Health issues occur in every breed and in mixed-breed dogs. The more common genetic based disorders in Springers include hip dysplasia, retinal dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), hypothyroidism, and epilepsy. This list is not intended to be all inclusive.
Breeders are working together to minimize health disorders in our breed. Everyone can support our efforts to minimize health disorders by participating in the DNA bank at the University of Missouri. Blood samples from both healthy Springers and those with an inherited problem are "banked" for current and future research.
Hip dysplasia is an inherited defect with a "many genes" mode of inheritance. The degree of hereditability is moderate, meaning that the formation of the hip joints is also modified by environmental factors such as over nutrition, excessively rapid growth, and certain traumas during the growth period of the skeleton. This condition is characterized by a malformation of the hip joint caused by laxity within the joint. In severe cases the hip socket does not surround the head of the femur to form a ball and socket joint. Rather, the socket is flat, or dish-shaped, allowing the head of the femur to slip and slide around instead of fitting tightly. The result is a break down or wearing of the cartilage in the joint which can become painful and eventually crippling as the dog matures. Young dogs (3-12 months) with hip dysplasia may be afflicted with acute inflammatory joint pain. Spontaneous temporary improvement sometimes occurs. Older dogs with hip dysplasia may have a slow onset of painful arthritis. There are several surgical procedures which may help alleviate pain and function. The condition of the hip joints can only be determined accurately by x-ray examination. Hip dysplasia may be diagnosed by x-ray between six months and a year of age, but this is not entirely reliable. Two years of age is considered to be the minimum age for accurate radiographic determination of desirable conformation. Your puppy's chances of developing hip dysplasia are minimized if both parents have normal hips. We recommend that you have your puppy's hips x-rayed at 24-26 months AND send the x-rays to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) in Columbia, Missouri for a diagnostic evaluation. Your veterinarian should have the information on how to do this. We also recommend that you follow the guidelines for exercise and nutrition to help in the prevention of hip dysplasia.
Elbow dysplasia is believed to be another polygenic inherited disease. While genetics play a role in this condition, other possible factors are trauma, hormonal imbalances, poor nutrition, excessive dietary protein, accelerated growth, rapid weight gain, and congenital conformational defects. Elbow dysplasia is a condition involving multiple developmental abnormalities of the elbow joint. It manifests as degenerative joint disease. (There are actually three different diseases are part of the degenerative joint disease process.) In elbow dysplasia, the complex elbow joint suffers from abnormal growth and development causing the joint to be malformed and weakened. The mechanism of the malformation is unclear but it may be due to the difference in growth rates of the three bones of the elbow joint. The initial condition causes abnormal wear and tear and gradual deteriorate of the joint. Secondary inflammatory and arthritic processes develop from the damage. Clinical signs involve lameness which may remain subtle for long periods of time. Genetic and environmental factors such as severity of changes, rate of weight gain, or amount of exercise can influence the age lameness occurs. If elbow dysplasia can be identified at a young age before changes are severe, surgical correction has a reasonably good success rate. Once severe changes occur, it is much harder to prevent the subsequent arthritic changes. Treatment consists of surgical correction of whatever complications are present if possible. Medical management using anti-inflammatory medications, restricted exercise, and weight control can be helpful for long term success.
Retinal Dysplasia (RD)
Retinal dysplasia and retinal folds are genetic defects present at birth where the retina is malformed. It may be curved, irregularly shaped, or detached. This causes small blind spots in the retina. Retinal dysplasia rarely causes vision problems for the individual dog and does not usually progress. Rarely an individual puppy has such large areas of retinal detachment causing a subsequent decrease the visual field to the extent where he is completely blind. These abnormalities can be diagnosed by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist when the puppies are 7-12 weeks old. Responsible breeders will check their litters by the age of 8 weeks for eye disorders. Retinal Dysplasia does not affect a dog's ability to function as a pet; however, affected dogs should not be bred.
Progressive retinal atrophy is a degeneration of the layers of the retina that are responsible for vision. Eventually tissue loss progresses to blindness. It is a slowly progressive disease and the earliest signs may be overlooked. The first indicator is usually a reluctance to go outside at night as night blindness is the first clinical sign of PRA. Night blindness gradually progresses to the point where it is difficult to even see in bright light. In Springers, the disease can appear as early onset between 2-5 years of age or late onset as late as 7 or 8 years of age. There is no pain or discomfort for the dog, but unfortunately there is no treatment. Recently there has been some success with vitamin regimes slowing the progression of the disease. Responsible breeders check their dogs throughout their lives, monitoring them for the development of hereditary eye disorders. Work funded by the ESSFTA foundation at the University of Missouri has identified a DNA mutation that is a major risk factor for development of late onset PRA. DNA testing should be done on dogs planning to be bred. For more information about the DNA test and breeding recommendations, please visit the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association web site.
The thyroid gland has a number of different functions, but it is most well known for regulating metabolism. Hypothyroidism occurs when not enough thyroid hormone is produced. The most common signs of low thyroid function include lethargy, mental dullness, loss or thinning of the fur, dull hair coat, excess shedding or scaling, weight gain, reduced activity, and reduced ability to tolerate the cold. The hair loss occurs primarily on the body not over the head and legs. Dogs often have ear and skin infections.
Idiopathic epilepsy is a disorder associated with recurrent seizures that are not caused by by other disorders. Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy frequently begin seizing between one and three years of age. As idiopathic epilepsy is a diagnosis of exclusion, tests are run to eliminate other causes. A familial pattern to seizure disorders exists in some pedigree lines. Seizures usually begin before the age of five. Although there is no cure for epilepsy, many seizures can be managed with medication and stress management. Unfortunately some Springers are not controlled with treatment. Work is currently underway to find a genetic marker for epilepsy.
Temperament and behavior problems happen in all breeds of dogs. Behavior is influenced by many factors, not only genetics but also training, family interactions, and general health. A puppy should be curious and playful, without resisting being held. He should not be aggressive or overly timid.
Unfortunately, no discussion on Springer health is complete without addressing "Rage Syndrome" or "Springer Rage." “Rage Syndrome” is an old term, essentially a misnomer that should be dropped from the behavior vocabulary. It is more correctly called idiopathic aggression. It is a rare disorder that occurs in other popular breeds, not just Springers. An otherwise normal dog goes into a sudden unprovoked aggression, attacking people. During the attacks the dog has a glazed look in his eyes and does not respond to commands. It is most commonly felt that this is a form of epilepsy. Many cases of identifiable aggression are misdiagnosed. Aggression can be a complex behavior. If your dog is misdiagnosed as having "Springer Rage" find a competent behavioral consultant to help you find out why your dog is biting.
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Updated July 2013