English Cocker Spaniel

Teresa Kho-Pelfrey, DVM
By Teresa Kho-Pelfrey, DVM on Oct. 17, 2022
buff English Cocker Spaniel dog sitting on a hiking trail

In This Article

General Care

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The English Cocker Spaniel is often described as “merry” because of his charming and happy personality. The dogs are popular across the world because of their hunting abilities and will work tirelessly to retrieve game birds. Their eager-to-please nature in the field is carried into the home as well, making them wonderful companions.

Caring for an English Cocker Spaniel

Standing between 15-17 inches, the English Cocker Spaniel is a compact sporting dog. They have characteristically long, furry ears and a medium-length silky coat that can be seen in 18 standard colors for the breed. The body shape is balanced and compact, which allows them to be both sturdy and agile.

Similar to other spaniel breeds, English Cocker Spaniels have the famously lush, floppy ears that can predispose them to ear infections. Additionally, their long coats can predispose them to skin infections if not properly groomed and maintained.

English Cocker Spaniel Health Issues

Like most other dog breeds, English Cocker Spaniels are more susceptible to certain health conditions.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a group of degenerative diseases that affect the retina, eventually causing blindness. PRA is an inherited disease that affects English Cocker Spaniels as a result of both parents carrying the gene, even though they may not show signs of it themselves. While this disease cannot be prevented or treated, there is a DNA test that can screen for the defective gene in potential carriers.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a condition where the ball and socket of the hip joint do not fit properly. This causes rubbing and grinding of the bones, which over time results in deterioration of the joint and loss of function. Hip dysplasia is often a hereditary condition affecting English Cocker Spaniels. It can be exacerbated by contributing factors such as exercise habits, weight, and nutrition.

Familial Nephropathy

Familial nephropathy is caused by a genetic defect within the kidney that leads to its inability to filter properly, causing blood proteins to leak through into the urine. The defect can also lead to other kidney damage, which is progressive and ultimately fatal. English Cocker Spaniels are affected by this condition when both parents carry the genetic defect for it. Clinical signs that pet parents should monitor for are excessive water consumption, excessive urination, decreased growth rate, weight loss, decreased appetite, and vomiting.

Adult-Onset Neuropathy

This is a neurological disorder that causes weakness of the hind limbs, eventually progressing to weakness in the front limbs. This typically occurs over a three- to four-year period and is often first recognized in adult dogs 7-9 years old. Adult-onset neuropathy is an inherited condition;  English Cocker Spaniels are affected when both parents carry the genetic defect. Pet parents should monitor for signs of weakness or lack of coordination in the hind limbs, which may be the first sign of the disease.

Ear Infections (Otitis)

Otitis, or inflammation of the ear, can be localized to the outer ear (otitis externa), the middle ear (otitis media) or the inner ear (otitis interna). In dogs, these infections are usually associated with an infection of bacteria or yeast, which occurs secondarily to an underlying disease. English Cocker Spaniels are predisposed to otitis because of their floppy ears—moisture is easily trapped in the canal, making it a favorable place for bacteria and yeast to thrive. Regular ear cleaning, especially following a bath or swimming, will help prevent these infections.

Skin Infections

Pyoderma, or skin infections, can occur when dogs with long coats are not groomed appropriately. Their long hair can become tangled and form tight mats on the skin that trap moisture and bacteria, causing an infection. Routine brushing and grooming can prevent skin infections due to matted fur.

Considerations for Pet Parents

An English Cocker Spaniel’s inherited conditions can be difficult to manage. However, with DNA testing widely available, screening for these conditions is easy to do with a simple blood test. It’s best to have these screening tests performed early on, as some of these conditions can affect even English Cocker Spaniel puppies.

The English Cocker Spaniel’s predisposition for developing ear infections can often lead to chronic conditions when they are not managed appropriately. Depending on how bad and often the infections occur, a total ear canal ablation (TECA) surgery might be recommended.

What To Feed an English Cocker Spaniel

Selecting the best diet for an English Cocker Spaniel comes down to the needs of the individual dog. While it’s always important to select a diet with high-quality ingredients, it’s best to discuss this with your dog’s veterinarian, as they can make recommendations based on your pup’s specific medical history.

English Cocker Spaniels that are not used as sporting dogs are often overweight, so it’s vital to maintain proper body conditioning and weight by avoiding overfeeding.

