Caring for Your Faithful Companion
Sussex Spaniels: What a Unique Breed!
Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Sussex Spaniels and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:
- Mild-mannered and easy to get along with
- Good with children and other pets
- Loving and loyal to her owners
- Protective of family: good watch dog
- People-oriented and eager to please
- Sweet, gentle, and sensitive
However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- Has a tendency to bark quite a bit if not trained out of this habit
- Needs daily exercise
- Can be gassy and drool a lot
- Doesn’t do well in the heat
- Can seem stubborn
- Prone to boredom and separation anxiety when left alone and will find trouble
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She can be clownish and energetic at times, but she’s usually calm and happy. She does best in homes that can provide consistent and confident leadership.
The Sussex Spaniel originated in England during the 1800’s for upland game hunting in dense underbrush. They were selectively bred for their golden liver color coat with distinctive feathering on the feet, legs, neck, and tail. The Sussex Spaniel is long and low to the ground and moves with a slow but deliberate gait. When on the hunt, the Sussex will bay like a hound when game is scented. They are the only Spaniel with this behavior. Sussex have moderate exercise needs and can be satisfied with long walks or hiking. The Sussex Spaniel is a cheerful and charming pet that excels in therapy work. The Sussex Spaniel is a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan of 12-13 years.
Your Sussex Spaniel’s Health
We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Sussex. By knowing about health concerns specific to Sussex Spaniels, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed.That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen inSussex Spanielsto give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Sussex Spaniels. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Sussex looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.
General Health Information for your Sussex Spaniel
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Sussex Spaniel is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Sussex’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.
Sussex Spaniels are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections—the same ones that all dogs can get—such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, herage, and other factors.
Obesity can be a significant health problem in Sussex Spaniels. It is a serious disease that may causeor worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Sussex’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest herskin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into hersystem in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep herhealthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your Sussex is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.
Genetic Predispositions for Sussex Spaniels
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, also known as GDV or Bloat, usually occurs in dogs with deep, narrow chests. This means your Sussex is more at risk than other breeds. When a dog bloats, the stomach twists on itself and fills with gas. The twisting cuts off blood supply to the stomach, and sometimes the spleen. Left untreated, the disease is quickly fatal, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes. Your dog may retch or heave (but little or nothing comes out), act restless, have an enlarged abdomen, or lie in a prayer position (front feet down, rear end up). Preventive surgery in which the stomach is tacked down or sutured in place so that it is unlikely to twist is an option. If you see symptoms, take your pet to an emergency hospital immediately!
Sussex are susceptible to a condition called Patent Ductus Arteriosis, in which a small vessel that carries blood between two parts of the heart does not close shortly after birth as it should. This results in too much blood being carried to the lungs, fluid build-up, and strain on the heart. Outward signs may be mild or you may see coughing, fatigue during exercise, weight loss, shortness of breath, or weakness in the hind limbs. We listen for a specific type of heart murmur to diagnose this problem during his examinations. If your pal has this condition, we may recommend surgery to close the problematic vessel.
Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Sussex Spaniels can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.
Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Sussex. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.
Distichiasis is a condition caused by extra hairs that grow inside of the eyelid and rub on the surface of the eye. This is one of the most commonly inherited diseases in dogs, and your Sussex is more likely than other dogs to develop this painful condition. If untreated, these abnormal hairs can cause corneal ulcers and chronic eye pain. Several treatment options are available, and the prognosis is good once the hairs have been permanently removed.
Entropion is a condition where the eyelid rolls inward, causing the eyelashes to rub against the cornea (surface of the eyeball). This is an extremely irritating and painful condition that can ultimately lead to blindness. It can happen in any dog breed; however, your Sussex is especially at risk for this heritable disorder. Surgical correction is usually successful if performed early.
Ectropion is a defect where the eyelids droop or hang away from the eye. While ectropion can cause those sad looking puppy dog eyes, the problem more importantly exposes the eye to environmental contaminants and leads to irritation, drying, and can progress to eye infections. Sussex are a bit more likely than other dogs to show this deformity. The good news is it can usually be surgically corrected.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease in which the eyes are genetically programmed to go blind. Unfortunately, Sussex Spaniels are a bit more likely than other dogs to have this condition. PRA is not painful, but also not curable. In dogs with the bad gene, early symptoms such as night blindness or dilated pupils generally begin around three to five years of age. A genetic test is available for this condition.
Eyeballs are pretty complicated structures, and sometimes they don’t grow exactly according to plan. Several different specific structural defects are sometimes seen in Sussex’s eyes. Most of these developmental errors cause no problems at all, some can only be detected by a vet using special tests, some are obvious, and a few can cause serious vision problems. We’ll check his eyes for problems, and discuss specific conditions as they apply to your buddy.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Both hips and elbows are at risk for dysplasia , an inherited disease that causes the joints to develop improperly and results in arthritis. Stiffness in your Sussex’s elbows or hips may become a problem for him, especially as he matures. You may notice that he begins to show lameness in his legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis—the sooner the better—to minimize discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s bones to identify issues as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes a good option in severe and life-limiting cases. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering!
