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Caring for your Cocker's health is vitally important to his present and future well-being. If you are in any doubt about your dog's health, don't leave it hoping the symptoms will disappear; make an appointment with your vet or ring him/her and ask for advice over the phone; most illnesses even the more serious ones are much easier to treat if caught at an early stage. Having said this, use common sense; if you know that all that is required is simple first aid, and you are willing and prepared to treat simple cuts and grazes yourself, do so. However if your dog is in distress or in pain, seek professional help as soon as possible. If your Cocker is ill, make a note of things such as his last meal, any vomit contents, thirst level, any changes in behaviour, whether you are aware of anything poisonous the dog may of eaten, consistency of your dog's stools etc. All these things may help your vet to come to a diagnosis more quickly.

Health

A happy, healthy Cocker!

Vaccinations
Vaccinations are important in protecting your Cocker from a number of serious, infectious diseases such as Parvovirus, Distemper, Canine Hepatitis and Leptospirosis. Puppies usually receive their primary vaccinations between 8 and 12 weeks of age. Annual boosters used to be recommended by many in the veterinary profession although it is fair to say that there has been considerable debate on this subject in recent years due to concerns that annual vaccination can adversely affect the health of some dogs and is not necessary in many others. Some vaccine manufacturers are now recommending boosters for Parovirus, Distemper and Hepatitis at a year old and then three yearly after that. However boosters for Leptospirosis (and Kennel Cough if needed) are still recommended to be given annually. Some owners prefer to give homeopathic vaccines to their dogs or alternatively run titre tests to check their dog's immunity levels before boostering conventionally.

NB If you want to book your Cocker into boarding kennels, you will need an up to date vaccination certificate for him (to include Kennel Cough). Some training classes also ask for this before you can attend with your dog.

Worms
Most dogs will have worms at some stage in their lives, many pups will be born with worms since larvae can pass from the mother through the placenta or through her milk. The most commonly seen worms in the UK are roundworms and tapeworms. Roundworms look a bit like small pieces of spaghetti and are white in colour. Tapeworms are segmented with a head - an infected dog will often appear to have what looks like flat grains of rice in their faeces or around the anus (these are the tapeworm segments). Worm infestation causes health problems for the affected dog and also poses a risk to human health (albeit a small risk). Regular worming from puppyhood onwards is essential to keep your Cocker free of these parasites. All breeders should worm their puppies every two weeks from 3 weeks old (as well as worming the mother too). New owners need to continue the regime of fortnightly worming until their puppy is 3 months old and then every 3 months afterwards on into adulthood. Although worming preparations are available from supermarkets and pet stores, these are often less effective than those supplied by vets. Look for brands like Drontal, Panacur or Millbemax. Many of these veterinary approved products are however available without prescription and can be bought more cheaply from online pharmacies than direct from your vet.

Routine Checks
When grooming your Cocker, it is a good time to examine for anything out of the ordinary which may require further investigation. Whilst running your fingers through your dog's coat, check for signs of external parasites like fleas, ticks or lice, also feel for any lumps and bumps under the skin.

Check the ears for wax, mites and other infections; Dogs with long, floppy ears can sometimes be more prone to ear trouble as the length and weight of the ears reduces air flow to the ear canal (also some Cockers have abnormally narrow ear canals)

You can minimise the risk of ear trouble by keeping the ears well groomed and trimming the hair inside each ear short so it does not grow over the entrance to the ear canal ; some owners like to clean inside their Cocker's ears regularly with proprietary wipes or cleaners but if the ears are otherwise healthy and sweet smelling, it is often best to leave well alone; you will soon know if the dog has an ear problem as the ear canal will often have a distinct putrid smell and an unpleasant discharge; your dog will also probably tilt his head to one side and scratch at the affected ear frequently. If this happens, consult your vet for advice.

Check the eyes for discharge and open the mouth to make sure teeth and gums are healthy. Also touch and examine your Cocker's feet regularly - this will help you spot broken nails, cracked pads, grass seeds (see below) between the toes etc.

During the summer months, grass seeds can cause problems for Cocker owners. There are various types but the most dangerous are foxtail grass seeds which are shaped like small, pointed darts. These can easily get embedded in the hair, feet and ears of unsuspecting Cockers as they run around enjoying themselves. If not spotted, these seeds can work their way under the skin and then further into the body resulting in pain and infection (particularly if the ear is involved). Check your dog for grass seeds thoroughly after he has been exercised in long grass. If he shows signs of discomfort after exercise (head tilting, scratching at the ear etc), get veterinary attention as soon as possible. Some owners use snoods (simple elasticated ear coverings, as illustrated in the photo on the left) to protect their dog's ears when exercising so this is something to consider if grass seeds are a problem in your area.

