How to prevent ear problems in English cocker spaniels / Grooming, diet, lifestyle tips / Perfect cocker spaniel breed & puppy guide, dog blog / (C) Natalia Ashton

I am all ears! | Preventing ear problems in English cocker spaniels

If a cocker spaniel puppy came with a User’s manual, the book would definitely contain a warning about ear infections.  It is true that English cockers are predisposed to issues in this area. It does not, however, mean that your dog is destined to suffer from one.

There are a few things that can cause your cocker experience an ear ache and irritation. They can be connected to genetics and anatomy, health problems elsewhere in the body, parasites such as ear mites (one of the most common triggers), environmental allergies and food sensitivities, yeast and fungi, overall health status, side-effects of some medications, lifestyle, foreign bodies such as grass seeds and, of course, grooming routine.

The most important rule here is to take the dog to a vet if you suspect anything however minor and insignificant. Guesswork, internet searches, over the counter medicines, natural remedies and ear problems do not belong together.

I love my boys’ ears. I love to look at them, photograph them, groom them, touch and stroke the silky hair and I even love the way they smell… So I make sure they stay this way – beautiful and problem-free.

That’s why today I am not going to talk about illnesses. Instead we will focus on prevention because it’s so straight forward yet so effective for keeping any problems at bay for the entire life of your dog.

So here is a list of things that I do and use myself and recommend to anyone who comes to me for advice.

Check your dog’s ears daily and be particularly vigilant if your cocker is an adventurer or avid swimmer. It helps to know what a healthy ear looks like, notice any changes in texture, skin colour, temperature and scent, and spot any odd-looking discharge or grass seeds before they get into the ear canal.

Clean your spaniel’s ears once a week and keep it simple. Simplicity is the key when it comes to ear routine. By nature the canine ear is self-cleaning, so you don’t want or need to fiddle with it too much. Do not insert anything inside the ear canal. Do not pour any solutions into the cavity either. The latter may have to be done if the dog already has problems and based on your vet’s recommendations. However, if your dog has healthy beautiful ears, all you need to do is to get two cotton pads, moisten them with an ear cleanser based on salicylic acid (the simpler the formula the better) and gently and carefully wipe the visible outer surface inside each ear. That’s all.

Trim the hair around the ear canal monthly to allow air circulation. Be cautious if using clippers – it can cause irritation. Plucking must be avoided because it can leave the skin open to infections.

Groom your dog every day, so the ears are never left wet. Leaving them to dry naturally softens the skin of the ear canal and around the edge, creates damp and warm environment, and allows infections, bacteria and yeast to thrive. Keep an eye on paws, too, because anything that affects the paws can be easily transmitted into the ears.

Brush the ears daily to avoid mats. Also don’t use clippers on your dogs ears – it will thicken the hair, make it prone to matting and trapping moisture. Use scissors or Coat King instead.

Avoid frequent bathing because it also softens the skin and increases the risk of getting the water into the ear canal. If you do bathe your dog, always protect the ears with cotton balls.

Use vet-prescribed flea and worming treatments. Besides keeping obvious parasites at bay, correctly chosen products will also prevent an ear mite infestation.

If your dog had to be on a course of antibiotics, remember to restore his gut bacteria with a course of vet-recommended probiotics and by adding some plain natural yoghurt or kefir into your cocker’s diet.

Feed your dog a complete balanced diet because it will strengthen his natural defences. It does not need to be home-made or unique. A good quality commercial age-appropriate dog food is a reliable and safe option. If unsure, consult a vet or nutritionist.

When feeding your dog, use special spaniel bowls, snoods and scrunchies to protect your cocker’s ears from getting dirty, otherwise you may end up with a dog who suddenly develops very smelly ears caused by yeast and bacteria.

You can find more information about English cockers, their health, grooming, nutrition and puppy tips in my book Perfect cocker spaniel.

Photo credit: Cooper & Fred photographed by me

How to groom, brush, clip, hand-strip English cocker spaniel / step by step guide daily grooming tips / best brushes, slicker, coat kind for cocker spaniels / nail trimming / Perfect cocker spaniel dog and pet blog and guide to the breed (C) Natalia Ashton / Fred, chocolate and tan English cocker spaniel, hand-stripped, posing near lavender @ Perfect cocker spaniel, Natalia Ashton / book & blog

How to groom an English cocker spaniel

Yesterday I was talking about a possible lockdown – and today we woke up in one. The rules are simple, but they do mean that the grooming salons are closed leaving every cocker spaniel parent without appointments.

So I am going to share a few simple tips of looking after your cocker’s coat before you can finally make it back to your groomer.

Brush your dog every day. If you have a particularly fluffy cocker – do it twice a day. You need to use a medium slicker brush (the soft slicker will not brush the rich spaniel coat properly and a very tough one can damage the silky hair). Brush in the direction of hair growth, from the top of the head, down the neck and back all the way to the tail. Then brush the sides downwards paying particular attention to the skirt (the longer layers on the body) if your dog has it. Then brush the legs making sure the brush bristles get all the way through the layers. Brush each ear, both the outer and inner side moving the brush from the top of the head to the tip of the ear, then lift the ear up and brush around the base because that’s where the matts tend to form. If your dog has a long coat and you want to make sure all the knots and matts are brushed out, you can run a comb through the skirt and feathering, all the way from the roots to the tips.

