The Breed History
In county Sussex in England during the 1800s, the breed was established and offspring were consistently selected for the distinctive golden liver colored haircoat. The AKC admitted the breed in 1884. Over the next century, the population declined to critically low levels and it is still a very rare breed.
Breeding for Function
A hunting companion for upland game for the hunter on foot, he was renowned for excellent scent tracking and possessed the resolve to find and flush the quarry. Like hounds, these spaniels bay, or give tongue when game is scented. They move slowly and deliberately on the trail unlike most other hunting dogs. This slow pace should not be confused with poor function.
Height at Withers: 13-15" (33-38 cm)
Weight: 35-45 lb (16-20.5 kg)
Coat: The thick golden liver coat is double, with flat silky or slightly wavy outer hairs. The ears, tail and neck have furnishings, and only small white chest markings are acceptable. The tips of the hairs are golden. The haircoat is medium long, and the feathers around the feet (a breed characteristic) are long.
Longevity: 12-13 years
Points of Conformation: Unlike other members of the spaniel group, Sussex Spaniels are quite short limbed and possess a massive constitution, are longer than tall, and low slung. Large eyes are hazel, and the heavy brows and wrinkled forehead produce a serious looking expression. Large pendulous ears are thick leathered and set fairly low. Some lower eyelid eversion is common. The skull is wide and the stop prominent, the muzzle is square, and the nose is liver colored. The lips are pendulous, the neck is short and well muscled. The topline is level, the thorax is barrel shaped, and the rib cage extends well back. The low set tail is usually docked to 5-7" in length and is carried level or below the back. The limbs are strong and short, and may be slightly bowed. The metacarpals and metatarsals are short. The gait is rolling, and low.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Friendly, happy, not heat tolerant, likes to please and is easily trained, though not generally seen at high levels in obedience training. Tolerate other dogs sometimes. They have moderate exercise needs. They have a high barking tendency, especially alarm barking. Moderate coat care is required and they adapt well to country or city.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 40.9% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 17.4% affected.
Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Deficiency/Mitochondrial Myopathy (PDP1): Autosomal recessive metabolic disorder, where affected dogs show exercise intolerance, collapse, and severe metabolic acidosis. Affected dogs have high serum lactate and pyruvate concentrations and urinary organic acids. Dietary therapy may control clinical signs. Affected dogs have also been treated with human recombinant PDP1. One study reported a worldwide spread of the mutation with a 20% carrier frequency. A genetic test is available.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Too few Sussex Spaniels have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Ectropion: Rolling out of eyelids, often with a medial canthal pocket. Can be secondary to Macroblepharon; an abnormally large eyelid opening. Can also cause conjunctivitis. Ectropion is reported in 3.96%, and macroblepharon in 11.88% of Sussex Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Retinal Dysplasia: Retinal folds, geographic, and detachment are recognized in the breed. Can lead to blindness. Identified in 10.89% of Sussex Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Persistent Hyaloid Artery (PHA): Congenital defect resulting from abnormalities in the development and regression of the hyaloid artery. Identified in 7.92% of Sussex Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. Too few Sussex Spaniels have been tested for thyroid autoantibodies at Michigan State University to determine an accurate frequency. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%). Reported as a breed problem on the SSCA website.
Allergies: Inhalant or food allergy. Presents with pruritis (itching) and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Reported as a breed problem on the SSCA website.
Cataracts: Anterior, posterior, intermediate and punctate cataracts occur in the breed. Identified in 2.97% of Sussex Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Sussex Spaniel with a cataract.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 1.98% of Sussex Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 1.11% of Sussex Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Iris Coloboma: A coloboma is a congenital defect which may affect the iris, choroid or optic disc. Identified in 0.99% of Sussex Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Sussex Spaniel with an iris coloboma.
Congenital Heart Disease: The SSCA reports an increased incidence of Pulmonic Stenosis, Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), and Tetralogy of Fallot. (See SSCA website.)
Deafness: Congenital deafness can be unilateral of bilateral. Diagnosed by BAER testing.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (bloat, GDV): Polygenically inherited, life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate treatment. Reported to occur in the breed on the Sussex Spaniel Association (UK) website.
Prognathism is reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Tests of Genotype: Direct genetic test for PDP1 is available at the University of Missouri and the Animal Health Trust.
Tests of Phenotype: Recommend hip and elbow radiographs, CERF eye examination, cardiac evaluation, patella evaluation, and thyroid profile including autoantibodies.
- Breed name synonyms: Sussex
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 147 (74 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Sussex Spaniel Club of America: www.sussexspaniels.org
- Sussex Spaniel Association (UK): www.sussexspaniels.org.uk
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