Breed Function: Companion, spaniel field trials, bird flushing and retrieving
Also known as: Cockers
Life span: 10 to 11 years
Average Size: 14.5 to 15.5 inches (males) and 13.5 to 14.5 inches (females)
Average Weight: 24 to 28 pounds (males and females)
Origin: United States (1800s)
Common Health Issues:
- Corneal Dystrophy
- Hip Dysplasia
- Otitis Externa
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy
- Factor X Deficiency
- Hemolytic Anemia
American Cocker Spaniel Breed Origin
The name “cocker” comes from the word “woodcock,” a type of game bird that this dog was particularly good at retrieving. On the other hand, the name “spaniel” is derived from Spain, the country where this type of dog originated.
The Spaniel family is an ancient family of dogs that includes several water and land gundogs. Cocker Spaniels are the smallest members of this family. Originally, the purpose of Cocker Spaniels was bird flushing and retrieving, today, they commonly participate in field trials, and are one of the most common pet dogs in the United States.
As their names imply, American Cocker Spaniels are closely related to English Cocker Spaniels—these breeds diverged during the 20th century when the breed standards in America differed from those in the UK.
In the United States, American Cocker Spaniels are commonly referred to as simply “Cocker Spaniels”, but elsewhere in the world, the breed is known as American Cocker Spaniel, in order to differentiate it from the English version.
The first spaniel in America arrived in the Mayflower in 1620, his name was Captain and he was a liver and white dog, who was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1878. The American Cocker Spaniel Club—which later became the American Spaniel Club (ASC)—was created in 1881 with the objective of developing a breed standard to separate the Cocker Spaniel in America from other types of land spaniels, a task that was officially completed 24 years later, in 1905. The dog considered to be the father of the modern breed, Ch. Obo II, was born around this time.
By the 1920s the English and American varieties of Cocker Spaniels had become noticeably different, and in 1946 the AKC recognized the English Cocker Spaniel as a different breed. But it was until 1970, that the Kennel Club in the UK recognized the American Cocker Spaniel as being separate from the English type.
American Cocker Spaniel Physical Characteristics
- Size. According to the AKC, the American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest sporting dog. On average, males are 14.5 to 15.5 inches tall, while females usually measure 13. 5 to 14.5 inches. The breed standard states that size over 15.5 inches’ inches for males and over 14.5 inches for females, leads a disqualification at conformation shows.
- Gait. Cocker Spaniels have a typical sporting dog gait. The AKC mentions that Cockers drive with strong, powerful rear quarters and are properly constructed in the shoulders and forelegs so that they can reach forward without constriction in a full stride to counterbalance the driving force from the rear.
- Hair Coat. The coat of the American Cocker is silky, and it is usually either flat or slightly wavy. The hair on the head is short and fine, while the body has a medium-length coat. The AKC recognizes thirteen different colors and two marking patterns in American Cocker Spaniels. Solid colors include black, light cream and dark red. Parti-colors (two or more solid colors) include black and white, red and white and brown and white.
- Head. American Cocker Spaniels have a unique and recognizable head, with a rounded skull dome, a well-pronounced stop, and a square shaped lip. The drop ears are long, with long silky fur. The nose has well-developed nostrils and it can be black or brown depending on the dog color. Their teeth are strong, meeting in a scissors bite.
- Eyes. The eyes of American Cockers are dark, large, and rounded. The shape of the eye rims gives a slightly almond shaped appearance.
- Neck. The AKC mentions that the neck should be long enough to allow the dog to reach the ground easily, and it should flow smoothly into the shoulders.
- Tail. The AKC states that the tail of American Cocker Spaniels should be docked. However, Pet Insurance U, as well as many veterinary medicine professionals, strongly oppose to performing cosmetic surgical procedures in animals. The American Veterinary Association (AVMA) states that “performing a surgical procedure for cosmetic purposes implies the procedure is not medically indicated…there is no obvious benefit to our patients in performing this procedure…the only benefit that appears to be derived from cosmetic tail docking of dogs is the owner’s impression of a pleasing appearance”. You can read more about the welfare implication of tail docking here.
- Legs. The American Cocker Spaniel is a compact and sturdy breed with straight, muscular front legs and strong bones. The hindquarters feature wide hips and muscular thighs. The large yet compact feet are round and firm with thick pads.
Difference Between American and English Cocker Spaniels
American Cockers have rounder eyes, a domed skull, shorter muzzle and more clearly pronounced eyebrows than the English Cockers, whose head is more setter-like.
