Health Matters

There are a number of health problems facing Irish Setters and these are dealt with on separate pages with links to lists of test results for the breed. A number of other issues, not necessarily breed related are covered by Ben the Vet.




If you need to check on the various health check results for a particular dog, these can be obtained via the Kennel Club Website Health Page



The following is reproduced by kind permission of Irish Setter Health website

The oesophagus is the muscular tube that takes food from the mouth to the stomach.  This is done by waves of muscular contractions, called peristalsis, which push the food down the tube.

Megaoesophagus (MO) refers to a large, flabby oesophagus which makes it difficult or impossible for food to reach the stomach because the peristaltic action does not happen as it should, probably because the nerves are not functioning properly.  Food cannot enter the stomach normally, but instead simply sits in the enlarged oesophagus and is eventually  regurgitated.

Regurgitation is different from vomiting:  Vomiting occurs when the contents of the stomach are expelled by muscular contractions of the abdomen.  Regurgitation is purely the return of food that has not reached the stomach and, as such, retching does not happen.  As it happens very quickly and with little effort littermates or mum may clean up the results before the breeder realizes it has happened.

The University of Illinois has an excellent article which describes the difference between vomiting and regurgitation.

Most cases of MO in Irish Setters are congenital, ie present at birth, but it may not be noticed that the pup has any problem until it is weaned when he will regurgitate food through the mouth and maybe fluids through the nose.  It may cough and make gurgling, rattling sounds.

An affected pup generally will not thrive and will probably be smaller than his littermates.

The symptoms of MO are as follows: 
Regurgitation may be considered the most typical sign of MO.  Weight loss with possible muscle wasting and a failure to thrive with a general weakness are common.  Increased swallowing motions with excessive drooling and dehydration are possible.  A ravenous appetite but with stunted growth are usual, as is coughing, difficulty in breathing and pneumonia.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            MO pups may not exhibit all of these symptoms, or even any of them to a significant degree.  Sometimes the only signs may be repeated bouts of aspiration pneumonia, or a wet cough that fails to clear up.  Some pups grow out of the disorder and go on to enjoy a normal quality of life but others will be significantly affected and need careful food management for the rest of their lives.  If the problem is severe, however, the pup will not be able to get enough food and will have to be euthanased.

A definitive diagnosis can be obtained by giving a barium meal.  In the normal pup, the barium will move into and through the stomach, but in the dog with MO, most of it will be seen collected in the oesophageal pouch in front of the stomach.

Another reason for congenital MO is a vascular ring anomaly such as persistent right aortic arch.  Foetal  blood vessels that should have disappeared at birth create a fibrous band that constricts the oesophagus.  This causes the oesophagus above the constriction to expand as the food cannot pass through the constricted area.  If caught in time, the vascular ring can be cut and the oesophagus often returns to normal.  Delaying surgery may cause irreparable oesophageal damage.

Oesophageal dilation and vascular ring anomalies are both believed to have a hereditary component because there is a breed disposition and a probable family predisposition.

If you believe your pet has MO then you will need veterinary advice.  If confirmed it is important to let your breeder know as well as the secretary of one of the breed clubs as information is being collected on the problem.

Megaoesophagus is one of the twenty inheritable gastro-intestinal diseases listed in the Merck Veterinary Manual and is listed as a severe trait in the “Hierarchy of Disagreeableness of a Genetic Trait”.

 Follow the next link to an excellent article on MO with clear X rays of a dog without MO and one with MO. There is also a very clear visual of a dog with MO trying to eat megaesphagus.html/

Sometimes MO doesn’t happen until later in life, maybe through trauma or being associated with other health problems but this form is not generally a problem with Irish Setters.


Collecting information on Irish setters with MO

Greta Ross, health representative for the Irish Setter Club of Wales, is still collecting information on Megaoesophagus and would like to hear from you about any Irish Setter that has had MO confirmed.  

Details asked for are:-

1. A copy of the letter from your Vet confirming MO by Barium Xray and date of diagnosis.

2. A four generation pedigree

3. Date of birth and whether the dog/bitch is alive or has died or been euthanaised and if so the date and age at the time this occurred.

4. Information whether the Irish's DNA has been sent to the Animal Health Trust either by blood sample or cheek swab, marked clearly as MO afflicted.

5. Any information of diet and and contents (fluid and /or solids)

6. Information on health conditions of parents and siblings, including any history of MO.

All information is treated with strict confidence and data collected will be given to Professor Ed Hall, Breed Health Coordinator and Chairman of the Breed Clubs Health Coordinators Group.

Details for contacting Greta are:- email:

                                                Tel: 01873 840291

                                                Address: Brynhyfryd, Llanfair Kilgeddin, Monmouthshire, NP7 9DY.

Greta is also collecting information for CANCER, Please send me details as follows:-


  1. The Kennel Club pedigree name and pet name.
  2. Date of birth, and whether the dog is alive or has died or been euthanized and if so the date and at what age.
  3. Kennel Club name of the sire and dam (preferably a four generation pedigree).
  4. Information whether the dog’s DNA has been sent to the Animal Health Trust, either by blood sample or swab for future use. 
  5. Type of Cancer (if known) and any evidence of veterinary confirmation where available.
  6. Dietary information

Many Irish Setter owners have told me that their Irish have had cancer (of all types) in the past; this is the information that is required just to see if anything can be identified.

This information will be passed on to Professor Ed Hall of Bristol University, when sufficient data is available, which will be treated with the respect in which this is given.

 Information to be sent to:-

Greta Ross, Brynhyfryd, Llanfair Kilgeddin, Monmouthshire, South Wales , NP7 9DY. Email: