Irish Setter

Breed At A Glance


Sociable, active and playful

Life Expectancy
11-15 years

Average Height
Males 26-28 inches; Females 24-26 inches

Average Weight
Males 60-75 lbs; Females 55-65 lbs

Coat Color
Deep red (chestnut to mahogany)

Coat Length/Texture
Medium-long, with dense undercoat in winter

Shedding Propensity
Consistent year round, seasonally heavy

Also known as Madra Rua, Red Setter, Irish Red Setter

General Temperament

The playful and energetic Irish Setter is known for it’s general lust for life. They are affectionate and revel in the love of their human companions. Possessed with a free-spirit and happy disposition, they are an ideal dog for an active owner or family that can provide lots of attention and exercise. Although many lines are bred primarily for companionship, field lines are excellent hunters that can work on almost any bird game or terrain, including water.

The Irish Setter is a well-mannered and non-aggressive breed that does very well with children and other dogs, often seeking out canine playmates to romp with. They will bark to announce the arrival of visitors or strangers, but given their sweetness and love of people, they do not make adequate guard dogs.

Irish Setters are clean animals and take easily to housetraining, but obedience training may be a bit more difficult. This breed tends to pick up bad habits quickly, so it’s important to be firm with this dog from the very beginning to teach good manners. But this diligence will most certainly pay off in the long run: a consistently well-trained Irish Setter will be a joyful addition to an active home.

The energy requirements of owning this breed cannot be overstated. Without adequate physical stimulation and attention from their owner(s), they can become quite destructive or even suffer from separation anxiety, nervousness or timidness. They are not appropriate for apartment life or as companions for sedentary or inactive owners. The Irish Setter will be happiest in a home with a large yard, and an owner/handler who will dedicate a significant portion of their day to interacting with them.

Breed History

The Irish Setter first became popular around the late 1700’s. It is commonly accepted that this breed developed from crosses between the Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Terrier, English Setter, Spaniel, and Pointer, with a little Gordon Setter thrown in along the way. Early versions were red and white, but the breeders in the early 1800’s began to focus on creating the solid red version that we know today. Solid red Irish Setters quickly became revered as dogs of high quality, both for their beauty and their remarkable hunting and retrieving abilities. As time wore on, many breeders chose to produce a dog based more on physical appearance rather than working skill, leading to a differentiation in field and bench (or show) types.

The Irish Red Setter was first introduced into the United States in the 1860’s.

Body Structure and Composition

The Irish Setter is an elegantly built and well-balanced birding dog with a long and efficiently graceful gait. This dog is slightly longer than it is tall, of substantial bone without appearing bulky. The headpiece is long and lean, with the length being equally split between the muzzle and the skull. The neck is long and strong without being thick, and leads down to a topline that slopes slightly from the withers to the tail. An Irish Setter’s chest is deep and it’s long feathered tail tapers to a fine point. The coat is typically short except for feathering or fringe on the ears, chest, undercarriage, tail and backs of the legs.

Medical Information

According to statistics provided by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), one of the biggest problems facing the Irish Setter is Hypothyroidism. This condition causes an underactivity of the thyroid gland, resulting in decreased appetite or weight gain, hair loss, recurring skin infections, and lethargy. Hip Dysplasia is also of concern for this breed, and occurs when the head of the thigh bone no long fits into the cup provided by the hip socket, causing lameness and arthritis-like symptoms. Responsible breeders will have their breeding stock certified by the OFA prior to producing a litter to help prevent the spread of these diseases.

Irish Setters can also be prone to a condition called “bloat,” also known as Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV). Excess gas trapped in the dog’s stomach causes “bloat,” and twisting of the stomach (volvulus or “torsion”) causes or is caused by said excess gas. GDV is an emergency condition requiring immediate veterinary treatment. Feeding the dog two to three small meals per day (as opposed to one large meal) and avoiding exercise immediately after eating may help prevent this condition.

The Irish Setter Club of America states that Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD) is a significant cause for concern in Irish Setter puppies, as well as a few other large breed pups. This condition usually strikes puppies around 3-4 months of age, and causes fever, pain, swelling of the joints, lethargy, reluctance to walk, and/or lack of appetite. Permanent deformity of the front legs can result from lack of proper veterinary treatment.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is yet another medical concern often affecting Irish Setter lines. PRA causes degeneration of the cells of the retina, leading eventually to blindness, often beginning with a loss of night vision. The Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) provides certification for puppies that have been tested negative for this disease , and breeders concerned for the healthy proliferation of the Irish Setter should be able to provide this information to potential owners.

Other medical issues that face the Irish Setter with significant frequency include epilepsy, cardiac problems, moderate to severe skin conditions and allergies. Osteosarcoma, a common form of bone cancer, is also prevalent in this breed and is one of the leading causes of death. Be sure to locate a reputable breeder when purchasing an Irish Setter puppy in order to avoid these problems that can seriously affect the dog’s life span or quality of life.

A daily brushing is recommended to maintain this breed’s silky coat and keep it free from mats and tangles.

Anecdotal Information

Former U.S. Presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon both owned Irish Setters.

The mascot for Pace University is an Irish Setter named T-Bone.

The title character from the book (and 1962 Disney film) Big Red is an Irish Setter who is determined to remain untamed.

In 2007, the Irish Setter was ranked the 66th most popular breed in the U.S., based on statistics provided by the American Kennel Club.

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