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Cocker Spaniel Care Tips Part 1-Breed-Specific Ear Problems & Care | VetDERM Clinic

Cocker Spaniel Care Tips Part 1: Breed-Specific Ear Problems & Care


Cocker Spaniel dogs are excellent companions that possess a very expressive, loving, and sporty personality. They love to play outdoors as well as indoors, are easily trained, and are great with kids! They love to please those around them, making them a very desirable dog breed. It’s no wonder they have been a popular dog breed for a long time.

If you weren’t aware already, specific dog breeds can be prone to certain skin conditions, ear problems, and allergies! All skin and ear conditions require exact diagnosis for best treatment.

An exact diagnosis helps prevent persistent or recurring problems in dogs’ ears. Cockers are no different from other breeds in this matter. If anything, dealing appropriately with Cocker Spaniel ear problems is vital! If you own or are looking to care for a Cocker Spaniel, knowing that they could develop ear conditions is important. Once ear issues show up in a Cocker Spaniel, it is important that they are dealt with and resolved right away.

Cocker Spaniel Dogs are Prone to the Following Skin & Ear Problems:

Environmental allergies – allergies that are due to pollen or house dust mites cause itching and ear infections.

Hypothyroidism – a decreased production of thyroid hormones in the body that affects many breeds, with Cockers being one of them.

Sebaceous adenomas – skin masses that develop within the oil glands (sebaceous glands) of the skin.

Skin immune mediated diseases – skin problems that develop due to the immune system over-reacting against the body’s own skin.

Vitamin A responsive dermatitis – an uncommon skin problem that can cause oily or dry skin in Cockers.

Seborrhea – excessively dry and oily skin. Seborrhea is not a disease; rather, it is usually a secondary effect of another condition.

Malassezia dermatitis – Malassezia are yeast organisms that can cause skin inflammation as well as ear infections. This causes discomfort and itching. Yeast infections are also a secondary problem, similar to seborrhea.

Ear Problems in Cocker Spaniel Dogs

Their floppy ears are adorable, and are a characteristic of this beautiful breed. These floppy ears can also be easily infected, due to various reasons. Some reasons for infection in Cocker Spaniel ears include:

  • The characteristic floppy ear structure – decreasing air flow at opening of ear canals, which helps create a humid, warm environment within the ears.
  • Hairy ear canals – leading to further increase in the warm, moist local ear environment.
  • Allergies – are a primary problem causing ear inflammation. Allergies are quite notorious at causing ear problems, with or without symptoms of skin problems.
  • Non-allergic skin conditions – many skin problems can cause ear disease, but as Cockers often get the above described conditions, their ears can be prone to inflammation.
  • Ceruminous gland proliferation – the oil producing glands on their ears and skin are quite adept (sometimes too much so) at producing oils. The ear wax producing glands can enlarge and produce too much wax, causing complications in ear problems.

Infection sets in ears that are inflamed, or itchy, or warm and humid. If there are more than one of these factors, infection is bound to progress fast. This is especially true if it goes unnoticed for a while.


Infection in ears leads to more inflammation. In return, inflammation can feed the ear infection by providing a supportive environment for microbes in the ears!


Also, ear problems will progress quite fast if ears are cleaned to manage them instead of treatment by a veterinarian. Administration of appropriate and early treatment is key.


Why Are Cocker Spaniels Prone to Ear Disease?

With regards to ear disease, the 3 P’s are always important factors—the 3 P’s are the predisposing, perpetuating, and primary factors. In the adorable Cocker Spaniel breed, the ears provide the perfect environment for predisposing ear disease factors (floppy ears, hairy ear canal openings). They are also prone to ear disease perpetuating factors (their ear canal glands inflame easily, ear canals can get waxy). To top it off, a range of primary conditions affecting skin are common in Cocker Spaniels, as listed above and in our other blog about Cocker Spaniel skin problems.


Remember, not all Cocker Spaniels are affected by ear disease. One predisposing factor for ear problems is excessive ear cleaning. If your Cocker does not have a history of ear problems, it would be best to leave their ears alone!


If ear conditions persist in dogs for more than 3 months, a mild infection becomes a chronic ear infection. We don’t like to see this in any breed of dog, especially Cocker Spaniels! Dogs with long standing, chronic ear infections need very specific and specialized therapy for a cure. Long standing ear conditions can also lead to ruptured ear drums, middle ear infection, and ear canal masses, to name some possible negative effects of persistent ear problems.

In brief, there are numerous reasons for Cockers being prone to ear problems. If there are no ear problems, these ears should be left alone (like for any other dog breed). If problems do develop, it is important to treat early and correctly. Also, it is important to resolve not just the ear infection. In addition, the underlying primary cause such as allergies or thyroid conditions also need to be diagnosed and treated. This will prevent future ear problems.

Symptoms & Management of Cocker Ears—Don’t Wait for the Condition to Progress

Cocker Spaniels are vulnerable to many different skin problems, and thus ear problems. Some symptoms of ear infections in Cocker Spaniels are itchiness, head shaking, redness of ear canal, excessive wax build up and unpleasant smell. Ear infection may be due to yeast infection or bacterial infection, or both. Your veterinarian will check ears in detail to help decide on appropriate treatments. Sometimes, different ear treatment may be needed for each ear in the same dog! If present, infection and inflammation resolution needs to be confirmed before stopping therapy. Otherwise ear problems can become chronic and will surface again.


Chronic ears in Cocker Spaniels are very common, unfortunately. Dealing with any ear problem early should prevent deeper ear problems. If present, deeper problems should be treated until they resolve completely, under veterinary supervision. An annual dermatology and ear exam is recommended for all Cocker Spaniels that have had any history of ear or skin problems.


Ear problems may or may not be accompanied by skin problems in other areas of the body. Make sure that any ear treatment is under veterinary supervision or a consult with our vet dermatologist is pursued.

We love Cocker Spaniels and often handle ear infections and ear discomfort signs in this dog breed. It is important that the cause for ear problems is found and corrected so their comfort is maintained and their quality of life remains excellent.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to VetDERM Clinic and a clickable link back to this page.




Dr. Jangi Bajwa is a Board certified veterinary dermatologist at VetDERM Clinic in Surrey BC. He is also the dermatology feature editor for Canadian Veterinary Journal. Dr. Bajwa’s special interests include otitis and allergic disease in pets; as well as helping improve quality of life of pets and their families.


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