The Gordon Setter tends to be a generally healthy breed; however, there are a few health issues to be aware of that may occur. A summary is included here with links to websites such as the Gordon Setter Club of America for extensive information on each item.

Gastric Torsion/ Bloat

This is may be referred to as just torsion or bloat.  This illness is one which can affect any dog, but is more often found in deep-chested breeds.  Research into this condition has changed how we approach this so speak to your veterinarian for the most recent guidelines on how to lessen the risks of developing this condition.   While the chances of your dog ever experiencing bloat are small, this is a life-threatening emergency which unquestionably requires immediate attention.  Find out in advance where you have the closest emergency animal hospital, keep the number handy and be certain it is open 24 hours.

Hip Dysplasia

In the past, this was most commonly associated with German Shepherds; however, there is the potential in all large breed dogs.  Conscientious breeders have their dogs’ hips checked and approved prior to breeding in order to plan future litters.    The OFA and BVA registries are most commonly used for evaluation of hip x-rays.  Hips are usually checked when the dog is 2 years of age.

Sebaceous Cysts

This seems to be the most common complaint in Gordon Setters.  These are basically follicular cysts appearing as a small lump under the skin.   By no means life threatening, your veterinarian should investigate to be sure it is not something more serious.

PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy)

This is an eye condition that can be tested for and involves a gradual loss of sight. Known to be the result of a simple recessive gene, conscientious breeders have their dogs tested and plan their breeding accordingly in order to prevent puppies with the affliction (or being carriers).


Not a life threatening condition, owners should be aware of the potential in some Gordon Setters.  Symptoms may include a dull, dry, brittle coat, weight gain, intolerance to cold, a slow heart rate, absence of heat cycles, lethargy and a variety of nonspecific symptoms.  Diagnosis of a low thyroid requires a test of the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) as well as the standard T4 test.  Treatment may require thyroid supplementation.


Cancers can occur in any dog, but these are the ones most often seen in Gordon Setters:

  • Hemangiosarcoma 
  • Lymphoma
  • Mammary tumors 
  • Osteosarcoma

Cerebellar Degeneration

The mutation causing cerebellar degeneration (also known as cerebellar abiotrophy, cerebellar ataxia, cerebellar cortical degeneration, CA) has been identified in the laboratory of Dr. Natasha Olby at North Carolina State University.

Cerebellar degeneration has been documented in the Gordon Setter as an autosomal recessive inherited disorder since at least the 1960s. It causes a progressive loss of coordination resulting in the hallmark ataxic gait characterized by dramatic overstepping, particularly obvious in the forelimbs. Onset of signs ranges from 6 months to 4 years of age and disease progression tends to be slow, occurring over several years.

The mutation was identified following extensive mapping of cerebellar degeneration in Old English Sheepdogs. Testing of the mutation discovered in Old English Sheepdogs revealed that both breeds of dog have the same mutation. This implies that it is an old mutation that has existed in these populations of dogs at a very low level until more recent times. The mutation has not been described previously, and to date has only been found in the Old English Sheep dog and the Gordon Setter. Cerebellar degeneration has been seen in Gordon Setters worldwide, including the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. It has been documented in both conformation and field lines. While the mutation is old and dispersed in the breed, we do not expect it to be present at a high frequency in the breed. Genetic testing for the mutation will allow an assessment of the gene’s frequency in the breed.

The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at North Carolina State University will be offering genetic testing for the mutation to owners and breeders in early October. The cost of testing will be $51 per dog, and the test can be run on blood, cheek swabs or semen. Please see for more details.

Genetic test results for the mutation will be normal, carrier (one copy of the defective gene), or affected (two copies of the defective gene). Now that a genetic test is available, no dog has to be eliminated from breeding due to cerebellar degeneration carrier status. Quality carriers should be bred to normal-­‐testing dogs, preventing any affected dogs from being produced. Quality normal-­‐testing offspring should replace the carrier parent to diminish the frequency of the defective gene in the breed. In this way, selection against cerebellar degeneration will not impact the genetic health or diversity of the breed. College of Veterinary Medicine Department of Clinical Sciences North Carolina State University is a land-­‐grant university and a constituent institution of The University of North Carolina 1060 William Moore Drive Raleigh, North Carolina.

We are grateful for the support given to our research by breeders and owners of Gordon Setters who donated DNA from their dogs, by the TarTan Gordon Setter Club for their continued support, and by our collaborators, Drs. Dahlia Nielsen and Alison Mottsinger Reif of the Bioinformatics Research Center, North Carolina State University, Dr. Jerold Bell of the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Andrew Singleton of the Neurogenetics Laboratory at NIH, Drs. Kerstin Lindblad-­‐Toh and Noriko Tonomura of the Broad Institute and Drs Dennis O’Brien and Gary Johnson of the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.

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