English Cocker Spaniels - a fairly typical, but potentially moody, dog

 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)
A new study from the Royal Veterinary College illuminates the most common disorders in English Cocker Spaniels in the UK, aiding owners to know what to expect if they get this breed

New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has found the most common conditions in one the UK’s most popular dog breeds, English Cocker Spaniels, include dental disease, ear infection, obesity and aggression. These findings will help owners and veterinary teams provide more targeted preventative healthcare as well as helping anyone considering getting an English Cocker Spaniel to know what to expect.

The English Cocker Spaniel has long been a popular family dog breed in the UK and is generally considered to be fairly healthy. However, the UK Kennel Club recommends that breeders of pedigree dogs should screen them for several conditions including eye disorders, hip dysplasia and a wide range of hereditary diseases. Despite these recommendations, there has been relatively little information until now on the health of English Cocker Spaniels owned more widely as pets in the UK.

As the largest study ever carried out on the health of the breed based on veterinary clinical records, the RVC’s VetCompass programme studied 10,313 English Cocker Spaniels from an overall sample of 336,865 UK dogs of all breeds under first opinion veterinary care during 2016. English Cocker Spaniels made up 3.1% of all dogs, showing ongoing high popularity of this breed as a UK companion animal.

Periodontal disease, a dental disease affecting the tissues that hold the teeth in place, was the most commonly recorded specific disorder in English Cocker Spaniels, being diagnosed in 20.97% of dogs each year. The other most recorded disorders in English Cocker Spaniels were otitis externa (inflammation of the external ear canal) (10.09%); obesity/overweight (9.88%); anal sac impaction (8.07%); diarrhoea (4.87%); and aggression (4.01%). The order of these top disorders in English Cocker Spaniels was similar to those previously reported in dogs overall; however, the frequency of each disorder was generally higher in English Cocker Spaniels than the general dog population, possibly because several of these conditions are related to the longer ears and looser skin on English Cocker Spaniels. These results suggests that English Cocker Spaniels can be considered a typical dog in many respects, but with higher risk of some disorders related to their specific body shape.

Aggression was found to be relatively common in English Cocker Spaniels, although the frequency differed depending on the sex and coat colour of the dogs: aggression was more common in males than females, and in single-coloured than multi-coloured dogs. Furthermore, the risk of aggression varied widely between the four most common single-coloured coat colours. Golden-coloured dogs showed the highest frequency of aggression (12.08%), followed by red (6.52%), black (6.29%), and liver (4.33%) that did not show so much difference between each other.

Additional findings include:
  • Among the 31 most common specific disorders, females had a higher probability of periodontal disease, obesity and mammary mass lesions, while males had a higher probability of aggression.
  • Once the specific disorders were grouped by parts of the body affected, the most common disorder groups were dental disorders (22.35%); aural disorders (13.76%); ophthalmic disorders (10.27%); obesity (9.88%); and cutaneous disorders (9.84%).
  • Among the 20 most common disorder groups, females had a higher probability of dental disorders, obesity, masses and urinary tract disorders, while males had a higher probability of behavioural disorders.
  • The average lifespan of English Cocker Spaniels overall was 11.44 years. However, females lived a year longer than males (12.01 years vs 11.00 years). The average lifespan of English Cocker Spaniels is similar to the average lifespan of 11.2 years for dogs overall in the UK, suggesting that the overall health of English Cocker Spaniels is similar to that of dogs overall in the UK.
  • The most common causes of death were cancer, lumps, and collapse.

These results can help veterinary surgeons provide better evidence-based health information to dog owners and support breeding organisations by identifying priorities for health and welfare of English Cocker Spaniels. The results also help owners who are either thinking of getting a dog or who already own an English Cocker Spaniel to have a better picture of what to expect from the health of their dog.

Karolina Engdahl, Epidemiologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and lead author of the paper, said:

"English Cocker Spaniels are popular family dogs and can make fantastic pets. However, we found that aggression was relatively common in the breed, especially in golden-coloured dogs. This highlights the importance of focusing good breeding on behavioural as well as physical health, and that behavioural-related problems should be a key area for veterinary-owner discussions."

Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC, co-author of the paper, said:

"Everyone who loves dogs just wants their animals to live long and happy lives. This study provides the data to help owners to understand that preventing dental, ear, weight and anal sac problems can go a long way to helping English Cocker Spaniels to enjoy a better life. It really can be that simple."

Bill Lambert, Health, Welfare and Breeding Services Executive at The Kennel Club, said:

"This research, supported by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, enables us and all those who care about the health of this much-loved and popular breed to know and understand more about Cocker Spaniel health. We’re pleased this study indicates that Cocker Spaniels don’t appear to suffer from a high prevalence of specific diseases, other than those which appear to be fairly common for all dogs.

"This paper though does also illustrate the importance of would-be owners considering all aspects of any new canine companion, from health to temperament and behaviour. We continue to urge all puppy buyers to make responsible decisions, seek out a good, caring breeder, who prioritises health and temperament, such as a Kennel Club Assured Breeder, and fully research their preferred breed. This plays an important part in improving the health and welfare of all breeds, now and in generations to come."

Engdahl et al. (2023) "Demography and disorders of English Cocker Spaniels under primary veterinary care in the UK"

The DOI for the paper is: 10.1186/s40575’023 -00128-x

The full paper is available online at: https://cgejournal.biomedcentr­al.com/art­icles/10.1­186/s40575­’023 -00128-x

Note: This paper only includes English Cocker Spaniels. Other variants of Cocker Spaniel such as Working Cocker Spaniels, Field Cocker Spaniels and American Cocker Spaniels were not included in the study.