The roan colors are less common in the American variety than in the English, and the shade of buff which is common in the American Cocker is not seen in the English breed. The English breed is also slightly larger, with a height of 14.5 to 15.5 inches.
To read more about the American Cocker Spaniel’s breed standard, download the Official Standard of the American Cocker Spaniel by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
American Cocker Spaniel Common Health Concerns
According to surveys performed in the US, UK, and Canada, American Cocker Spaniels have a median lifespan of 10 to 11 years, which is one to two years less than other breeds of their size. English Cocker Spaniels typically live about a year longer than American Cocker Spaniels.
The Cocker Spaniel-Comprehensive Breed Health Survey from the American Spaniel Club Foundation (2003), found that the leading causes of death in this breed were cancer, hepatic disease, and immune-mediated diseases. A similar survey conducted by the UK Kennel Club found that the most common causes of death were cancer, old age, cardiac disease, and immune-mediated diseases.
American Cocker Spaniels are susceptible to a variety of illnesses, particularly those affecting their ears and eyes, such as otitis externa, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), glaucoma and cataracts. The American Spaniel Club recommends annual eye exams by a veterinary ophthalmologist for dogs that will used for breeding.
Autoimmune problems such as autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) and lymphocytic thyroiditis have also been identified in American Cocker Spaniels. Patellar luxation, hip and elbow dysplasia, and other diseases have been identified in some members of the breed.
American Cockers were the most popular dog breed in the United States from 1984 to 1990, and they are still one of the most common pet dogs in many countries. Unfortunately, this high popularity has led to indiscriminate breeding, which has increased the proliferation of breed related health issues. The Guide to Congenital and Heritable Disorders in Dogs published by the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association mentions several genetic diseases in this breed.
Common Diseases in American Cocker Spaniels
Selective breeding has left both the English and American varieties prone to a number of medical problems:
- Cancer. American Cocker Spaniels can suffer from many of the same types of cancers that humans get. Dogs are the only non-human species susceptible to prostate cancer, and dogs are also at risk for bladder cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, mammary carcinoma, skin cancer, bone cancer, testicular cancer, brain and mast cell tumors, and hemangiosarcoma. Most of the dogs who suffer from cancer need chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgery depending on cancer’s type and severity. American Cockers have genetic predisposition to develop the following types of tumors:
- Apocrine Gland Tumor. A type of cancer arising from glands that secrete fluids (such as mammary glands).
- Basal Cell Tumor. A type of cancer arising from a type of skin cell.
- Lymphosarcoma. A cancerous condition involving the lymphatic system. One of the more common canine cancers.
- Melanoma. A rare type of cancer developing from the type of skin cell that produces pigment (melanin).
- Sebaceous Gland Tumor. A tumor arising from sebaceous glands of the skin.
- Skin Neoplasms. Any number of tumors arising from cells of the skin.
- Cataracts. Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, resulting in blurry vision. Smaller cataracts are not likely to affect a dog’s vision, but even the small ones must be regularly monitored to prevent blindness. Old age, disease, and eye trauma can cause cataracts, although they most commonly stem from inherited conditions. American Cocker Spaniels can develop cataracts with microphthalmia, a condition where a dog has cataracts along with abnormally small eyes. In many cases, surgery can restore vision loss due to cataracts, and many dog insurance plans cover up to 100 percent of the cost of cataract surgery.
- Corneal Dystrophy. An abnormality of the cornea usually characterized by shallow pits in the surface. This inherited condition affects the cornea of both eyes, potentially resulting in vision loss. Three different types of corneal dystrophy can affect the cornea in different ways, at different times, during a dog’s life. Signs of corneal dystrophy include gray or white rings on cornea, clouding, opacity and swelling of the cornea.
- Glaucoma. This is an ocular condition caused by the increase of the pressure inside the eye. It is a frequent cause of blindness in both humans and animals. The fluid that fills the eyes keeps the eye pressure; this fluid is constantly moving in order to keep a balance. If there is an increased amount of this fluid inside the eye, the pressure increases and glaucoma develops. This increased pressure causes pain and it can damage internal structures of the eyes, leading to blindness.
- Hip Dysplasia. Canine hip dysplasia is an inherited issue that stems from an abnormal looseness in the ball and socket joint of the dog’s hip. When the femoral head doesn’t fit snugly into the socket or acetabulum, the components rub irregularly on each other and can eventually cause a deformation of the bone, resulting in pain and arthritis. Depending on the severity of the condition and the age of your Cocker, treatment options can range from exercise and weight reduction to extensive hip replacement surgery.
