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EYE CONDITIONS AND THE AMERICAN COCKER SPANIEL
As is the case in humans, almost every type of dog suffers from some form of medical condition or another. In the American Cocker Spaniel the primary weakness relates to the eyes. Responsible breeders do everything they can to minimise these ailments, but prospective owners should be aware of what they are, and of what must be done to reduce potential problems.

WHAT ARE THESE EYE CONDITIONS?
There are four conditions to which the American Cocker is susceptible. These are:
(a) Goniodysgenesis (G).This is the predisposing abnormality to primary angle-closure glaucoma. Glaucoma is not that common in the breed but when it does occur can be very painful and lead to blindness;
(b) Generalised Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA);
(c) Multifocal Retinal Dysplasia (RD);
(d) Hereditary Cataract (HC).

IS ONE CONDITION WORSE THAN ANOTHER?
Without doubt the most difficult of these four in terms of eradication from the breed is HC. All four conditions must be tested for on a regular basis using specifically qualified veterinary examiners. However, whereas G & RD can normally be identified fairly early on in life, and a test exists to indicate a predisposition towards PRA, HC can appear without warning at any age. It is this which makes HC so difficult to deal with in terms of breeding programmes. It is hoped that current DNA research will soon be able to identify affected or ‘carrier’ dogs earlier than waiting for the present conventional eye examination. HC is no respecter of colour, and can appear in just as many ‘parti’ as solid coloured dogs.

WHAT CAN BREEDERS DO TO REDUCE THE RISK?
The sound advice to breeders of American Cockers is not to breed from affected animals, their parents, siblings or progeny. It is a fact that any dog affected by HC has parents which are both carriers of the disease, or that one or both of the parents are themselves affected or may become affected. While many dogs with HC do not lose their sight completely and may live long and happy lives as pets, affected or potential ‘carrier’ dogs should be removed from any breeding programme. Testing for the conditions in the UK should be carried out at least annually by a qualified panellist of the KC/BVA/ISDS Eye Scheme. (Kennel Club/British Veterinary Association/International Sheepdog Society). Results are published quarterly in the Kennel Club Breed Records Supplement.

HOW CAN A NEW OWNER AVOID A PROBLEM?
Buy your puppy from a reputable breeder of American Cocker Spaniels, preferably one who is listed with the Kennel Club under the KC Assured Breeder Scheme. Assured Breeders will have given an undertaking to the KC on standards in breeding and husbandry, including a commitment to eye testing. If they fail in their commitment they will be removed from Assured Breeder status. Before taking on the breed, talk to someone who knows about it, possibly via one of the breed clubs. Most importantly, never ever make a purchase without first seeing current eye certificates showing passes for both parents. It is also very desirable that you continue with regular tests yourself, especially if you ever intend to breed. Details of Assured Breeders and eye examiners can be obtained from the Kennel Club either on their website at www.the-kennel-club.org.uk or by phoning 0844-463-3980.

Always remember, you don’t own this delightful breed – you are only borrowing it during your lifetime. Please, please take great care of it for the benefit of those who will come after you.
(Written by Bill Bunce on behalf of the Home Counties American Cocker Club October 2011)

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