By Dr. Anndrea Hatcher
Cocker spaniels are adorable, long-haired, floppy-eared, medium-sized dogs. There are two types: the American cocker spaniel and the English cocker spaniel. Not surprisingly, the American version is more popular on this side of the pond and the English cocker spaniel is more common in England. Both dogs look pretty similar, but the American is a smaller dog with a dome-shaped head and shorter muzzle and back than its English cousin.
American cocker spaniels usually weigh between 24 and 30 pounds. The taller English cocker spaniels have a narrower head and chest and usually weigh 28 to 32 pounds. American cocker spaniel colors are divided into three categories: 1. Blacks (Including black and tan) 2. ASCOBS, standing for Any Solid Color Other than Black, including liver and tan. (yep, that is the official American Kennel Club abbreviation. Cool, huh?) 3. Parti-colors (tri-colors) These must be the fun cocker spaniels.
Cocker spaniels were bred to hunt woodcocks. At this point, you might be asking yourself, “What is a woodcock?” I was imagining some sort of wood-chucking woodchuck, but it turns out that the woodcock is a bird. Cocker spaniels were designed to flush birds into the sky to be shot, then find the birds and carry them back to their owners, like golden and labrador retrievers do.
American cocker spaniels were the most popular dogs in America from 1940-1952 and again from 1984-1990. This last batch of popularity was bad for the breed. Uninformed backyard breeders and puppy mills inbred dogs resulting in a number of inherited diseases that continue to plague the breed.
Back to that adorable, long-haired, long eared, tail wagging dog….step closer and take a sniff. Whoa! I rarely meet a cocker spaniel that I can’t smell from a distance. Those fabulous floppy ears prevent fresh air from getting into the ear canals and create a moist, warm breeding ground for bacterial and yeast ear infections. Some cocker spaniels that don’t receive adequate (time-consuming and expensive) care for their chronic ear infections will develop boney lesions in the ear canal. I can’t even imagine how painful that must be. At that point, the only way to treat the pain is to surgically remove the entire ear canal. The dog will still have the floppy ear, but no opening underneath and will be deaf.
That smell may also be coming from the skin. Cocker spaniels are prone to developing a skin disease called seborrhea. This results in a smelly shedding of dry or oily skin flakes. It can’t be cured, but can be controlled with medicated shampoos. Cocker spaniels also often develop odoriferous skin infections secondary to the seborrhea or allergies.
Now, on to the list of non-smelly diseases that cocker spaniels are at risk for: several eye disorders which may result in blindness (entropian, ectropian, progressive retinal atropy, progressive rod-cone degeneration, glaucoma, and juvenile cataracts), heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy, sick sinus syndrome), kidney disease, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, luxating patella (bad knees) and hip dysplasia.
Finally, the massive buildup of breeding in the 1980’s created a disease called Rage Syndrome. Cocker spaniels are prone to epileptic seizures, and Rage Syndrome is a type of epileptic seizure. Instead of succumbing to a violent jerking seizure, a different part of the brain is affected. A calm, friendly cocker spaniel will, without provocation, suddenly go berserk, biting anyone nearby without recognition, including owners and children. After the seizure, the dog returns to its normal behavior until the next seizure.
Some cocker spaniels will be aggressive when guarding their food or toys. They are also prone to submissive urination. This means they greet you enthusiastically every day when you come home from work by urinating on the carpet.
I don’t want to alienate any cocker spaniel owners. Many cocker spaniels are wonderful dogs and I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills without them. Just make sure that you are making an informed decision before choosing this breed. Cocker spaniels require a lot of time for daily grooming and exercise and a lot of money set aside for medical care.