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Cockers are known for their large, soulful eyes.  Their adoring expression is one of the many qualities that endears them to us all.  However, these lovely eyes can require a little extra care to keep them healthy, bright and full of the love of life we expect to see in our sweet Cocker faces!   This article is a basic eye care reference for owners.  I have addressed other, specific eye issues on other pages, so will concentrate on day-to-day care here. 


The first subject to address here is probably who you should see if you have a concern about your dog's eyes.   Most regular veterinarians are good for general health advice and can effectively deal with run-of-the-mill issues - mild infections, irritations, minor injury.   However, there are certified eye specialists available in most large cities and if you believe your dog has a serious eye condition, you should seek expert advice. 

A word of warning here - specialists can be good or bad just like any other service provider.  In our area, we have one person in particular that is well-known for his abrasive, breed-bashing, unpleasant demeanor.   If you should need to see a specialist, I would recommend checking with your breeder and/or other local breeders {people who know and deal with these specialists regularly} for their advice on which practitioner is the best to see.  

Eye problems are common enough in Cockers that responsible breeders should have their breeding dogs' eyes certified defect-free yearly, so your breeder should be able to give you advice on selecting a specialist.

Probably one of the most important things to remember about your dog's eyes is that, like people, some dogs see better than others.  Dogs with no genetic defect may have less than perfect sight and this can be difficult if not impossible to recognize.  Some dogs are also better than others at compensating for changes in vision or loss of vision, so owners may not immediately realize their dog actually has an on-going vision problem.   Along these same lines, puppies may exhibit behavior that could be assumed to indicate a vision problem, but which is actually normal behavior - i.e. running into things, not following a ball, falling off of a step/porch.  


An important part of caring for your dog's eyes will be knowing what is normal for him/her.  In other words, if your dog normally ignores strange objects around the house, but suddenly begins to bark at the vacuum cleaner, grocery bags or other items that appear in or around the house semi-routinely, then there may be a problem with your dog's vision and you might need to investigate the issue.   Other symptoms that can indicate an eye problem are excessive tearing, rubbing the eye, a blue or cloudy appearance to the eye or sensitivity to handling of the head/eye area or general head shyness (suddenly jerking back as if startled).

Most Cockers have some amount of discharge from the eyes.   Normal eye discharge is usually clear and runny (watery) or may be slightly cloudy and thick enough to get caught in the hair at the corner of the eye.  This type of discharge is considered normal for Cockers and, in general, is due to their large, prominent eyes.  Droopy eyelids (those that are not tight all the way around the eyeball) may contribute to some Cockers having more eye drainage than others.  This is because foreign matter can become trapped in these "pockets" and can irritate the eyes, which then produce more tears to flush away the irritating material.  

Another factor that can contribute to excessive tearing in Cocker Spaniels is unclipped facial hair.  Many Cockers have thick coats all around the face.  Some of this hair can grow or lay in such a way that it is rubbing one or both eyes.  This will cause eye irritation and, in turn, excessive tearing.  Doing a regular Cocker cut every 4-6 weeks is generally adequate to control facial hair that might contact the eyes and cause irritation.   Regular facial grooming (clipping) will also help prevent eye and skin infections by allowing the eye area to stay cleaner and drier.  Short hair is easier to keep clean and will dry quicker than longer hair, so bacteria will have a harder time getting a foothold.  

In light colored Cockers, ASCOBS and Partis specifically, tearing will often cause a reddish colored stain from the inside corners of the eyes down the sides of the nose.   This staining will generally be worse in dogs whose eye areas are not cleaned regularly.  Allowing your dog's eye discharge to accumulated for any length of time can also result in skin and eye infections.  The skin at the inside corner of the dog's eye can become irritated, inflamed and/or infected from bacteria that grows in the constantly moist and warm eye drainage area.  If this bacteria is allowed to build-up for any length of time, it can subsequently infect the eye itself. 

Your dog's eye drainage (often referred to as "'eye boogers" - yuck!) should be wiped away daily with a damp cloth.  It's also a good idea to use a mild anti-bacterial soap during the dog's weekly bath to thoroughly clean this area and to kill any existing bacteria in the area.  There are a number of specially made eye-wipes and eye cleaning products available to help clean your dog's eye area and to help remove any eye "gunk".  Keeping the eye area clean is the best way to avoid problems with bacterial skin infections or eye infections from excessive tearing. 


Signs that your dog has abnormal eye discharge can include a green or yellowish color to the eye discharge, thick and lumpy/gunky discharge, a foul odor in the eye area, continuous matting-up of the eyelid edges and/or obvious signs of irritation.  If you are seeing any of the issues mentioned above or if your dog seems to be having eyeball pain or irritation, you should ask your vet to check the dog's eyes for infection or injury.

Signs of an eye injury, infection or of another type of eye problem can include those listed above as well as increased blinking, squinting, swelling, redness, soreness or pawing/scratching/rubbing the eyes. 

Most eye irritations will end up being minor infections or scratches, but sometimes there can be serious eye defects or injuries that need attention.  Unfortunately, the difference between minor irritations and major injuries can be hard for an owner to determine.  If your dog appears to have an eye problem, it's always best to check with your vet to be sure that there is not a major problem. 

Additionally, minor problems can quickly become major concerns if a dog will not leave an infected or injured eye alone.  Many dogs will further injure their eyes by rubbing and scratching if a small eye problem is left unattended.  To avoid this possibility, eye problems should be addressed immediately and a preventive collar (called an Elizabethan collar) should be used if the dog won't leave the eyes alone.   Prompt treatment can help prevent your dog from inflicting further trauma to an existing injury or infected eye.  Treating eye problems immediately may also significantly shorten treatment times and may save your dog from serious eye damage. 

Eye Medication:

A word of warning is called for here.  Owners should never use human or animal eye drops or ointments without their veterinarian's approval and without knowing EXACTLY what is wrong with their dog's eye(s).   Many eye medications contain cortisone or other steroids and this type of product can severely damage the eye if used when there is damage to the surface of the eye.  Products containing steroids can cause additional ulceration or even perforation of the eye if used incorrectly.  So please don't treat your dog's sore or injured eye without having the dog examined by your veterinarian.


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Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: December 22, 2005