High risk of ear and eye disease in English cocker spaniels in the UK - Veterinary Practice
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High risk of ear and eye disease in English cocker spaniels in the UK

New research has found that English cocker spaniels in the UK are more prone to ear discharge, dry eye and musculoskeletal pain. However, they have a lower risk of allergies, alopecia and osteoarthritis

New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) VetCompas programme has found that English cocker spaniels have an increased risk of disorders such as ear discharge, dry eye and musculoskeletal pain but have reduced risk of allergies, alopecia and osteoarthritis. This research will help vets, breeders and dog owners predict what problems English cocker spaniels might develop, better monitor their health and promote earlier diagnosis.

The English cocker spaniel is a popular dog breed in the UK and has been generally considered to have reasonably robust health. However, the UK Kennel Club still recommends that breeders screen English cocker spaniels for several health conditions including eye disorders, hip dysplasia and some additional hereditary conditions.

The RVC’s VetCompas programme has previously published research describing the most common disorders in English cocker spaniels but this new study goes much further by comparing the risk of common disorders in the breed against the risk in all other breeds in the UK. This will help the sector understand the welfare costs and gains from breeding and owning English cocker spaniels.

The study compared the risks of a range of common disorders in random samples of 2,510 English cocker spaniels against 7,813 dogs of all other breeds among 336,865 dogs under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2016.

Overall, English cocker spaniels were 1.12 times more likely to be diagnosed with at least one disorder every year than other breeds. Among the 43 most common disorders, the English cocker spaniel had a higher risk of developing 21 conditions compared with a lower risk of 11 conditions. The results suggest different and somewhat poorer overall health in the English cocker spaniel compared to other breeds.

Ear discharge was at the highest risk in English cocker spaniels, with the breed almost 15 times more likely to have the condition. This may be linked to the pendulous ear flaps typical of the breed and favoured by the general public but may predispose these dogs to ear infections. Other disorders with the high risk in English cocker spaniels included keratoconjunctivitis sicca (x7.6 times risk), musculoskeletal pain (x7.1) and subcutaneous mass (x4.9).

Allergy and atopic dermatitis were at the lowest risk in English cocker spaniels, with the breed being seven times less likely to develop these conditions. Other disorders with a lower risk were alopecia (x-2.9), pododermatitis (x-2.9) and retained deciduous tooth (x-2.9).

Hopefully, these results can support breeding organisations to establish key priorities and outline the health-based reforms to protect the welfare of the English cocker spaniel. They may also help owners decide which breed to get and how to look after the already owned breed.

Dr Karolina Engdahl, epidemiologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and lead author of the paper, said: “This study helps to increase the awareness of health issues in the English cocker spaniel by reporting conditions the breed is especially prone to develop. Based on the results, we recommend that the owners keep an extra eye out for ear and eye disorders and masses in or just under the skin and in the mammary glands.”

Dr Dan O’Neill, associate professor in companion animal epidemiology at the RVC and co-author of the paper, said: “The cockapoo is now the UK’s second most popular dog breed acquired as a puppy. Given that the cockapoo was invented by crossing the English cocker spaniel and the poodle, prospective cockapoo owners should be aware of potentially higher risks of ear and eye problems that may be carried over from the English cocker spaniel to this new breed. This may be a particular problem for those cockapoos that retain the pendulous ears and loose facial skin typical of their English cocker spaniel parent.”

Bill Lambert, health, welfare and breeding services executive at The Kennel Club, said: “We’re pleased that this study indicates that cocker spaniels don’t appear to suffer from a high prevalence of specific diseases, other than those that appear fairly common for all dogs. 

“It does, however, remain crucial that puppy buyers do thorough research regarding health and go to a responsible breeder; this plays an important part in improving the health and welfare of all breeds, now and in future generations. We also continue to urge breeders to use the resources and tools available to them to improve and protect dog health.”

This paper included research work from 10 undergraduate veterinary students, showing how VetCompass is now opening up the research opportunities for non-traditional sectors to get involved in active research.


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