Caring for your Cocker's health is vitally important to his present and future well-
A happy, healthy Cocker!
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.
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 -
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 -
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.
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:
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 -
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 -
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-
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 -
Hip Dysplasia: This can be a debilitating, painful condition caused by abnormal development of the hip joint. HD is a complex disease -
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).