American Cocker Spaniel Health Concerns

American Cocker Spaniels, as with other breeds, are susceptible to some health problems, some of a genetic nature, others viral. The following is a listing of some of the more common health issues that can be found in the American Cocker Spaniel breed:


Congenital deafness has been reported in American Cocker Spaniels. Most instances are caused by the degeneration of blood supply to the inner ear or cochlea three to four weeks after birth. This type of deafness is permanent, may affect one or both ears, and is associated with white pigmentation (i.e. white hair, blue eyes).

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA)

Cocker Spaniels have a predisposition for Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA). In AIHA, the dog's own immune system attacks its blood cells. In some cases the cause is known such as AIHA secondary to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In other cases, the cause is unknown but possibly due to bacterial infections, medications or vaccines. Cocker spaniels are affected with the acute form of AIHA.

Symptoms include pale complexion, fatigue, and sometimes jaundice. A swollen abdomen is also indicative due to an enlarged liver. Treatment includes the use of steroids as they subdue the immune response. However, if steroids do not provide adequate results, chemotherapy drugs may be given as well. Most forms of AIHA are treatable but death may occur due to blood loss and related complications.

Autoimmune Thyroiditis

Studies have concluded the American Cocker Spaniel breed has a high prevalence for Autoimmune Thyroiditis. The Cockers' immune system forms antibodies that attack his own T3, T4, and thyroglobulin, a substance necessary for forming thyroid hormones. Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment are similar to those for Hypothyroidism except that the diagnosis of Autoimmune Thyroiditis includes the presence of thyroid antibodies in the blood.

Chronic Hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis is the diagnosis for several diseases associated with liver disease. Causes may include viruses, bacterial infection, and some medications. A predisposition to the development of chronic hepatitis exists in the American Cocker Spaniel breed. For additional information, see Chronic Hepatitis in the Health and Nutrition section of the Canada's Guide to Dogs website.


Canine Hypothyroidism is the most commonly diagnosed hormonal disease found in dogs. The term hypothyroidism simply means the underproduction of thyroxin, the hormone produced by the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located on the trachea (wind pipe) of the dog, just below the voice box. It exerts its influence on the dog's body by producing and releasing thyroxin into the blood stream. This hormone, and thus, the thyroid gland itself, is very important in controlling growth and development and maintaining normal protein, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism of the dog.

Hypothyroidism usually occurs between the ages of two to six years. The most common sign is an increase in body weight. Lethargy and some form of skin disease (i.e., thin coat, loss of hair, dandruff, oily skin, increased scratching) are also common signs of Hypothyroidism.

The treatment is through thyroid hormone supplementation given orally once or twice a day. Usually thyroid supplementation improves the clinical signs associated with the disease within four to six weeks. All the clinical signs of hypothyroidism are reversible, once treatment is started.

Skin Problems

Primary Keratinization Disorder or Primary Seborrhea

Primary Seborrhea is commonly seen in the Cocker Spaniel and is caused by overproduction of skin cells including sebaceous (oil) cells. The skin, commonly on the trunk, back and ears, appears greasy and scaly with a foul odour. Itching varies among those affected.

Food Allergies Causing Skin Problems

Studies have shown the American Cocker Spaniel is at risk for developing food allergies. The most likely symptoms of a food allergy are itching in the ears in feet, and upon closer inspection, redness and/or swelling of the skin will be seen on the affected areas. To a varying degree, the dog may experience gastrointestinal symptoms as well such as fecal mucus, fecal blood, and frequent stools; all symptoms of Colitis. The diagnosis of food allergies is done by the elimination diet. The most common cause of food allergies in dogs are beef, chicken, milk, eggs, corn, wheat, and soy. Once the offending food is identified, it should be removed from the affected dog's diet.

References and Additional Information:

Health & Nutrition Section of Canada's Guide to Dogs
Canine Inherited Disorders Database - American Cocker Spaniel
Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia Canine Inherited Disorders Database.
Dog breeds with reported congenital deafness

Note: This section is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters. The information provided here is a brief outline of just some of the health issues which may be of concern for the American Cocker Spaniel breed and should in no way to be considered as a complete listing.