The setters, as a dog type, are some of the showiest of the sporting breeds if not of all the breeds. The Irish Setter is one of the most recognizable and beautiful dogs with its distinctive red coat, fringed tail and beautiful calm and friendly expression. The Irish Setter is a very popular family dog and is typically a fairly long lived dog with an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years. Some Irish Setters may live longer and they remain a very active breed well into their senior years.
The major health conditions noted in the Irish Setter are very similar to most of the larger breeds and those found in the working and sporting group. Canine hip dysplasia is a genetic issue found in most breeds, with the Irish Setter being no exception. This condition is caused by a lack of tension in the ligaments and muscles around the hip joint. The loose muscles and ligaments allow the ball and socket joint to slip, resulting in damage to both sides of the joint. Over time these areas where there is bone on bone contact rub and continue to wear, resulting in pain and inflammation of the joint. Typically CHD (canine hip dysplasia) is seen in adult dogs, however sometimes even in juvenile dogs the symptoms can be visible.
There is no drug therapy cure for hip dysplasia but there are medications that can control the inflammation and help to rebuild the cartilage and manage the pain. These non-steroid medications can be given to the dog for life, allowing a dog to live a relatively normal life with slightly modified exercise program. Keeping the dog within average weight and preventing weight gain can also help to relieve any pressure or additional stress on the affected hip.
In some young dogs partial or full hip replacements are now being done that does permanently correct the issue. In very young dogs surgery that restructures and redesigns the muscles and ligaments around the joint can also be very effective. These techniques are typically reserved for younger, otherwise healthy dogs and even then not all dogs will be ideal candidates. As the surgical options become more common there is a great likelihood that more and more dogs will have this procedure if CHD is noticed early. Reputable breeders work very diligently to avoid using dogs with CHD in breeding programs. X-rays and hip certification is typically done on all dogs in breeding programs to prevent continuing on with breeding lines that exhibit the condition.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy or PRA is a common eye condition found in many breeds of dogs. PRA is genetic and is present from birth, however it is typically not noticed until mid to late adult years. The first signs include difficulty in seeing at night, followed by decreasing vision in all light conditions. Unfortunately there is no treatment for PRA and all dogs that have the condition will eventually go completely blind. For some dogs this happens very slowly over years while others lose their vision much more rapidly. It is not painful to the dog and they do adjust and can live happy lives with their owners. Safety precautions such as keeping the dog on a leash, keeping the dog in familiar areas and carefully monitoring the dog will all help the canine adjust. The great news is that the Irish Setter is one breed that can be tested for PRA through genetic testing prior to breeding. This will ensure that the inherited condition is not found within either of the parent dogs.
The Irish Setter also has a higher than average percentage of dogs that have epilepsy within the breed. This neurological condition is inherited, and results in severe to mild seizure activity that can occur very infrequently or more often. Seizures can be very mild and almost unnoticed or they can be very pronounced and frightening for the owner. The dog is typically otherwise healthy and may not seem to have any serious adverse issues after a seizure. Some will have personality changes and temperament changes prior to the seizures.
Seizure activity can be controlled by daily medication and dogs can and will lead normal lives. For dogs that only have seizures every few months, vets may recommend different management techniques that may include medications if the dog has a noticeable behavioral change before the seizure. Any Irish Setter that has epilepsy or has brothers or sisters with the condition should be spayed or neutered and removed from breeding programs.
Bloat or gastric torsion is another common problem in the large, deep but narrow chested breeds of dogs. This is a condition that is often found more predominantly in some lines within a breed than others, so there is some inherited component to the condition. Bloat occurs when the dog eats a meal, then the stomach or intestines twist, resulting in a blockage. Since the waste material is trapped, it swells, blood builds up in the area and the stomach pushes upwards and forwards into the heart and lungs. If the twist is complete and blood flow is shut off to the area for a period of time death can occur. For serious and life threatening cases of bloat, which any symptoms could potentially signal, death can occur within just a few hours. Emergency surgery to relieve the pressure and restore circulation is the only option to save the dog.
The chance of bloat can be significantly reduced by feeding several small meals a day rather than one large meal. Avoiding foods that are low quality where the dog eats a lot to feel full is also essential. The dog should not be exercised for at least one hour after eating plus water intake during feeding and immediately after should be restricted.
Other issues that are less serious in natural but still found within the Irish Setter breed include skin allergies, ear infections and some autoimmune disorders. Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder often caused by an intolerance to gluten can be seen in the breed. Von Willebrand's Disease, a blood clotting disorder, is another inherited condition that is occasionally seen with the breed.