With the exception of the American Cocker Spaniel, most of the spaniel breeds have been able to avoid the huge surge in popularity that often leads to health and genetic issues within a particular breed or line. Unfortunately for the American Cocker Spaniel they have been a very popular breed, leading to a significant number of puppies produced every year by backyard breeders and puppy mills that are only into breeding for a profit, not for the enhancement or overall health of the puppies that they produce. This massive number of poorly bred American Cockers has caused some increased health issues within the breed, so choosing a puppy from a reputable breeder is essential.
However, it is important with any type of spaniel or breed of dog to always work with a breeder that you trust. Since many of the spaniel types are relatively uncommon in most areas, potential owners should be prepared to have to apply and wait to get a puppy from a reputable breeder. Spaniels, like any dog, should only be bred once a year for the health of the mother dog, which means only 6 to 10 puppies will be produced in one litter per year.
Always ask to see the health record of the parent dogs, plus, if at all possible, actually see both parent dogs in person. This is because temperament as well as physical appearance is genetically passed on, at least to some degree. In some cases it may not be possible to see the dog (the male) but it should be possible to see the mother. This is because often the female is shipped to the male or vice versa for breeding, or even artificial insemination is used so the male may be located elsewhere in the United States or even in another country. The dog's name and kennel should be provided, and you may want to call and talk to the owner of the male before deciding on a litter and puppy.
Avoid puppies from litters where the mother or father dog is aggressive or highly shy and nervous. This may be signs of poor socialization and training, but it can also indicate temperament issues that cannot be corrected. Also, if the kennel appears dirty, has a noticeable odor of waste materials or if you are prohibited from seeing the kennels you may wish to consider another breeder. While a good breeder may not allow you to wander through the complete kennel, he or she should be able to show you some of the dogs and the litter you are selecting from.
Most spaniel types are prone to eye problems, some which can be corrected and others that are not treatable. Entropion is common in most spaniels and is treatable and often a very simple issue to resolve. Entropion is a rolling inward of the lower eyelid, resulting in the lashes scratching the surface of the eye. This condition is common in breeds that have the looser lower eyelids including those of the spaniels, hounds and mastiffs. Treatment typically includes a surgical procedure that tightens the skin below the eye rim, repositioning the lashes to the outside. A couple of stitches are all that is required and the operation is typically very routine. Occasionally the condition will occur in later years but this is very uncommon. It is inherited and dogs with entropion, even when corrected, should not be used in breeding programs.
Occasionally spaniel breeds, most commonly the American Cocker, will also have other eye related conditions. These include cataracts, glaucoma and PRA. Cataracts can sometimes be surgically corrected however with older dogs this type of surgery is not always feasible. PRA or progressive retinal atrophy is found a great many purebred breeds and lines and is a gradual, non-painful loss of vision. There is no treatment and dogs with the condition will eventually go completely blind. These dogs can continue to live with their owners with just a few additional safety features. Glaucoma is very serious and potentially fatal and needs to be immediately treated by a vet.
The most common health concern with all types of spaniels is definitely ear infections. This is not a fault of the breeding programs, rather it is a result of the type of ears that have been developed in the breed. The long, thin leathered and heavily fringed ears basically shut off oxygen and air into the ears, providing a warm, humid environment for bacteria and yeast infections to grow and thrive. Since these dogs love the water, additional water in the ear also contributes to the problem. Owners must be willing to routinely clean the dog's ears and remove any waxy build up to prevent infections. This process is very easy and there are commercially available products that provide both cleaning and drying solutions for home use.
Another issue that is often a minor health concerns with spaniels are allergies. Spaniels may have very sensitive skin and may be prone to allergic reactions to different cleaning products, airborne allergens or even additives in their food. Watching the coat for any signs of hot spots or dry or flaky skin is important. Routine grooming allows you to easily monitor the skin for the first signs of irritation or reactions. A vet can do screening tests to try to determine what the allergy is, plus there are medications that can be used to manage the allergic reaction in the dog's just like with humans. Avoiding bathing and using any type of perfumed or drying type shampoos and dog products is the best way to avoid skin allergies and hot spots with the breed.
Finally, most spaniel breeds are moderately to highly active, with the exception being the slower moving, heavier Clumber and the Sussex, but all can be prone to weight gain. It is essential to provide enough routine exercise and high quality foods for these dogs to keep them in shape. Limiting treats and human foods is a must and these breeds may not be a good match for free choice feeding programs. Natural food diets or raw foods often help with all issues including weight gain, allergies and digestive problems and may be a good option to consider.