As with any popular breed of dog, a number of hereditary conditions are occasionally seen in the Cocker Spaniel. The Cocker Spaniel Club has been monitoring the health of the breed for many years to ensure the incidence of these conditions is kept as low as possible.
A Health Questionnaire is available on the Cocker Spaniel Breed Council's Website HERE for owners to report health conditions in their dogs (in the strictest confidence). By identifying any ongoing or prevalent problems in our breed, it is hoped
that action can be taken to prevent these becoming common-place by instigating
interest and research into those conditions.
PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) is an inherited eye disease found in many breeds of dogs with varying ages of onset. There are various types of PRA but the one most commonly seen in Cockers is GPRA (General Progressive Retinal Atrophy) also known as prcd-PRA. This results in night blindness gradually leading to total blindness. In Cockers, PRA has a variable age of onset, from as early as 18 months to as late as 7 years. It is inherited as a simple Autosomal Recessive gene, meaning that a copy of the PRA gene must be inherited from both parents for the disease to occur. With recessive conditions like PRA, there are 3 genetic categories, affected, normal and carriers. Affected animals have two copies of the faulty PRA gene, one inherited from each parent. Carrier animals have one faulty copy of the PRA gene but appear perfectly healthy and cannot be distinguished from normal dogs by eye screening. Normal animals are entirely free of the faulty gene. The difficulty was that until recent years breeders had no way of identifying which category their breeding stock fell into as the only screening test available in the UK (eye testing by a BVA Panellist) could only determine if a dog was clinically clear of the disease at the time of testing. It could not determine whether the dog was a carrier or whether the dog would go on to develop the disease at some time in the future. For some time, a marker gene test for prcd-PRA had been available from the American company, Optigen which gave a good indication of the status of dogs tested. Optigen then identified the mutation gene which causes prcd-PRA in English Cockers and this test is now available to breeders in the UK & Europe as well as in the US, enabling breeders to identify whether their dogs are genetically clear, carriers or affected with the disease. Information on the test & instructions for sending blood samples to Optigen can be found at www.optigen.com.
Dogs which have been prcd_PRA DNA tested as either Carriers or Affecteds should only be mated to dogs which have been DNA tested as Clear/Normal to avoid producing affected progeny. More information on breeding strategies for the prcd_PRA test can be found HERE
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 currently available.
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 as part of the BVA/KC eye testing scheme (the gonioscopy is a one-off test in Cockers and does not need to be done annually). At the moment, the mode of inheritance of this disease is not known and there is no DNA test available.
It is advised that all breeders should annually eye test their breeding stock under the KC/BVA scheme and make use of the available DNA test to identify carriers and affected dogs prior to breeding. Information on the clinical eye testing scheme as well as a list of BVA Eye Panellists can be found at http://www.bva.co.uk/about/canine.html Details of Cockers which have been tested clinically clear & those which have been found to be afflicted with GPRA are published in the annual Welfare Report published by The Cocker Club. Since 2006, the Welfare Report also includes details of Optigen test results. In addition, the Kennel Club now publish a list of Optigen tested Cockers, where results have been submitted for publication either by the owner or directly by Optigen (since August 2008): http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/item/1969
Other eye conditions are also occasionally seen in Cockers such as cataracts, persistent pupillary membrane, distichiasis (extra eye lashes), entropion (ingrowing eyelids) and ectropion (sagging, loose eyelids)
Familial Nephropathy (FN), a fatal kidney disease in young Cockers, was unfortunately quite prevalent in the breed in the 1980's until research instigated by The Cocker Spaniel Club established that this was a hereditary condition with a simple recessive mode of inheritance (as with PRA). A Control Scheme was set up by The Cocker Club in the mid 1980's under which, all dogs & bitches known to have produced confirmed cases of FN were withdrawn from breeding and details of these carrier animals were published & made available to members & other breeders so that sensible decisions could be made in the selection of breeding stock. The success of this Control Scheme can be demonstrated by the fact that in recent years, only a small number of confirmed cases have been reported. Research has been carried out in the US to develop a gene test which identifies carriers of this disease. More info on this research can be found on the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America's website at http://www.ecsca.org. Optigen can offer the FN gene test to European breeders but only if they have already submitted samples for prcd-PRA testing to Optigen prior to December 2006 (they are unable to accept new samples from breeders outside North America under the terms of their licence). The French company, Antagene, has the European licence to offer the FN test and has done so since February 5th 2007. More details can be found at http://www.antagene.com/
The Kennel Club now publish a list Cockers DNA tested for FN (where results have been submitted for publication by the owner): http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/item/1970. Dogs which have been DNA tested as Carriers of this disease should only be mated to dogs which have been tested as Clear/Normal to avoid producing affected puppies.