Check inside of the ears daily. Clean them weekly with a cotton pad and a few drops of your usual ear cleaning solution.

If your dog is usually hand-stripped, you can let the hair grow for now and simply brush daily without using any other tools.

If your cocker is clipped, your safest option is to get a Coat King and use it to get the excess undercoat and keep the coat free from matts. You can use the Coat King all over the body and on legs. Remember to always run it in the direction of hair growth.

Bathing your cocker is not essential unless he rolls in something horrible or goes for a swim (which is not very likely considering we are mainly at home at the moment). What is vital for you to remember is to blow dry your spaniel’s coat whenever it is wet. This will prevent matts and even skin problems due to moisture getting trapped close to the skin. Use your own hair dryer and always blow in the direction if hair growth. You can brush the dog once the hair is almost or completely dry.

Keep an eye on dew claws. The other nails should be fine, especially if you do have that daily walk. Dew claws do need to be trimmed monthly. Use nail clippers with a guard and go slowly trimming about 1mm at most holding the clippers at 45 degree angle. If your dog has light nails, you can see the quick (the bunch of nerves and blood vessels inside the nail), so cut as far as you can from that part. If the nails are black, look at the back of the nail for the dry ridge that runs through the nail. You can cut 1mm of the part that does not have it – you should end up with a nail that has white’ish end with a black centre. If you cut too short and the nail starts to bleed, use a little paste made with white flour or corn starch and a few drops of water or have some styptic powder at the ready (but do not let the dog lick it!)

Little trims may need to be done around the ear canal, paws, around the bottom and, for the fluffy cockers, in the corners of the lips (the lip folds) You can use basic straight scissors, but if you feel nervous, get a pair of small ones with rounded ends.

Groom your dog in a table that is non-slippery (rubber bath matts are good for that). If your pup is nervous, get your other half to help you by holding him and feeding treats whilst you brush.

Take it slowly. First, introduce the dog to each tool (tool -> let dog sniff it -> treat -> “good boy”) and the surface (again, lots of treats and praise) before you even start grooming him. If he gets stressed out during the process, return to the area of the body where he is happy, then casually return to the “problem” area for a second or two, then back to the “happy” area. Eventually he will learn that everything is ok. Make sure that you are calm and relaxed because dogs can sense any tension and react to your emotions.


I have a full grooming routine and more tips in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel, so if you would like to learn everything beyond the basics, get a copy. And if you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll answer as soon as possible. 


Image credit: Fred photographed by me

Golden english cocker spaniel puppy / facts about english cocker spaniels / grooming, ear problems, cockers shed, cocker spaniel smell / puppy advice and tips / first puppy / how to find a cocker spaniel puppy / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

Misleading facts about English cocker spaniels you need to know

Confession.  I can’t imagine my life without the internet. But the internet is only good if you either know what to look for or use a source created by educated professionals. Otherwise you end up reading all kinds of nonsense including the “facts” about cockers I’ve come across on several “expert websites” & social media.

Allow me to show you why the statements below are so misleading.

Cockers are bred from Springer spaniels. No. Cockers were originally bred from Field spaniels, the all-black short legged breed that is practically extinct. Springers were sometimes introduced to improve the working qualities of cockers, but they weren’t the only breed used in developing an English cocker spaniel.

Cockers come in all shapes and sizes. No. There’s a breed standard and an English cocker should fit its description. A typical cocker will be a small dog about 38-42 cm in withers and weight 12-15kg depending on gender & height (slight variation in height is possible)

Cockers are one if the breeds with a long list of health issues. Wrong again! Cockers are genetically predisposed to a few illnesses (see previous post), but most can be avoided through DNA testing of dogs used for breeding. Risk of haemolytic anaemia may be potentially reduced through choice of daily diet & correct vaccination programme.

Cockers suffer from ear problems. No. Just like any breed with long floppy ears, cockers can develop ear infections, but the issue can be completely avoided with proper grooming routine & appropriate preventatives.

Cockers smell. Yes & No. All my boys have a wonderful light scent that feels very comforting. But No, they don’t smell unpleasant even when they are wet after a rainy walk. Any dog can develop an unpleasant odour if he’s groomed incorrectly, neutered, suffers from yeast infections, unwell or, truth of life, rolls in something stinky.

Cockers shed a lot. Again, that’s wrong. As a silky double-coated breed, cockers do not really shed. However the silky strands can break and fall off at times. Cockers can leave some hairs here and there, but they will not be dropping piles of hair all over the house. The secret lies in proper diet, grooming and coat maintenance.

Cockers require little grooming & need only be brushed 2-3 times a week. One of the biggest mistakes is to follow this advice! Cockers are high maintenance dogs. They need daily brushing & regular grooming sessions.

Cockers are one of the most aggressive breeds. No. Cockers have been bred to be happy, friendly and mellowy-soft. Just like ANY dog, some CAN BECOME aggressive, but there’s always an underlying reason for it. Poor breeding, unbalanced diet, lack of exercise & mental enrichment, neutering, psychological issues, illness are just a few reasons that can make a cocker “show his teeth”.

What do you think? Is there anything else you’d like to learn about English cocker spaniels? 

Photo source: image by Katrina_S from Pixabay