How To Feed an English Cocker Spaniel

Most English Cocker Spaniels do not require any special feeding instructions. Typically, feeding two meals (in the morning and evening) is recommended for this breed. Because they can have long, lush coats, it’s important to clean off any food that may have collected in their fur to prevent matting.

How Much To Feed an English Cocker Spaniel

It’s important to follow the feeding guide on the food bag to ensure your dog is receiving the appropriate essential daily nutrients. For an English Cocker Spaniel, based on an average weight of 26-34 pounds, this ranges from about 2 cups to 2 1/3 cups daily, divided into two meals.

Nutritional Tips for English Cocker Spaniel

For an English Cocker Spaniel involved in sporting activities, you can supplement them with glucosamine and chondroitin to help keep their joints healthy. Additionally, omega-3 supplements can aid in protecting joint health—and help keep their skin and coat lush and soft.

Behavior and Training Tips for English Cocker Spaniels

English Cocker Spaniel Personality and Temperament

Because the English Cocker Spaniel is an active sporting breed, daily exercise is important to maintain their physical and mental health. They typically enjoy playing with toys, fetching a ball, or walking with their pet parents as forms of exercise.

English Cocker Spaniel Behavior

This breed tends to have an easygoing and friendly attitude with people and other animals. English Cocker Spaniels do have high hunting instincts, so it’s best to keep them within a fenced yard or on leash for walks so they don’t chase after neighborhood squirrels.

English Cocker Spaniel Training

The English Cocker Spaniel is a dog that wants to please his pup parents, which means they’re often easily motivated by rewards of food and praise. Early training and socialization are very helpful in addressing any unwanted behaviors.

Fun Activities for English Cocker Spaniel

  • Hunting

  • Agility

  • Long walks or hiking

  • Fetching a ball or toy

  • Playing with housemates (human or dog)

English Cocker Spaniel Grooming Guide

Frequent and regular brushing is required to maintain an English Cocker Spaniel’s fairly high-maintenance hair coat. Regular brushing will also help to prevent matting and manage shedding, which occurs year-round for this breed because of their double coat.

Skin Care

Skin care for the English Cocker Spaniel can vary depending on the individual’s needs. However, the breed does not typically have sensitive skin.

Coat Care

Their long coats can be prone to matting, which can cause skin infections if not cared for properly. Frequent brushing is important to prevent matted fur. When bathing, it’s important to thoroughly rinse the hair, as soap residue left on the skin can cause irritation. After bathing, dry the hair completely with a low-heat dryer—this prevents lingering moisture in the hair and skin, which can cause infections and matting.

Eye Care

Routine cleaning with a soft, damp cloth will help prevent tear stains from building up around the eyes.

Ear Care

Routine cleaning with a veterinary-approved ear cleaner is vital in maintaining healthy ear canals. This should also be done any time an English Cocker Spaniel is in water, such as after swimming or bathing.

English Cocker Spaniel FAQs

Is an English Cocker Spaniel a good family dog?

The “merry” personality of the English Cocker Spaniel makes this breed a wonderful family dog that does well with people of all ages.

Are English Cocker Spaniels smart dogs?

English Cocker Spaniels are intelligent dogs. This makes them a fun and easy breed to train, especially for activities such as sporting.

Are English Cocker Spaniels lazy dogs?

English Cocker Spaniels were bred as birding dogs and tend to have higher energy levels. While they love exercise and activity, they do also enjoy spending time with their people and cuddle next to them on the couch.

What is the difference between an American Cocker Spaniel and English Cocker Spaniel?

American and English Cocker Spaniels are so similar that many people aren’t aware that there are two Cocker Spaniel breeds. However, there are some subtle differences between American Cocker Spaniels versus English Cocker Spaniels.

American Cocker Spaniels are slightly longer, while English Cocker Spaniels are slightly taller. American Cocker Spaniels tend to have a denser coat as well. Facially, the American Cocker Spaniel has a slightly shorter muzzle than the English Cocker Spaniel. Both breeds are described as having a “merry” personality that makes them a cherished member of any household.

Featured Image: iStock/andriano_cz

Teresa Kho-Pelfrey, DVM


Teresa Kho-Pelfrey, DVM


Dr. Teresa Kho-Pelfrey graduated from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2015 and completed her clinical year at Purdue...

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