Cocker spaniel hereditary health and genetic diversity

Cocker spaniel hereditary health and genetic diversity

Health & Safety

The term cocker spaniel is used to refer to two different breeds, being the American cocker spaniel and English cocker spaniel respectively. Understandably, the English variant is by far the most common of the two types within the UK, and so when we refer to the cocker spaniel, this is generally the type we mean. The English cocker spaniel is among the most popular of all of the various different dog breeds within the UK, and while the cocker was originally developed for use as a gun dog, today they are much more widely owned as pets. They stand up to 16” tall at the withers and can weigh between 13-15kg, and are classed as a medium sized breed.

Within the UK, the cocker spaniel is divided into two sub-types, being working strains and show strains respectively. Working dogs tend to have shorter, finer coats than show dogs, and also tend to be slightly larger and heavier in build.

If you are wondering if a cocker spaniel is a good choice of pet for you, it is of course important to do plenty of research on the breed before committing to a purchase. This includes researching the health and hereditary wellness of the breed, and if they are prone to any breed-specific health problems. In this article, we will look at the longevity, genetic diversity and hereditary health of the cocker spaniel in more detail. Read on to learn more.

Cocker spaniel longevity

The median lifespan for the English cocker spaniel is 11.2 years, with cancer listed as the leading cause of death across the breed as a whole. 11.2 years of age places the cocker spaniel slightly lower in the rankings than the average across the board for dogs of a similar size, but many cocker spaniels live well beyond this age too.

Genetic diversity and hereditary health testing for the cocker spaniel

The coefficient of inbreeding statistic for the cocker spaniel breed is 9.6%, which is slightly higher than the ideal figure of 6.25% or lower. Potential breeders of cocker spaniels are advised to calculate the coefficient of inbreeding figure for their own dogs, and try to keep the percentage as low as possible.

Various different health schemes and pre-breeding tests are available for the cocker spaniel, and again, breeders are strongly advised to consider taking part in these, in order to improve the hereditary health of their breed lines. The tests and health schemes currently available for the cocker spaniel are:

  • Hip score testing, with the average score for the breed being 11. Parent dogs should receive a hip score below 11 in order to improve the hips scores of subsequent generations.
  • Various different eye tests and eye health schemes are also advised for the cocker spaniel, including schemes for progressive retinal atrophy, retinal pigment epithelial dystrophy, and primary glaucoma.
  • DNA testing is also available for progressive retinal atrophy, the merle gene that can lead to deafness, and familial nephropathy, which causes kidney problems.

Cocker spaniel conformation

The conformation of the cocker spaniel may potentially lead to some issues in and of itself, including:

  • Problems with the ears such as otitis externa, excessive ear wax production, and general ear infections.
  • The feathered feet of the breed may cause grass seeds and grit particles to become embedded within the feet, leading to potential lameness.
  • The long feathered fur of the breed will soon become knotted if left to its own devices, necessitating regular brushing and grooming.
  • Lip fold dermatitis.
  • Problems with the conformation of the eyelid, such as entropion, where the eyelid curls inwards and causes the eyelashes to rub on the surface of the eye.

Health conditions within the cocker spaniel breed as a whole

As well as the potential challenges mentioned above, the cocker spaniel is also known to have a propensity to some other health conditions too, for which no health schemes or pre-breeding tests are currently available. These include:

  • Atopy, an allergy to certain protein chains, often including pollen. This can cause intense itching of the skin.
  • Various cardiac problems, including dilated cardiomyopathy and patent ductus arteriosus.
  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Epilepsy, which is often manageable with medication.
  • Cataracts of the eyes.
  • Distichiasis, which causes an additional row of eyelashes to grow, and which can potentially lead to them rubbing on the eye and causing pain and damage.
  • Hepatitis, a serious liver disease.
  • Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia.
  • Autoimmune thrombocytopenia, which is a bleeding disorder that can be incredibly painful.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Hypoadrenocorticism, or Addison’s disease.
  • Various different types of cancers, including perianal gland tumours, histiocytoma, oral cancers, plasmacytoma, and mammary carcinoma. Cancer is listed as the leading cause of death across the breed as a whole.
  • Dry eye, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
  • Intervertebral disc disease, which can lead to damage of the spinal cord, accompanied by back pain. This condition can potentially cause paralysis.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus.


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