigilant

Watching and observing your Cocker Spaniel can mean you can spot health issues early. For example, you may notice your dog bumping into things, indicating vision problems. Or you may spot your dog not responding to you when you call their name, meaning they could have ear problems.

Overall, if you have any concerns about your dog's health, call your vet. Consulting a vet is essential, as rapid diagnosis can make a difference, especially in IMHA or pancreatitis.

Grooming for good health

Grooming your Cocker Spaniel is about more than just good looks. It's actually an essential part of your dog's health regimen! Regular brushing lets you check for signs of skin issues, ticks, or other parasites. Given that Cocker Spaniels are prone to skin allergies, grooming is a good opportunity to spot signs of irritation or infection.

Also, keep their eyes clean to reduce the risk of eye conditions.

Finally, regular nail trims are important for good paw health and can prevent complications from overgrown nails.

How dog insurance can help

Cocker Spaniel insurance can help you prepare for unforeseen health issues.

Dog insurance helps with up to £15,000 vet fee cover, unlimited 24/7 vet calls with FirstVet and a host of other perks.

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Get £15,000 lifetime vet fee cover with our Complete policy.

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