English Springer Spaniels generally enjoy robust good health, thriving on exercise. They love the water, hike happily, yet can adjust to a quiet, city life. They do need human companionship, though most can snooze all day while you're at work as long as they get good attention and exercise when you're home. Keeping the mature dog's weight within the standard guidelines will optimize health. Healthy, mature female springers usually range from 30 to 40 lbs; healthy mature males will probably weigh from 40 to 55 lbs.
All breeds of dog (as well as mixed breeds) carry some undesirable heritable characteristics (Padgett 1998). You can affect the health of future litters of English Springers through the work of the ESSFTA Foundation. This foundation is not a membership organization, but it does require financial support from English Springer Spaniel owners and those of us who love the breed. Donations are tax-deductible and are appreciated in any amount to support health research and breed education. Donations may be sent to Janet Hoehnen, Esq., Treasurer, Lichtsinn Haensel, S.C., Suite 1800, 111 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53202. If you like, earmark your donation for "Health Research." Funded work is currently underway to find the genetic marker for PRA and Seizure Disorder (below). Another way to support is to participate in the DNA bank at the University of Missouri. Springer owners "bank" blood samples from both healthy Springers and those with an inherited problem. Currently, at least 905 samples have been collected. If a dog that is healthy at the time of submission later develops a problem, the sample can be re-classified and used in the study of the problem.
All floppy-eared dogs need consistant ear-care. Most veterinarians recommend cleaning the ears weekly as a preventative. If you see dark brown wax, it's a sign of trouble. Don't let ear problems wait; bacterial, fungus or mite problems take a veterinarian's care. If you've tried it all and are still having problems, many owners swear by Blue Power. But see your Vet FIRST!
Some Springers have been diagnosed with eye problems. It is a good idea to find a puppy from parents whose eyes pass CERF exams yearly. Retinal dysplasia and retinal folds are genetic defects present at birth in which the retina may be curved or irregularly shaped and may also be detached. They cause small blind spots, but rarely cause a problem for the dog. Most of the time, puppies do not get worse. Responsible breeders will check their litters by the age of 8 weeks, and will offer a guarantee, signed by a Board-Certified Vet, of "clear eyes" to the buyer, or a written statement of the extent of any detected eye defects. RD is caused by a simple recessive gene. That means that it takes a defective gene from each parent to produce an affected dog; however, an unaffected dog could be a carrier of the gene. Dogs with this problem should not be bred.
Another, more difficult problem, is progressive retinal atrophy, a degeneration of the retinal visual cells that progresses to blindness, which would definitely bar an animal from any breeding program. Unfortunately, the disease can appear as late as 7 or 8 years of age, well past prime breeding age. There are electronic tests that can be used to check whether a dog is affected before clinical signs appear; however, they are expensive and not always reliable. They also do not tell whether a dog is a carrier, just whether the dog has the problem.
Drs. Aguirre and Acland's lab at the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY have and are conducting the research for the gene for PRA. They currently have markers identifying PRA for the Portuguese Water Dog, Labrador Retriever, Minature and Toy Poodles, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Mastiff, and English Cocker. They HAVE identified the gene itself in the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Irish Setter. Other breeds have a genetic test for some forms of the disease. You can find information on other breeds at the Opti-Gen website. ESSFTA members and other Springer owners are encouraged to support the work at Cornell. Currently, they have a good bank of Springer samples in their freezer and are beginning work on these samples to come up with a test for our version of PRA. The ESS Foundation has raised over 2/3s of the goal of $75,000 for PRA research. When we meet that goal, the Canine Health Foundation of the AKC will MATCH the money. This will go a long way toward finding the marker or the gene. (Thanks to Cynthia Wheeler for PRA research information.)
As in most of the medium to large breeds, Canine Hip Dysplasia can affect Springers, though the percentage of affected dogs is moderate. Responsible breeders will certify that their breeding stock is free from CHD; this offers a greater chance that the offspring will also have good hips. However, CHD is inherited through a combination of multiple genes. Puppies from two certified dogs can still have hip problems. To find out more, check the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. PennHip tests are another way of checking for the problem. Some Springer breeders and owners are beginning to check for elbow dysplasia as well.
Phosphofructokinase deficiency (PFK) is a recently discovered inherited autosomal recessive trait, passed along in the same way as the eye problems discussed above, found in ESS's and some ECS's. The PFK gene regulates the level of enzymes that convert sugar into energy. Symptoms of an Affected dog are intermittent dark urine, pale gums, fever, and poor appetite. These symptoms usually occur after a period of stress or strenuous exercise. A PFK blood test is recommended before breeding because a Carrier dog will not show any signs of this disease. Only a DNA blood test will determine if your dog is Normal. Once both parents are certified PFK Normal, none of the offspring will have to be tested, as PFK is only an inherited disease. For further information on testing your dogs, contact (or have your veterinarian contact) Dr. Urs Giger, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 3850 Spruce St., Room 4017, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6010. 215-898-8830 FAX 215-573-2162 or E-mail or request a test from Opti-Gen. (Thanks to Tom Radde).
English Springers sometimes have skin/allergy problems; however, the percentage of dogs with these problems is fairly low. Keeping the environment clear of fleas, as well as supplementing the diet with Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids can go a long way to controlling skin flare-ups.
Many breeds have occasional dogs with thyroid problems. Lethargy and coarse coat can be signs of a problem. Blood tests and medication can keep it under control.
There have been some problems in ESS with bloat/torsion. While it is not common, it is still a condition which some Springers are prone to, and it can be life-threatening.
Rarely, ESS can have immune system disorders. This site provides lots of good information.
Thanks to the Golden Retreiver site for sharing several of these articles.
There are many, many types of temperament problems in dogs of any breed. Breeding dogs with outstanding temperaments is the number 1 priority for most Springer breeders. Unfortunatley, the inheritance of temperament is polygenic (produced by several genes) and unidentified. Among the problems in Springers, as well as in at least eighty other breeds (Padgett, 1988) dominance or fear aggression can result in dogs that are "extremely assertive or forceful with other dogs and people; may attack or bite without reasonable provocation." Always inquire about the temperament of the parents, and if possible MEET the parents of a puppy you consider. Most breeders will acknowledge the problem, discuss it with you honestly, and will be very careful to breed only dogs with solid, dependable and loving temperaments. There is a great discussion of Springer temperament problems on the ESSFTA website.
Canine Rage can affect several breeds of dog and is sometimes wrongly called "Springer Rage." This term is attached to almost any aggressive incident involving Springers, often by Veterinarians that should know better! . However, even knowledgeable Vets debate what it really is. It may be more properly called "mental lapse aggression. It may be an extension of epilepsy. There are reports of Springers having a "fit" that involves biting, and recovering as if they had no memory of the attack. It may be an extreme form of dominance aggression.
The English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association Foundation is funding research into Canine Seizure Disorder. Data collected at this point seems to indicate that incidence of this problem in ESS is similar to the number of affected dogs in the general canine population, but somewhat more difficult to control. Contact Laurin Howard to donate. You may want to earmark your donation to be a memorial to a loved Springer or friend. The Epilepsy Site has more general information on the problem.
An average Springer lives around 12 years.
The ASPCA National Poison Control Network can help in a poisoning emergency.
Learn the History of the English Springer Spaniel
Padgett, George A., DVM. Control of Canine Genetic Diseases. New York:Howell Book House (1998).
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