American Cockers, as any other breed, are predisposed to certain diseases. Some of them are nowadays known to be hereditary, some are influenced by environmental factors as well, and others are not exactly considered hereditary, but there might be a genetic predisposition to the disease.
American Cocker Spaniel as a breed in Finland belongs to a program of Finnish Kennel Club to prevent inherited diseases and defects. This program is called "PEVISA". In order to get the puppies registered, the parents must have their eyes checked (tattoo or microchip obligatory) during 12 months time before the breeding. Dogs or bitches with hereditary cataracts or PRA, won't get their puppies registered. Only certain veterinarians are allowed to check the eyes "officially".
The inherited eye diseases are the most common inherited diseases affecting this breed, the most common being hereditary cataracts (HC). Not all cataracts is hereditary, and to make it more complicated, hereditary cataracts can appear in an older dog as well. The mode of inheritance is not clearly known. That all makes it very difficult and oftentimes frustrating, too, to fight against HC - even only healthy dogs are used for breeding. Cataracts does not always affect the dog's vision.
PRA, as Progressive Retinal Dysplasia is called, is always inherited, and the mode of inheritance is simply resessive. It nearly always leads to blindness. The American Cocker PRA is often found only when the dog is older (6-8 years), so it is possible that there are more cases of PRA than is diagnosed nowadays. In past years there has been only few cases of PRA in Finland.
Even though it is not obligatory to take hip x-rays before breeding (as it is in other spaniel breeds), it is widely recommended. From what we know for now, there are individuals who are affected with hip dysplasia. The development of hips as well as other joints, is also influenced by the environmental factors like food and exercise during the puppyhood. It is also common to have the stifle joints examined for slips (patellar luxation).
The Finnish Kennel Club uses the FCI hip dysplasia classification. A and B are considered normal hip joints, no signs of hip dysplasia. C is mildly dysplastic, D moderately and E severely dysplastic hip joint. Many dogs have been x-rayed both in the States and in Finland, and it strongly seems that A is about the same as OFA excellent, B as OFA good and C as OFA fair.
Patellar luxation can be classified in 4 categories (0 being healthy, no slips), 1 being the mildest and 4 the worst degree.
In addition to the hereditary diseases mentioned above, most purebred dogs have certain diseases, that are not simply inherited but are found more commonly in some breeds than others - that tells us about a genetic predisposition. In American Cockers, these include
This may sound scaring if you are new to the breed, but the truth is not quite that bad. These diseases are very rare. Unfortunately, the truth is that there are dog breeds that are healthier than some others, but there is no healthy breed. If it looks like that, it is oftentimes because of the lack of information.
OK. My breeding has been very limited if you look at the number of litters. I've tried to be honest with myself and other people as well. I've tried to plan my litters so that I can honestly recommend my puppies to my friends, and hope that they would have a happy pet for the next 10 to 15 years. Yes, I've also learned that there will be surprises. I appreciate knowing things, not hoping for the best. I'm encouraging health checks not only for the breeding stock, but also their littermates living as pets. It has happened to me more than once that I have decided not to breed the bitch, not to continue with certain line. My plans have changed and my dreams have been crushed.
I've still got the picture in my mind: pretty, healthy, happy little dog whose tail is wagging all the time. There is the goal to aim at.