One of the health problems people associate with Irish Setters is PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) which is a term for several different forms of hereditary conditions which lead to blindness and which is found in many breeds of dogs. This was a major problem for the breed in the 1940’s and 1950’s and was the greatest threat to the breed. This eye condition leads to gradually worsening vision and eventual total blindness in both eyes. The condition is hereditary and is carried by a simple autosomal recessive gene.
The breed now has a DNA test for PRA rcd 1 mutation. Since the KC started its open register in 1995 no dogs that have been tested since then have been diagnosed with PRA rcd1 in UK. This is an early onset form of the disease, puppies typically being diagnosed from about 6 weeks and being totally blind by about 12 months, with night blindness being noticed first. Owners may notice that the dog is bumping into things in the dark or be unwilling to go outside.
By using the DNA test effectively this particular PRA is no longer a problem for Irish Setters in UK and since January 1st 2011 no Irish Setter puppy has been registered by the KC unless both its parents are either tested clear or are hereditarily clear. All imported Irish Setters also have to be either hereditarily clear or tested before they can be KC registered as well. Do not buy a puppy unless both parents are clear. This is clearly shown on the KC registration papers of the puppy. Remember both parents need to be clear not just one of them.
Why bother to have a PRA rcd 1 clear puppy?
There are several reasons why this is important; the first being that if a pup is clear then it will never get PRA rcd1 and if you decide to breed then its puppies will never get the problem. Responsible breeders have worked very hard to eradicate PRA rcd1 from the breed in UK and want to keep it that way. Also, although you may not be thinking of breeding from your pet at the moment, you may change your mind later and unless both parents are clear from PRA rcd1 then the puppies cannot be registered with the Kennel Club.
In 2014 we were advised that an Irish Setter in mainland Europe had been confirmed as being PRA-rcd1 affected and was going blind. In UK it is very easy to become complacent and believe this problem no longer exists but it obviously does.
Late onset PRA Blindness
Although PRA rcd1 is no longer a problem it is suggested you have your dog’s eyes tested at an eye clinic every two years, as there are other forms of PRA being identified.
Late Onset PRA (LOPRA) which, as the name suggests, does not show until the dog is older, has been identified in the breed. A mutation known as rcd4 has now been found, and a DNA test is available (NB. rcd2 and rcd3 are mutations found in other breeds). Time of onset of blindness is variable but typically later in life.
Recently a mid-onset PRA has been identified, with clinical signs of PRA developing in middle age. The genetic mutation has not yet been identified and research is ongoing.
Please look at "Spotlight on" to see the latest announcements about PRA rcd4 which is the mutation recently identified and for which a DNA test became available from 1st August 2011.
If you believe your Irish Setter has vision problems consult a veterinary ophthalmologist for a diagnosis of PRA. If it is confirmed then let the health representative of a breed club and your breeder know immediately. They will be able to advise you what to do next as a DNA test will be needed to confirm if it is PRA rcd4.
Any Irish Setter with suspected sight problems can have DNA testing free-of-charge if the sample sent to the AHT is accompanied by a certificate from a veterinary ophthalmologist confirming PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) which is neither rcd1 or rcd4.