Health Issues in Field Spaniels

Known inherited problems

Let’s look at how that works in some of the diseases Field Spaniels are known to carry. Most common are hip dysplasia and low thyroid. Less common are eye problems, heart disease and epilepsy, but because these diseases are so common in closely-related spaniels such as American Cockers, Sussex Spaniels, and English Springer Spaniels, it is important that breeders be aware of them and test for those that have tests available.

Hip dysplasia

New dog owners may be very confused about what hip dysplasia is and what the tests for it tell. Often, they want a guarantee that their puppy won’t get it, and are distressed when a breeder offers only a replacement puppy or a monetary compensation. Here’s why.

Scientists agree that hip dysplasia is polygenetic. Dogs must carry a certain combination of genes to pass on the condition. Exactly which genes contribute is not known. To further complicate matters, environment—particularly feeding practices and exercise—contribute to hip dysplasia. What you do with your new pup may encourage development of bad hips.
What about tests such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and Penn-Hip tests? Your pup’s sire and dam should have had these tests. It may be possible to reduce severity of hip dysplasia through choices of breeding stock. But remember, these tests show only how the sire and dam are affected—not what genes they carry to pass on to their puppies. The OFA test is recommended when the dog turns two.

Low Thyroid

This is a fairly common condition in Field Spaniels. Ask your breeder if these tests have been done. It can lead to sparse coat growth and weight gain, among other problems. Though there is no test to identify genetic carriers, individual dogs can be tested for thyroid problems through a simple blood test. Putting affected dogs on thyroid medication regulates the condition. Other than remembering that daily pill, low thyroid is of little consequence to the pet owner. Some scientists believe that low thyroid is part of a group of inherited autoimmune disorders, including sterility and life-threatening anemia, so breeders need to be wary of the condition.

Eye problems

All breeding stock should be tested annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist. Many breeders also have eye exams done on each puppy at about eight weeks of age. The most common eye problems in Field Spaniels are folds in the retina, ectropion and entropion. The cause of retinal folds is not known at this time. Sometimes they disappear by the end of the puppy’s first year. The consequences to vision do not appear to be serious. Ectropion-saggy eyelids, and entropion-eyelids rolling in, are inherited. A dog with saggy eyelids may be more prone to infection from foreign objects in the eye. Puppies will often have loose, saggy eyelids when they are teething. Eyelids will also sag more when a dog is tired. Dogs whose eyelids roll in—much rarer in Field Spaniels—may require surgery to tighten the eyelids which scratch the cornea and will thereby damage vision if the condition remains without surgical correction. Progressive retinal atrophy, an inherited disease that shows up during adulthood in many spaniels and leads to blindness, occurs very rarely in Fields.

Heart defects

Heart problems can be inherited (genetic) or congenital (birth defects unrelated to genes.) They can be present at birth, or develop as the dog ages. For instance, a dog may be born with a slightly leaky heart valve. The defect causes no problem until the dog has dental work, releasing bacteria into the blood stream and infecting the damaged valve, leading to heart failure. If the general veterinarian detects a heart murmur, a certified veterinary cardiologist can examine dogs for certain heart defects, and advise the breeder whether the dog can pass them on to offspring. Again, there are no genetic tests to determine whether a dog unaffected by heart disease can pass the condition on.


Epilepsy is a catch-all term used to describe seizures. These seizures can be caused by a genetic problem, a tumor, high fever, eating a toxic substance, or many other origins.

Early onset epilepsy, such as the inherited disease that may affect English Springer Spaniels before they are three, is almost unknown in Field Spaniels. Scientists are working to develop a genetic test for inherited epilepsy.

Field Spaniel breeders and owners have reported seeing late-onset epilepsy in dogs seven to over ten years old with no prior history of seizures. Veterinarians are still divided on whether this is a true inherited epilepsy, however, the FSSA Health Committee is now working with the University of Missouri to map the Field Spaniel genome with the hope that eventually any mutated genes can be identified that may be contributors to late onset seizure disorder in this breed. The most recent feeling is that this may be a polygenetic condition, in some ways, similar to hip dysplasia that takes the right combination of multiple gene mutations to develop the disease.

What is being done?

The Field Spaniel Society of America has an active health committee, of which one goal is to exchange information with Field Spaniel groups in other countries, to help this breed. Periodic health surveys help monitor trends in Field Spaniel health, and ask owners and breeders for input on health concerns. The FSSA joins with the Canine Health Foundation to fund studies of diseases affecting the breed. For information on grants for research and studies that have been done, or are ongoing, you can find them here