An explanatory leaflet on FN is available from the Defects Co-ordinator, Mrs Lester. Email: email@example.com
Hip Dysplasia (abnormal development of the hip joint) is generally associated with bigger breeds of dog but it can be found in any breed, including Cockers. It can cause lameness & pain in severe cases or produce no noticeable symptoms in minor cases. HD does not have a simple pattern of inheritance (it is a polygenic condition meaning it is controlled by several different genes) and whether an animal will develop HD is also influenced by external factors such as diet and exercise. At present, the incidence of HD in the breed is being monitored to determine if there is a problem. A relatively small number (in comparison to the total number of annual registrations) of Cockers in the UK have been hip-scored to date producing a current breed average score of 14. More information on the Kennel Club/BVA Hip Scoring scheme can be found at http://www.bva.co.uk/about/canine.html
Auto-Immune Disease is an umbrella name and covers different immune-mediated diseases of the dog, such as Addisons Disease, Hypothyroidism, Haemolytic Anaemia and others.
Auto-immune problems appear in all the dog population pure bred and otherwise, although some breeds appear to be predisposed to certain conditions. Cockers & Springers have been linked to Haemolytic Anaemia, although research so far does not indicate that the problem is inherited. It seems that environment, age and sex play an important role in an animal developing an auto-immune condition. Research is continuing & The Cocker Club will carry on monitoring the situation.
As a result of studies at the Queen's Veterinary School, University of Cambridge, it has been found that some Cocker spaniels suffer from an unusual form of chronic pancreatitis. This results in bouts of sickness, diarrhoea and abdominal pain and, in some dogs, the development of diabetes mellitus. Clinical details and blood samples from affected dogs are being collected by Penny Watson at Cambridge to help with further genetic studies and find a better diagnostic test. It is hoped that the results of these studies will help in the diagnosis and treatment of this condition in Cocker spaniels in the future.Information Sheet on Pancreatitis (PDF file)
If you have a Cocker Spaniel who has been diagnosed with the condition and currently being medicated and would like to help in the research, we would be grateful if you would complete the questionnaire part of the form by copying and pasting the questions and replies into an email and sending them to either Penny Watson at Cambridge or Sandy Platt, KC Breed Health Coordinator.
MAMMARY TUMOURS RESEARCH
The Oncology Research Group at the Animal Health Trust is a member of a consortium of European research groups being funded by the European Union to try and identify the genetic aberrations that make certain pedigree dog breeds susceptible to developing particular diseases. In the case of Cocker Spaniels, the AHT wishes to try and identify the genetic mutations associated with conferring a susceptibility to developing mammary tumours. The leaflet through which the AHT are initially attempting to enlist the help of breeders and owners to collect samples can be downloaded by clicking on the link below :-
In the long term, the AHT hopes that research of this type will lead to the development of tests to identify dogs that carry the gene mutations conferring an increased risk, allowing breeders to take this into consideration in their breeding programmes. A realistic objective would be to attempt to reduce the incidence of dogs affected with mammary tumours. Identification of ‘mammary tumour susceptibility genes’ will also improve our understanding of how these tumours develop, thereby ultimately assisting the development of new therapies.
In order to perform these studies the AHT needs to collect samples from large numbers of Cocker Spaniels that have a mammary tumour(s) (or have had a tumour), and dogs (at least 7 years old) that do not have cancer. A sample can either be a cheek swab, or preferably a small volume of blood, surplus to that collected by a vet as part of a general health check, or for another medical reason.
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