Cocker spaniel health issues: 5 every owner should know

September 23, 2023 - 6 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.
A golden English Cocker Spaniel looks directly at the camera, ears framing its face, against a neutral beige background.

With their silky coats, soulful eyes, and boundless affection, cocker spaniels are equal parts charming and adorable. They make for beautiful besties and phenomenal family pets.

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

The good news is that any of these health issues are manageable or preventable with proper care, including regular exercise and a balanced diet. And purchasing from an ethical breeder significantly reduces the likelihood that you'll bring home a cocker spaniel with early-onset genetic health problems.

A close-up of a concerned yellow Labrador Retriever with a gentle expression, receiving an examination by a veterinarian whose hands are shown holding a clipboard, in a clinical setting.

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A close-up of a concerned yellow Labrador Retriever with a gentle expression, receiving an examination by a veterinarian whose hands are shown holding a clipboard, in a clinical setting.

That said, let's explore the top five health problems in cocker spaniels.

Ear infections

Humans can’t help falling in love with those long, floppy cocker spaniel ears. Unfortunately, bacteria and yeast feel the same way. Since those ears don't get a lot of air circulation, moisture can easily get trapped, leading to frequent ear infections. Signs to watch out for include scratching at the ears, head shaking, or an unusual odor.

Regular ear cleaning can help prevent this issue. But once you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a vet and know what you’re dealing with before diving into any home remedies.

Eye disorders

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Cocker Spaniel

Unfortunately, those gorgeous cocker eyes are prone to conditions like Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and cataracts. PRA is a genetic disorder that gradually affects the retina. Untreated, it can even lead to blindness. Cataracts involve a clouding of the eye lens, which can impair your dog’s vision. While cataracts usually affect older dogs, the condition sometimes develops at younger ages in cocker spaniels.

Regular eye checks are crucial. And if you notice any changes, like redness or cloudiness, you should visit your vet ahead of your next scheduled appointment—especially if you notice any changes in your dog's eyes, such as cloudiness or redness. Early diagnosis can make a world of difference in managing these conditions.

Finally, opting for an ethical breeder who conducts thorough genetic testing can greatly reduce the risk of hereditary eye conditions.


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Cocker spaniels may have sensitive ears, but their sensitivity to allergens is nothing to sneeze at, either. Cockers can suffer from all kinds of allergies, whether they’re triggered by pollen in the air or an ingredient in their kibble. You might notice your pup scratching more than usual, developing red or irritated skin, or suffering from respiratory issues like sneezing and coughing.

dog itching from allergies illustration

Pet Allergies 101

Allergies in dogs and cats are no fun. Learn more about why they emerge, and how to help your pets get relief.

dog itching from allergies illustration

Identification and avoidance are key to managing your cocker’s allergies. Your vet can perform tests to pinpoint specific allergens and may recommend changes in diet or environment. Vet-prescribed medications like antihistamines or corticosteroids can also help manage symptoms.


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Cocker spaniels are true kibble connoisseurs. Unfortunately, their love of food can lead to weight issues if you’re not careful. Obesity places additional stress on your pup's joints and can cause other health problems like diabetes and heart disease. (It can also contribute to the next item on this list, hip dysplasia.) 

To keep your cocker spaniel at a healthy weight, you need to monitor their diet and give them regular exercise. High-quality dog food, portion control, and daily physical activity can help keep your pup in tip-top shape. If you're not sure about the proper food or portions—or what your dog’s ideal weight is—consult your veterinarian for guidance.

Hip dysplasia

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Cocker Spaniel

Hip dysplasia is a common skeletal condition where the ball and socket of the hip joint don't fit together properly, leading to wear and tear that can cause pain and arthritis, especially as your pup ages. While it often affects larger dogs, it’s fairly common in cocker spaniels as well.

Signs may include a noticeable limp, difficulty getting up, or a reluctance to run or jump. If you notice any symptoms, consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment options, which may include medication or, in severe cases, surgery.


Want to learn more about Hip Dysplasia in dogs?

Hip dysplasia is the abnormal development of the hip joint. Usually, it’s a hereditary condition that dogs inherit from their parents, but it can be caused by trauma. Read more in our post.


Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk (or at least the severity) of hip dysplasia. First, it’s crucial to help your pup maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can put stress on the hip joints. Regular, moderate exercise can also help strengthen the muscles around the hip area, providing better support. And again, you should always opt for a reputable breeder who screens for the condition, since hip dysplasia has a heavy genetic component.

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.

Oh, and your vet can help you develop a nutritious diet and a healthy exercise routine. Speaking of which...

Diet and exercise

Nutrition and exercise are the ultimate preventive measures.

A balanced diet should be rich in high-quality protein, essential fatty acids, and fiber. Not only is this important for general health, but it can help prevent some of the common cocker health issues we’ve been exploring, like obesity and, by extension, hip dysplasia. And if your dog suffers from food allergies, a vet-approved diet tailored to their pup's needs can be a game-changer.

Exercise is also hugely 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 behavioral problems. Just as importantly, it reduces the risk of obesity and strengthens your dog’s muscles, boosting their musculoskeletal health.

It may not sound like revolutionary advice, but coupling a balanced diet with consistent exercise can help your cocker spaniel live a healthier, happier, longer life.

Grooming for good health

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Grooming your cocker spaniel is about more than just good looks. It's actually an essential part of your dog's overall health regimen! Regular brushing lets you check for signs of skin issues, ticks, or other parasites. And given that cocker spaniels are prone to skin allergies, this is an excellent opportunity to spot early signs of irritation or infection.

Don't skip ear care, either. Your 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.

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

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

Find a responsible breeder

This can’t be repeated enough: Always be sure to purchase your cocker spaniel from an ethical breeder. Unfortunately, there are a lot of puppy mills and backyard breeders out there.

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 to give you the best possible chance of taking home a healthy dog.

How dog insurance can help

All dogs can get hurt or sick, no matter how well you take care of them or how reputable their breeder is. Cocker spaniel insurance is designed to help reimburse you* for covered accidents and illnesses, so you can focus on taking care of your new pup—not your bank account.

And the optional, non-insurance The ManyPets Wellness Plan, which helps reimburse you for preventative care like checkups and vaccinations, is a great way to keep your pup healthy for as long as possible.

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*ManyPets analyzes every claim on its own merits, subject to the terms and conditions of your insurance policy. Insurance exclusions apply, including those for pre-existing conditions. See your policy for details.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.