- Otitis Externa. The long, floppy ears of Cocker spaniels impede the circulation of air and give rise to conditions that support the growth of bacteria and other parasites. Owners need to give careful, daily attention to Cockers’ ears, in order to keep them clean and treat any infections immediately. Dogs with ear problems scratch and shake their heads and may emit a foul odor. Treatment involves deep cleaning of the infected area and administration of antibiotics.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). This disease occurs when the cells of a dog’s retinas degenerate. A gene mutation is responsible for the problem. It is, therefore, imperative to know the breeding history before acquiring a puppy in order to ensure that none of its ancestors has gone blind. There is no treatment for PRA, but affected dogs can almost always live full lives if kept indoors.
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy. This condition can lead to an enlargement of the right side of the heart, reduced capabilities to pump blood out to the rest of the body, and congestive heart failure. In American Cocker Spaniels, DCM is often associated with carnitine deficiency, which causes reduced contraction and relaxation of cells, especially heart muscle. Treat of DCM is aimed at regulating the heartbeat and reducing the risk of sudden cardiac death.
- Factor X Deficiency. A rare clotting disorder primarily of American cocker spaniels.
- Hemolytic Anemia. Anemia caused by the destruction of the red blood cells by an autoimmune process. It is particularly common along with thrombocytopenia in American Cocker Spaniels and Old English Sheepdogs. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is often referred to as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). The goal of treatment is to prevent additional red blood cell destruction through the use of immunosuppressant medications and steroids.
- Hypothyroidism. A very common endocrine disease where the body produces an abnormally low amount of thyroid hormones. It can be associated with keratoconjunctivitis sicca—also called “dry eye”. American Cockers can also be affected by lymphocytic thyroiditis an autoimmune disease causing inflammation and destruction of the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroidism.
|Avg. Treatment Cost|
|Cancer||High||$5,150 to $20,000|
|Cataracts||High||$3507 to $3784|
|Corneal dystrophy||High||$2,200 to $3,050 per eye|
|Glaucoma||High||$75 to $1,500|
|Hip dysplasia||Medium||$4,025 to $6,050|
|Otitis externa||High||$225 to $4,325|
|Progressive Retinal Atrophy||High||$166.00 to $2000.00|
|Dilated Cardiomyopathy||Medium||$450 to $1,100|
|Factor X deficiency||Medium||$250 to $2000|
|Hemolytic anemia||High||$975 to $5,050|
|Hypothyroidism||Medium||$30 to $60 per month throughout your dog’s life|
Other Congenital & Heritable Conditions in Cocker Spaniels
- Lens Luxation
- Cleft Lip
- Copper storage abnormality in liver
- Atopic Dermatitis
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Factor VIII deficiency or hemophilia A
You can learn more about this is other genetic diseases in American Cockers Spaniels and other breeds on the Guide to Congenital and Heritable Disorders in Dogs published by The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.
The American Cocker Spaniel has a sweet temperament. These affectionate and cuddly dogs, love to participate in family activates. They are active, alert, playful, and they enjoy any type exercise from a leisure walk or playing with a tennis ball to field hunting.
Cockers are known for being sensitive dogs, both mentally and physically. They do not respond well to harsh treatment—when they are scared they may become aggressive or show an unstable temperament. They need to be handled carefully and kindly to bring out the best in their personalities.
American Cocker Spaniels need a great amount of companionship and do not like being left alone for long periods of time. They have a tendency to suffer from separation anxiety, which is characterized by destructive behaviors chewing and barking.
Cocker Spaniel’s are very smart, easy to train dogs. They thrive on human leadership and need to feel that they are part of the family. American Cockers should be socialized and trained as early as possible. They are nervous and, sometimes, anxious dogs, so they can become destructive if not trained appropriately.
It is a good idea to train Cocker puppies to heel on the leash so that they do not bolt out doorways and gateways before their masters, this will teach them who is the pack leader. American Cockers need a great amount of mental and physical stimulation, and if left alone for long periods of time, they can develop separation anxiety.
American Cocker Spaniels have an abundant hair coat, which requires frequent grooming. In addition to regular baths and brushing, grooming this breed involves checking their ears, eyes, claws, and teeth. The AKC recommends grooming your Cocker Spaniel weekly to keep his/her coat clean, shining and manageable and, more importantly, to maintain good health.
A regular grooming schedule allows us to detect any skin abnormality, fleas, and ticks, ear infections among other health problems. It is important to start grooming American Cocker Spaniels at an early age, this breed tends to be very nervous, so they should get used to these procedures as early as possible. Grooming is also an excellent opportunity to bond with your Cocker and to reinforce your leader position.