Hereditary Conditions
Cockers are generally a healthy breed but occasionally hereditary problems can crop up. There are now a number of health testing schemes available which assist responsible breeders in producing healthy puppies. These include eye testing, hip scoring and the new DNA tests now available for some conditions. Here is some basic information on the main hereditary conditions known in Cockers:

Eye Conditions
General Progressive Retinal Atrophy (GPRA): This is a recessive condition meaning that both parents must carry the faulty gene to produce affected progeny. It is a degenerative disease which leads to a gradual and complete loss of sight. The first signs are usually poor vision in low light or at night ("night blindness") but eventually an affected dog will go totally blind. It is a late onset condition in Cockers which means it does not affect young dogs - affected dogs may start to lose their sight at 3 or 4 years old or it could be very much later in life. A DNA test is now available via the American company Optigen which detects the prcd (progressive rod-cone degeneration) form of GPRA (the most common form of PRA in Cockers) enabling breeders to identify carriers and affected dogs prior to breeding. Dogs which are tested as Normal/Clear can safely be mated to any partner but dogs which test as Carriers or Affecteds must only be mated to tested Clears (to avoid producing affected puppies)

NB While the clinical eye test can detect dogs which are affected with GPRA, it cannot detect carrier or those dogs who will go on to become affected in later life - this is why the DNA test is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for responsible breeders.

Primary Glaucoma: This is a very painful condition caused by a build up of internal fluid pressure in the eye due to an inherited abnormality of the drainage angle. An affected dog will go blind (and surgery to remove the affected eye or eyes is often necessary). Predisposition to Glaucoma can be determined by the Gonioscopy test (a one-off test in Cockers). Dogs which have failed the Gonioscopy test do not necessarily go on to develop Glaucoma but this is the only tool breeders have available currently in the absence of a DNA test or conclusive research as to the mode of inheritance in the breed.

Retinal Pigment Epithelial Dystrophy (RPED): This is the condition previously known as CPRA (Central Progressive Retinal Atrophy). Recent research has shown that this disease in Cockers is associated with an inherited metabolic inability to circulate Vitamin E around the dog's system. This results in a central loss of vision but not usually total blindness (affected dogs still maintain peripheral vision). Supplementation with Vitamin E can apparently help in stopping further development of the condition. It is not yet known exactly how this genetic defect is inherited and no DNA test is available so the advice is for breeders to continue annual eye testing and not to breed from affected dogs or their close relatives.

Cockers used for breeding should be eye tested annually under the BVA/KC Eye Testing Scheme. More information can be found at http://www.bva.co.uk/canine_health_schemes/Eye_Scheme.aspx. Information on the Optigen test for prcd_GPRA can be found at www.optigen.com

Familial Nephritis - A rare recessive condition affecting the development of the kidneys of young dogs (usually proving fatal by 18 to 24 months of age). There is no known cure for this disease but a DNA test is now available which means breeders can now identify carriers of this condition and so avoid producing affected puppies (affected puppies can only be born if two carriers are mated together). Puppy buyers should ensure they only buy from breeders who are using this test (available from the French company Antagene)

Hip Dysplasia: This can be a debilitating, painful condition caused by abnormal development of the hip joint. HD is a complex disease - it is known to be inherited but external factors (diet, exercise etc) can influence the development of the disease in genetically susceptible dogs. It is is seen in both types of Cocker (show and working) but as only a relatively small number of dogs have been hip scored, it is difficult to know the true extent of the problem in the breed. The current breed average is 14 meaning that breeders should aim to breed from dogs where the score for each hip adds up to below this figure (each hip is scored from a perfect 0 to a worst possible score of 53) More information on hip scoring can be found at http://www.bva.co.uk/canine_health_schemes/Hip_Scheme.aspx

Temperament Problems: The Cocker Spaniel is by nature a happy, affectionate little dog but mention is often made of cases of sudden uncharacteristic aggression once seen in Cockers (primarily in the solid colours but not exclusively) and in numerous other breeds which became widely known as Rage Syndrome. An affected dog would suffer sudden, unpredictable bursts of severe aggression after which he/she would return just as quickly to normal. The causes of such cases have never been conclusively established although many suspected a genetic influence. However careful breeding over many years means that true cases of Rage are now rare in the breed today and most cases of aggression involving a Cocker are due to other causes (health issues, lack of training, poor handling etc).