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Photo of "Worth the Wait from Ester's Lodge" (Georgia) Bred & Owned by Ester Elens of Ester's Lodge Cockers in The Netherlands.

All dogs can have health problems. Sadly, the American Cocker Spaniel can have a vast number of them. Most common are eye defects, such as cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy and glaucoma. Responsible breeders are working very hard along with the help of veterinary opthimologists and CERF (The Canine Eye Registry Foundation) to reduce the incidence of these defects. Hopefully, someday soon we will have DNA markers available and can eradicate all eye defects.

Cockers can also have liver disease, autoimmune disorders, thyroid disorders, and allergies which lead to skin problems.

Another prevalent problem is ear infections. Many cockers will require surgery due to repeated inflammation and infection. To keep your cockers ears healthy, always keep his ears cleaned out weekly (and after every bath) with a good drying solution. Food allergies can also cause ear infections. If you suspect this, consult your veterinarian.

Cockers can also have epilepsy. The cause of this is unknown, but it is genetic.

Heart conditions have also affected many cockers.

There are many more health issues facing this breed. Due to the breed's long-time popularity and indiscriminate breeding, the problems have become worse over the years. The best way to insure you are getting a healthy cocker is to only purchase from a reputable, knowledgeable breeder who performs all genetic health testing on all breeding stock.

Below is a "general consensus" among most reputable breeders regarding the breeding of healthy dogs.

There are no tests currently that indicate the mode of inheritance of any genetic diseases, nor do we have any other DNA tests for any genetic health issues. We do have OFA and Penn Hip which detect hip disorders, and we have CERF testing that detects eye problems. We also have thyroid testing, but these tests only show if the tested dog is AFFECTED, not if they are carriers. Good, reputable breeders take advantage of all the tests available, and only breed dogs who are clear of these disorders, as well as have a clear family history.
 Without extensive pedigree knowledge, (meaning the HEALTH & TEMPERAMENT of the dogs in the pedigree, NOT just the names of the dogs, or whether they were champions or not, which is NO indication of health) breeders are breeding blindly, and have no way of knowing if they are perpetuating health problems. Sadly, even good breeders will produce puppies with health problems. The difference is that good breeders will acknowledge these problems, not hide them, and do what they can to make things right.
And, in my opinion, "making things right" means taking a SERIOUS look at their breeding program, so as not to make the same mistakes again, and by working with the puppy buyer to work out a solution that is agreeable to both parties.

 Breeding dogs is a science, and NOT an exact one. There are no guarantees, but knowing your dogs' histories certainly helps tremendously. You can't eliminate a problem from your lines if you don't know that it exists! And, if you also don't know WHERE the problems on BOTH sides of the pedigree are, you could very well be DOUBLING UP on them, and raising your chances exponentially of producing puppies with health problems.
 The policy of most breeders is that if something goes wrong with the puppy that is seriously life-altering or life-threatening, to either replace the puppy with another one OR if no replacement puppy is available,  refund half of the puppy's purchase price. Anything less is not really useful. A "72 hour guarantee" will rarely help you at all. Most genetic health problems do not show up until later. Some breeders may have different polices. You should ask about this, and be comfortable with what your potential puppy's breeder offers.
 You have to trust your instincts on whether a breeder is a caring, reputable person or not. There are plenty who are NOT, and plenty who ARE. A good breeder is not just someone who "sells puppies" like merchandise. And, whether someone shows their dogs or not is really not an indication of reputation or ethics.

 Reputable, caring breeders are very aware of the health issues facing our beloved cockers, and they want very much to do all they can to make things better. These breeders will be HONEST with you, and tell you what they have faced, and what they are doing to improve. Breeders who say they have never had any health problems are either not being honest, or they don't know what is in their pedigrees. We breeders have a saying "There are no clear lines, only clear dogs."
 Any person who KNOWINGLY breeds dogs with health problems, and/or doubles up (problem on both sides of pedigree)on health problems is GAMBLING with the health and happiness of an innocent animal, as well as taking advantage of unsuspecting buyers. Not to mention, putting them through the pain of losing a dog who has become part of the family.
 Talk with breeders, and ask all the questions you can. Ask for references. Ask WHAT health issues they have in their lines. If they say "none," then they are not being honest. (Or, they just don't know enough about their pedigrees) If a breeder is honest enough to tell you what issues they do have, ask where they are in the pedigree, and what they are doing to improve their lines.


To learn more about cocker health issues, go to the American Spaniel Club website, the OFA, Penn Hip and CERF websites. Links to these sites can be found on our LINKS page.