Published: 18 Jan 2024 | Last Updated: 18 Jan 2024 00:01:14

New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) VetCompass™ programme has found that English Cockers Spaniels have an increased risk of disorders such as ear discharge, dry eye and musculoskeletal pain, but have reduced risk of allergies, alopecia (hair loss) and osteoarthritis. This research will help vets, breeders and dog owners to 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 should screen English Cocker Spaniels for a number of health conditions including eye disorders, hip dysplasia and some additional hereditary conditions. The RVC’s VetCompass™ programme has previously published research1 describing the most common disorders in English Cocker Spaniels but this new study goes much further by comparing the risk of a range of common disorders in the breed against the risk in all remaining other types of dogs in the UK. This will help the sector to understand the welfare costs and gains from breeding and owning English Cocker Spaniels.

The study compared the risks of a range of common disorders between random samples of 2,510 English Cocker Spaniels against 7,813 dogs of all other types from a study population of 336,865 dogs under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2016.

Overall, the English Cocker Spaniel had 1.12 times the risk of having at least one disorder diagnosed annually compared to other dogs. From the 43 most common disorders across both groups of dogs, the English Cocker Spaniel had a higher risk of 21 conditions compared with a lower risk of just 11. Taken together, these suggest different and somewhat poorer overall health in the English Cocker Spaniel compared to other dogs overall.

Ear discharge was the disorder with 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 which are typical of the breed and favoured by the general public but may predispose these dogs to ear infections.

Other disorders with high risk in English Cocker Spaniels included keratoconjunctivitis sicca (x7.6 times risk; dry eye, not producing enough tears in the eyes), musculoskeletal pain (x7.1) and subcutaneous mass (x4.9; tumour).

Allergy and atopic dermatitis (itchy, dry, inflamed skin) were the conditions with the lowest risk in English Cocker Spaniels, with the breed being seven times less likely to develop these conditions. Other disorders that English Cocker Spaniels were protected from were alopecia (x-2.9), pododermatitis (x-2.9; inflammation of the paw) and retained deciduous tooth (x-2.9; baby tooth not shed). This shows the complexity of trying to understand breed health.

It is hoped that these results can support breeding organisations to establish key priorities and outline the health-based reforms needed to protect the welfare of the English Cocker Spaniel. They may also help owners when deciding which breed to get and how to look after breeds that are already owned.

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 that the breed is especially prone to develop. Based on the results, we recommend the owners to 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 Cockapoo 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:

“This research, supported by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, enables us and all those who care about the health of this much-loved breed to know and understand more about their 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. 

“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 generations to come. We also continue to urge breeders to make use of 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.

Notes to Editors


Engdahl KS, Brodbelt DC, Cameron C, Church DB, O’Neill DG (2024) “English Cocker Spaniels under primary veterinary care in the UK: disorder predispositions and protections”. Canine Genetics and Medicine.

The full paper is available from 18th January 2024 and can be accessed here: DOI: 10.1186/s40575-023-00136-x.

1Engdahl KS, Brodbelt DC, Cameron C, Church DB, Hedhammar Å, O’Neill DG. Demography and disorders of English Cocker Spaniels under primary veterinary care in the UK. Canine Medicine and Genetics. 2023;10(1):4

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About the RVC

  • The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK's largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a Member Institution of the University of London.
  • It is one of the few veterinary schools in the world that hold accreditations from the RCVS in the UK (with reciprocal recognition from the AVBC for Australasia, the VCI for Ireland and the SAVC for South Africa), the EAEVE in the EU, and the AVMA in the USA and Canada.
  • The RVC is ranked as the top veterinary school in the world in the QS World University Rankings by subject, 2023.
  • The RVC offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences.
  • The RVC is a research-led institution, with 88% of its research rated as internationally excellent or world class in the Research Excellence Framework 2021.
  • The RVC provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals and first opinion practices in London and Hertfordshire.

About the VetCompass™ Programme

VetCompass™ (The Veterinary Companion Animal Surveillance System) is an epidemiological research programme at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) which investigates anonymised clinical records from veterinary practices to generate evidence to support improved animal welfare. VetCompass shares information from more than 1,800 veterinary practices in the UK (over 30% of all UK practices) covering over 28 million companion and equine animals. To date, VetCompass™ has led to over 120 peer-reviewed publications that have supported welfare-focused work across the range of animal stakeholders including the wider general public, owners, breeders, academics, animal charities, universities and government.

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