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common condition in Sussex. The disease is caused when the jelly-like cushion between one or more vertebrae slips or ruptures, causing the disc to press on the spinal cord. If your dog is suddenly unable or unwilling to jump up, go up stairs, is reluctant to move around, has a hunched back, cries out, or refuses to eat or go potty, he is likely in severe pain. He may even drag his back feet or be suddenly paralyzed and unable to get up or use his back legs. If you see symptoms, don’t wait. Call us or an emergency clinic immediately! For less severe cases, rest and medication may resolve the problem. In many cases involving paralysis, we’ll recommend surgical removal of the ruptured discs (within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms to get the best results). As with so many other diseases, weight control helps to prevent this problem. You should also use ramps or steps from puppyhood on so that your dog doesn’t spend a lifetime stressing his back by jumping on and off of the furniture.
In humans, an allergy to pollen, mold, or dust makes people sneeze and their eyes itch. In dogs, rather than sneeze, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Sussex often have it. Commonly, the feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition.
Some Sussex Spaniels inherit a heart condition known as pulmonic stenosis. This disease causes a partial obstruction of blood flow from the heart to the lungs, which means the heart must work harder to pump enough blood. If the condition is severe enough, your dog may faint or just seem to run out of energy during exercise. He may also have difficulty breathing, cough, or not grow as much as he should. We’ll test for this disease during your dog’s life and discuss treatment options with you if he has the condition. Surgery is an option when symptoms are severe.
Underbite (prognathism) affects Sussex Spaniels more than other breeds. In this condition, the lower jaw sticks out further than the upper jaw. Most cases do not require treatment, but if the abnormally positioned teeth are digging into his mouth, chronic pain may result. Extractions or orthodontic work may be needed.
Sussex are prone to a common condition called hypothyroidism in which the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin and coat, hair loss, susceptibility to other skin diseases, weight gain, fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes. We’ll conduct a blood screening test annually to screen for the disease. Treatment is usually simple: replacement hormones given in the form of a pill.
Anal Gland Problems
Sussex Spaniels are prone to this painful, long term condition in which one or more areas around the anus develop sores. Signs include straining or apparent pain when defecating, bleeding, constipation, licking of the area, or smelly discharge around the rectum. The condition can be difficult to treat, and requires lifelong medications, prescription food, and sometimes even surgery.
Heritable deafness has been noted in some Sussex bloodlines, so if his ears are healthy and he’s still ignoring you, a more thorough hearing workup may be needed, including brainwave analysis, if indicated. If you suspect he may not be hearing as well as he should, schedule an appointment with us right away as the problem could also be caused by a severe ear infection.
The genetic mutation causing canine pyruvate dehydrogenase phosphatase (PDP1) deficiency in dogs was identified in 2007. It is estimated that 20% of the current Sussex Spaniel population are carriers. The disease is characterized by exercise intolerance and post-exercise collapse. Dietary therapy can be used to manage the disease but there is no cure. PDP1 is a recessive gene, so in order to be affected, an animal must inherit two copies of the PDP1 deficiency form of the gene, one from each parent. Dogs with one copy of the gene will be clinically normal but may pass the affected gene to approximately half its offspring.
A myopathy is a disorder in the function of the muscles. Mitochondria are like little power generators in the muscle cells. Sometimes there’s a problem with your Sussex’s muscles, caused by a deficiency of an enzyme used by the mitochondria. Symptoms are usually seen with the introduction of leash training at about 3 months of age. The puppy will tire easily, pull back on the leash and collapse. Excessive panting and a high heart rate may be noted. After about 10 to 15 minutes he will try to get back up again. Animals appear thirsty and remain depressed for about an hour after each episode. Treatment options including a special dietary regimen in conjunction with vitamin and other supplements can help.
Taking Care of Your Sussex Spaniel at Home
Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Sussex. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Sussex live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.
- Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
- Brush her coat as needed, at least weekly.
- Sussex Spaniels generally have good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
- Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Make sure to keep her floppy ears dry. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
- She loves the water, and swimming is a great form of exercise for your Sussex Spaniel.
- She can be sensitive to warm temperatures; avoid any prolonged exposure and be very alert to the signs of heat stress.
- Always walk your Sussex on a leash, she has a tendency to run off after interesting smells.
- Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
- Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
- Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.
What to Watch For
Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Sussex Spaniel needs help.
Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Change in appetite or water consumption
- Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
- Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss
- Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
- Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
- Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
- Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
- Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
- Dry heaving or a large, tight, painful abdomen
- Fatigue during exercise, coughing, or shortness of breath
- General reluctance to run or play
- Leg stiffness, reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, jump, or “bunny hopping”
- Straining to defecate, bleeding, licking of the area around the rectum, or smelly discharge
- Easily startled, no reaction to unseen sounds
Partners in Health Care
DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.
Your Sussex counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.
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- Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=sussex-spaniel