Bathing frequency depends on your Cocker’s lifestyle. Very active dogs or dogs that spend too much time outside need more frequent baths. American Cockers are susceptible to allergies and other skin problems, so you might need a medicated shampoo. Ask your veterinarian about the best shampoo for your dog. Since this breed has abundant hair, you can dilute your shampoo before application and this will help you achieve an even application. Always dry your dog’s hair coat thoroughly, paying special attention to the ears, because humidity can lead to ear infections.
American Cocker Spaniel’s ears need frequent inspection and cleaning. You should inspect your dog’s ears at least once a week and look for accumulation of debris and the presence of bad odors—these could indicate an ear infection. To clean your Cocker’s ear, you can use any commercially available ear cleaning solution or baby oil. Lift your dog’s ear and clean the visible part with a cotton ball and solution or oil. You should never introduce cotton swabs on the ear canal.
Energy & Exercise
Training is definitely necessary for hunting breeds such as the American Cocker Spaniel. The working heritage of Cockers means that they are active dogs. This breed needs a great amount of physical and mental stimulation to stay healthy and happy. When not exercised properly, Cockers can become anxious and destructive.
In order to meet their exercise needs, you can take your American Cocker on daily walks, jogs or runs. Remember to keep your dog walking beside or behind you, that way your Cocker will learn that you are the pack leader. If possible, teach your Cocker to do a job around the house, for example, you can teach him/her to bring you the newspaper every morning.
Having daily chores will keep your Cocker busy and it will prevent him/her from becoming anxious or developing destructive behaviors. In order to prevent obesity, it is important to feed your Cocker according to his/her physical activity level.
Nutrition & Feeding
Your best options for feeding your American Cocker Spaniel are commercial dry food (kibble) or canned food, and homemade meals. There are several types of commercial dog foods—how should you choose the best one for your Cocker? You should consider your dog’s size, age, and activity level. It is important to understand that dogs, just like us, need a nutritionally balanced meal with an appropriate amount of calories.
Dog food contains a combination of ingredients, including meat, grains, vitamins, minerals, fats, and byproducts. This combination is balanced to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs. If you prefer to feed your American Cocker a homemade meal, you should make sure it is nutritionally balanced.
Dr. Paula Terifaj from Founders Veterinary Clinic in California has developed a nutritionally balanced homemade dog recipe that you can use to feed your dog. You may also want to consult your dog’s veterinarian before you start feeding your Cocker with homemade meals.
American Cocker Spaniel Pet Insurance
American Cocker Spaniels have an average lifespan of 10 to 11 years. Unfortunately, indiscriminate breeding has made the American Cocker Spaniel one of the dog breeds with more health issues.
This breed is susceptible to various congenital and hereditary conditions such as cancer, hip dysplasia, cataracts, corneal dystrophy, and glaucoma. There is no way to know for certain if your Cocker will suffer from any of these illnesses, but the possibility is always there, and every dog will require special care as it gets older. The right pet health insurance plan can help keep you from the added burden of financial worries when your dog requires medical care.
The first step to a healthy and happy Cocker Spaniel is finding a reputable breeder who can provide genetically fit puppies. The second step is to train your dog well and give it plenty of healthy food, exercise, and love. For many owners, the third step is to purchase a pet health care plan that helps to keep vet bills predictable and to ensure that you can focus on helping a sick dog to recover rather than worrying about the cost of treatment.
When choosing your pet insurance plan, it is a good idea to check if it covers the hereditary conditions mentioned above. Taking this precaution can save you lots of money and headaches.
The following pet insurance companies allow you to choose a plan that covers hereditary or breed-specific conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, and cataracts.
- Embrace Pet Insurance
- Trupanion Medical Insurance for Your Pet
- Pet Plan Pet Insurance
- Healthy Paws Pet Insurance & Foundation
Need help to choose the right pet insurance for your American Cocker Spaniel? Take a look at our Pet Insurance comparison chart.
Is An American Cocker Spaniel Right For You?
An American Cocker Spaniel may be right for you if you want…
- a small/medium sized dog
- a dog with a beautiful hair coat
- a dog that is peaceful with other pets
- an energetic, smart and easy to train dog
- a sociable dog that is good with kids
- a dog to take out for daily walks or runs
- a playful dog
- a service dog
An American Cocker Spaniel may NOT be right for you if…
- don’t want to spend a considerable amount of time and money to groom your dog
- you spend long hours working outside of your home
- you do not have time to take him/her out for daily walks
- you want a lap dog who does not need lots of physical activity
- you do not want to deal with potential congenital health problems
For other types of dogs, check out our full list of dog breeds.