What to Know About Irish Setters

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on June 09, 2024
7 min read

Known for its silky, mahogany coat, the Irish Setter is considered to be one of the most beautiful dog breeds. This dog has more than just good looks, though. Part of the gundog or sporting group, this energetic breed has a lot of personality and is one of the best dogs for families. 

Learn more to find out if the Irish setter is the right dog for you!

The Irish Setter has a distinctive mahogany coat with silky, straight hair. Its coat is medium in length and doesn’t have many curls or waves in it. You’ll notice that the Irish setter has extra featherings of fur, though, around the chest, ears, stomach, tail, and the backs of its legs. Its coloring sets it apart from two other Irish breeds, the Red and White Setter and the rare Hail Setter.

When it comes to the average Irish Setter size, this dog stands between 25 to 27 inches tall and weighs between 60 and 70 pounds. It’s a large dog that has long, powerful legs. In fact, the Irish Setter is known to be one of the swiftest and most agile of all the dogs within the sporting group.

The Irish Setter has been selectively bred to create its current build and appearance. The result is its signature chestnut coat and a light-boned body that makes it quick and agile. It also has a finer head compared to other setters.

The Irish Setter is a high-energy breed that’s a great match for active families. Because it’s so energetic, this breed does best in a larger home and isn’t as well suited for apartment living. This breed will also do well in a home that has a garden or yard where it can run. It needs a lot of exercise, ideally getting in two hours or more each day, running and playing.

The Irish Setter is a very friendly dog. It’s very sweet-natured but also quite mischievous and playful. This breed is also intelligent and very affectionate. However, even though the Irish setter temperament is quite good, this breed needs patient training. They can be a bit stubborn and sometimes like to have their own way. They are natural hunters and trackers, so don’t be surprised if your Irish setter decides to look for treasures in your home, including your closets or drawers.

You can expect your dog to be a part of your family for quite a while: The average Irish Setter's lifespan is between 12 to 15 years.

To keep its coat looking healthy and beautiful, your Irish Setter will need to be brushed at least twice a week with a soft brush. You can use a soft-bristle brush or even a long-toothed metal comb for dog coats to work out any knots or tangles. Since your Irish Setter has a medium-length coat, give it a bath now and then with gentle dog shampoo to keep its skin and coat clean and healthy. 

Along with a bath, aim to trim your dog’s nails once a month.

If you’re showing your Irish setter, they will require a lot more grooming. Either way, you should have your dog’s coat trimmed every few months to keep it healthy. Between groomings, you can trim the hair underneath your dog’s ears and between the pads of its feet to keep things neat since the Irish setter’s coat tends to collect dirt easily.

Irish Setters mature slowly, so balanced, proper nutrition is important to these dogs during their puppy years to promote adequate growth and development. Their nutritional needs and activity levels will vary during these different stages.

One thing to know about Irish setters is that they sometimes bloat after eating. Vets don’t yet know what causes this occasional bloating but agree that giving your dog a few small meals a day is better than one or two large meals. Try to avoid heavy exercise around your pet’s feeding times so that they can properly digest meals.

As noted, Irish Setters need a lot of activity each day. This breed has a lot of energy and is best for families that are active or have children to play with. While having a large home with a yard for your dog to run around in is a big plus, your Irish setter is highly social and needs you to play and exercise with them. 

As hunters, Irish Setters track and follow with their noses, and this can sometimes get them into trouble if you simply let them run around the yard unattended. Especially when they are younger, you can’t trust your Irish setter to stick close to the house if left alone. If you do have a yard or garden, it’s important that the area is fenced so your dog can’t get away.

While this breed needs at least two hours of exercise a day, don’t push younger dogs more than this. They get excited pretty easily and will continue to play and exercise even if they are well past tired.

To keep your dog in optimal health, it will need a set of vaccinations. During its first year, you should get your dog vaccinated against the following:

  • Parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Hepatitis
  • Adenovirus
  • Parainfluenza
  • Rabies

There are noncore vaccines that you should discuss with your vet. Also, talk to your vet about preventative heartworm treatments. There is currently no vaccine for heartworm, but your dog can take prescription medication or even an injecton to help prevent a dangerous heartworm infection. 

You should also ask about flea and tick prevention. Products like oral or topical medications or flea collars, along with regularly checking and grooming your dog, can help keep them tick and flea-free. Another effective method is oral medication. These medications control, treat, and prevent flea infestation. Depending on the specific medication, they can kill fleas and larvae or stop fleas from laying eggs on your dog.

To keep your dog's teeth clean, brush their teeth every day with dog toothpaste. To help them get used to the taste, put a little toothpaste in their food or have them lick it off your finger. Once they are used to the toothpaste, lift up your Irish setter's upper and lower lips and gently brush its teeth in a circular motion.

Irish Setters are usually very healthy dogs but, like many breeds, may encounter some health problems. The most common of the Irish Setter health issues is the bloating that can happen around feeding. This is common among other big, deep-chested dogs. When an Irish setter bloats, it happens suddenly and causes their abdomen to swell.

Bloating can be very dangerous. Gases in your dog’s stomach build up quickly and then cause it to expand like a balloon. In serious cases, the stomach stretches so far that it twists, and normal blood circulation to the heart is cut off. If you notice your dog is having bloating issues (for instance, if you observe a swollen abdomen), you need to take them to the vet immediately. Too much trapped gas can be deadly.

Irish Setters need to have their ears checked frequently for signs of infection. If they have too much hair around their ears, air circulation gets blocked and makes infections much more likely to occur.

Other problems that Irish setters are known to have include: 

  • Hip dysplasia, which can lead to canine arthritis
  • Epilepsy
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Atopy, or sensitivity to certain allergens
  • Entropion, a condition where the eyelids turn in
  • Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)

Irish Setters are known for being very affectionate, loving, and playful. They get along great with kids and love to play, especially fetch. The Irish Setter temperament is quite spirited, so they are always up to having fun with you. However, these dogs can sometimes get a little too excited, especially as puppies. If you have small toddlers around the house, an Irish setter may accidentally knock them over while playing.

Since Irish Setters are so friendly, don’t expect yours to be a guard dog. They welcome everyone and aren’t at all aggressive. Irish setters are alert and intuitive and will get along well with most people and pets. Most importantly, they love being a part of the family.

Irish Setters mature slowly, both mentally and physically. This breed will stay in the puppy phase for quite a while, so it’s important to give your dog obedience training from a young age. Some people think that setters are tough to train, but that’s not the case. Your Irish setter is really intelligent and wants to learn, even if it can be stubborn. It’s important to have patience while training your puppy. Once an Irish Setter learns a lesson, it doesn’t forget it. Simply be loving and firm with your puppy and remember to show positivity during training.

Around the year 1500, small Spanish hunting dogs were brought to Ireland when the Spanish Armada supported the Irish rebellion against the British. These dogs were trained to retrieve birds on hunts and crouch over them (or, set) while the hunter netted both the bird and the dog. Over the following centuries, breeders created taller red and white dogs that eventually became the modern setter. The Irish Setter first appeared around 1800.

During the 19th century, the Irish setter was developed as a solid-color breed of the Red and White setter. At this time, they were known as excellent hunting dogs by the name of Red Setter or Red Spaniel.

In 1886, the Irish Red Setter Club in Dublin created the breed standard for the modern Irish setter. It was based on a 100-point scale that outlined the physical characteristics and attributes of purebred Irish setters. Today, the points system is no longer used, but the breed standard today is mostly the same and remains unchanged in countries where it is recognized.

Today, Irish Setters are ranked 76th out of 200 dog breeds in the American Kennel Club’s official registrations.