The Sussex Spaniel and Heart Issues

The Sussex Spaniel and Heart Issues

Health & Safety

It would be easy to confuse a Sussex Spaniel with a Cocker, especially a liver coloured dog and they are also very similar in build to a Clumber Spaniel although just a little shorter in stature and quite a bit heavier too. One other distinctive difference is the Sussex Spaniel is a lot calmer by nature than a Cocker which is why although one of the rarest gundog breeds in the UK, they are still considered as being among the best working and companion dogs in the country.

A Limited Gene Pool

Because the gene pool is quite limited, this does pose quite a problem when it comes to breeding these lovely dogs. With this said, all Sussex Spaniels in the UK today are descendants of just 10 dogs all of which were saved by one person in the form of Joyce Freer. With fewer dogs to breed from, the risks of hereditary health disorders increases, but the good news is that Sussex Spaniels tend to be robust and healthy dogs. The bad news is the breed is known to suffer from a few health conditions which are well worth noting should you decide to share your home with one of them.

Sussex Spaniels are known to suffer from certain heart conditions with the three main concerns being as follows:

  • Pulmonic Stenosis
  • Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)
  • Tetralogy of Fallot

Pulmonic Stenosis

This is the most frequently reported heart condition seen in the Sussex Spaniel where the pulmonary valve found in their hearts narrows which makes it harder for blood to flow out of the right ventricle into a dog's pulmonary arteries. As a result, the right side of a heart gets bigger as the muscle attempts to keep up with the extra work load. This then causes fluids and blood to back up into a dog's abdomen and their liver.

Sussex Spaniels with the condition are rated with a score of six being the more severe and at the other end of the scale, a score of one being the mildest form of the condition. If a dog has a mild case of Pulmonic Stenosis, they generally live out happy and healthy lives without the need to be given any sort of treatment. However, if the condition gets worse a dog would require ongoing veterinary treatment to keep things under control.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus - PDA

This is a condition that affects female dogs and where the connection that's found between a dog's pulmonary artery and the aorta does not close as it should. The ductus allows blood to by-pass a dog's lungs, a necessary function for pregnant dogs because a foetus does not require any air and they do not need the blood that circulates throughout their lungs to be oxygenated either.

When a puppy is born, the blood has to be oxygenated as it flows to their lungs. The problem starts when the ductus fails to close as it should immediately a female has given birth to their puppies and because it stays open their lungs blood vessels get overloaded. This in turn results in heart failure which can happen extremely quickly. A vet would be able to correct the problem surgically and the prognosis tends to be good once the condition has been diagnosed and treated.

Tetralogy of Fallot

This is another condition that has been seen in the breed and which is a combination of various heart defects. There are 4 abnormalities involved which include the following:

  • Ventricular Septal defect which is a hole found in between the two ventricles located in the heart
  • Pulmonic Stenosis which as explained above prevents blood flowing normally through a dog's pulmonary valve
  • An overriding aorta
  • Right ventricular hypertrophy which is where the heart muscle thickens

The signs of there being something wrong with a Sussex Spaniel could include the following symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • A shortness of breath
  • Cyanosis
  • Fainting

The condition is a congenital disorder which in short means Sussex Spaniel puppies are born with the condition, but other breeds can be affected too which includes both the English Bulldog and the Keeshond. The first and most obvious clinical sign of there being something wrong would be a dog developing a heart murmur which a vet would detect when examining a dog. This would be followed up by a vet carrying out regular blood tests to see if the condition has become any worse.

A vet would typically also recommend a Sussex Spaniel be given X-rays and an Echocardiogram to establish the extent of the problem although they might also suggest a dog being given an ECG and an angiocardiography. If the tests come back positive, a dog would need to be put on restricted exercise to avoid putting too much strain on their hearts and a vet would prescribe palliative medication that would help improve blood flow through a dog's heart.


The Sussex Spaniel is one of the UK's rarest breeds of gundog and over the years they have brought pleasure into many people's homes whether are working or companion dogs. They are highly intelligent which means they are easy to train and they love doing a job. Like many pure breeds, the Sussex Spaniel does suffer from a few hereditary health disorders and the fact they also boast a limited gene pool, this can exacerbate the problem. With this said, careful breeding has gone a long way in reducing the chances of any genetic disorder being passed on from parent dogs to their puppies and this includes the three heart conditions mentioned above.

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