Most purebred dogs have a genetic predisposition for a specific disease. The genes that makes them all so alike also pass on inherited problems. Responsible cocker spaniel breeders and aficionados are well aware that cockers are susceptible to eye problems and are working to eradicate these problems.
When considering a puppy, be sure to ask about the parents and if they had any problems with cataracts as they aged. Cataracts are caused by the lens becoming increasingly opaque over time until the entire lens is covered with a gray, cloudy film. When this happens, corrective surgery is necessary to repair the damage. Just don't make your dog go around wearing those oversized sunglasses or he will be bullied by the other dogs in the 'hood. Cataracts are a common aging problem in many breeds of dog (as well as people). Cocker spaniels, unfortunately, are among the breeds with a higher incidence of cataracts.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
PRA is not an actual disease, but refers to a collection of diseases of the retina. Its onset can be as early as 18 months of age and is almost hardly ever noticed by the owner until symptoms begin to appear. It's not painful, and it sometimes takes years for the condition to progress to the point where it actually affects vision. The first thing you'll notice is the dog's hesitancy to go out at night as night blindness is one of the early symptoms of PRA. If your dog seems to be a little nervous about going out at night, don't assume an uptick in nighttime neighborhood crime, have your dog's eyes tested.
Prolapsed Third Eyelid Gland (PTEG)
PTEG, also called "cherry eye," is a common eye disorder among cockers and can be repaired surgically with a little nip and tuck. Earlier treatment involved surgery to remove the third eyelid, which is turned inside-out. However, because of the decrease in tear production upon removal of the third eyelid, ophthalmologists now simply tuck the eyelid back into place where the function is restored. It is not painful, but it is unsightly and, if left untreated, can lead to inflammation and infection. Hey, everyone needs a little cosmetic surgery now and then, so there's no shame.
Some people are a little squeamish about discussing the eyeball, but it helps to have an understanding of basic eye anatomy to understand glaucoma fully, which is a disease that many people suffer as well as geriatric dogs.
The inside of the eyeball contains a clear fluid, called aqueous humor, which helps to hold the shape of the eye. It is not the same substance as tears, which are outside the eye and help lubricate it. This fluid is inside the eye and responsible for maintaining the proper pressure, so that the somewhat circular shape is retained. Aqueous fluid drains out of the eye and into the bloodstream when necessary. Glaucoma happens when the "drain" the aqueous uses becomes a little clogged. This increases the pressure in the eye. Glaucoma can be inherited or it can be a secondary problem to other eye diseases. It is painful for your pooch and can cause vision loss if not treated with medication or surgical intervention.
Dry Eye and Infections
When people have dry eye, it's relatively simple to put a few drops in their eyes and carry on without much of a hitch. Cockers sometimes get dry eye too, but can't jog over to the drugstore for a little plastic bottle of artificial tears.
Dry eye, a problem with inadequate tear production, is evidenced by rubbing of the eyes, redness, corneal ulcers, lethargy and a yellow discharge. It causes a number of chronic eye infections and problems, and is very painful. Other eye disorders common to cocker spaniels include bacterial infections, such as conjunctivitis, and inflammation caused by hairs inside and around the dog's eyelids growing in such a way as to aggravate the eye. Tumors, or cancer, also affect cocker spaniels at a higher rate than other dogs. Don't despair, though, as many of these maladies can be treated with good results.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.