English setter hereditary health and longevity
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English setter hereditary health and longevity

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The English setter is a medium sized dog breed from the setter family, which was historically widely used as a working gun dog. Today, the English setter is much more commonly owned as a pet and companion, which thrives within an active, full lifestyle with lots of exercise and attention.

The coat of the breed is medium to long, with long fringes of hair on the legs, belly and tail. They are mainly white in colour, with flecks of different colours giving a ticked appearance across the coat. The English setter stands up to 27” tall, and can weigh up to 36kg. Dogs of the breed can be seen in both working lines and show lines, with showing lines tending to be lighter and finer in build than their working counterparts.

The English setter is a lively yet gentle dog, which is playful, fun loving and loves to keep active. They have superior levels of endurance, and need to be housed within an active, outdoorsy family that can keep them occupied and fit.

If you are considering buying an English setter, it is of course vital to familiarise yourself with the core traits of the breed, before committing to a purchase. This includes doing some research into the longevity and hereditary health of the breed, and we will cover this in more detail below. Read on to learn more.

English setter longevity

The average lifespan of dogs of the breed is 11-12 years, although a significant number of dogs of the breed live to 13-15 years of age. Cancer is the leading cause of death in old age for the English setter, but this is most commonly diagnosed after the age of ten, and less prevalent among younger dogs of the breed.

Genetic diversity within the breed

The coefficient of inbreeding statistic for the English setter is 14.5%, which is significantly higher than the 6.25% or below that is considered to be the ideal for pedigree dog breeds. This means that the English setter is subject to a reasonable amount of inbreeding in order to keep the breed viable in perpetuity, and this may in its turn pose a problem in terms of the breed’s genetic diversity.

Breeders of English setters are advised to reduce the figure when possible within their own breed lines.

The effective population size for English setters registered with the UK Kennel club is 27, and this is a measurement of how many totally genetically individual dogs are contributing to the population of the breed within that given area (in this case, registered dogs in the UK).

This figure is understandably very low, and indicates that the gene pool of English setters across the UK as a whole is not very diverse, and places the breed at potential future risk of dying out entirely.

Health testing for the English setter

Various different health tests and health monitoring schemes are in place for the English setter breed, to help to improve the diversity and health of the breed as a whole. Pre-breeding tests can help a breeder to decide whether or not their parent dogs are viable, and to help to reduce the future occurrence rate of hereditary health problems within the breed.

Current schemes in place for the English setter are:

  • Hip score testing, with the mean score for the breed being 15.9. This is relatively high, and breeders should seek to only breed dogs with a hip score below this.
  • Elbow score testing, with the ideal figure being zero.
  • Testing for progressive retinal atrophy, an incurable degenerative eye disease that ultimately causes blindness.
  • DNA testing is possible to identify a propensity to neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, which is a degenerative condition of the nervous system that causes neurological problems.

Other health issues within the breed

As well as the conditions mentioned above, the English setter is also known to have something of a propensity to various other health conditions with a hereditary element to them as well, but for which no current pre-breeding screening schemes are in place. These conditions include:

  • Various types of cancers, particularly in old age. Two of the most commonly seen cancers within the breed are lymphoma, and trichoepithelioma.
  • Pancreatic disease, which leads to poor digestion and foul-smelling faeces in large volumes.
  • Hypothyroidism, an insufficiency in the production of the necessary thyroid hormones. This can lead to weight gain and lethargy, but can be managed with medication.
  • Lysosomal storage disease, an enzyme deficiency that causes degeneration of the liver.
  • Atopy, a sensitivity to certain protein particles including pollen, which leads to an allergenic reaction and extreme pruritus.
  • Osteochondrosis of the shoulder, which is caused by an abnormal development of the shoulder bone and cartilage.
  • Ectropion of the eyelids, leading to them turning outwards and causing soreness and irritations of the eyes.
  • Malassezia dermatitis, a propensity to a fungal inflammation of the skin.
  • Panosteitis, an inflammatory condition of the bones.
  • Deafness in some breed lines, possibly associated with the gene for the white coat.
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