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Health Concerns in English Cockers & Health Testing

Today, reputable English Cocker Spaniels breeders perform extensive health tests on both breeding males and females.  Some of these tests involve veterinary x-rays or collection, shipment and evaluation of blood samples. The evaluations of x-rays or the administration of DNA blood tests are not inexpensive given current exchange rates (the majority of tests are performed in the US):

OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals): Hips, Patellas, Thyroid, Adult Onset Neuropathy

OPTIGEN: DNA tests for PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) and FN (Familial Nephropathy)

BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response): hearing tests

CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation):  Annual veterinary ophthalmologist checks for eye disease.

We are seeing an increased concern about auto immune issues in our breed. Auto immune issues can manifest through such issues as ITP, IMHA, or Addison’s disease.

  • Autoimmune disease develops in dogs when their immune system destroys normal healthy cells in the body. Immune thrombocytopenia (ITP) is a serious bleeding disorder that results from immune destruction of platelets, small blood cells that play a critical role in preventing bruising and bleeding after injury.
  • Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, or IMHA, is a common autoimmune disease in dogs in which the body’s immune system attacks its own red blood cells. Red blood cells are critical for transporting oxygen. Many dogs affected by IMHA require extensive hospitalization and blood transfusions, and often have fatal disease-related complications.
  • Addison’s disease is a common and life-threatening disorder in dogs in which the body’s immune system destroys the outer layer of the adrenal glands.  The adrenal glands produce hormones that are critical for energy metabolism, immune system function, intestinal health, and kidney function.

In 2016, the US parent breed club undertook to support an intensive study of these problems at various universities in the United States, such as Cornell University, University of Minnesota Veterinary College and others.  All breeders, past or present support these efforts.

Autoimmune issues can also manifest themselves through thyroid issues such as thyroiditis or reduced thyroid function.

We don’t have to wait for a test to evaluate thyroid functionality; we already have the OFA thyroid test available.  Sadly many breeders do not yet avail themselves of it or don’t believe there is an issue.

The OFA Thyroid test is not cheap.  Currently only four or five laboratories in North America perform the detailed tests for OFA thyroid certification. We performed the OFA Thyroid testing on 6 of our dogs that have been used in our breeding program.  Olivia, TUX, Rosalind, Crosby, Dorothy and Whitney all tested as Normal.

My philosophy of health testing was always that if there was a genetic test approved by the US parent breed club, then I did the test.

I confess to getting increasingly grumpy with my fellow breeders who did not perform the full suite of health testing or who blithely informed me that they didn’t have these problems in their lines and therefore didn’t have to do the health testing. My question was always “If you didn’t do the tests, how did you know your dogs were OK?”

You can access the most current information about health issues via the US breed club at: