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Labor of Love

With this column, I am passing the pen to a very accomplished writer, Carlotta Cooper. She will be writing the English Setter breed columns for the Gazette from now on. She is a very experienced English Setter person. I think her fresh viewpoint will make for interesting and informative reading. Writing this column has been a labor of love for me.

Carlotta has provided a guest column on a very important topic to kick off 2016. You will hear her voice from now on. Thank you, Carlotta.

I want to thank Jill Warren for the wonderful job she has done as the English Setter AKC Gazette columnist since 2008. Her columns on training, agility, grooming, and other topics have been interesting. Our Gazette breed columnists have been so knowledgeable and I hope I won't let the breed down. I've had English Setters since 1987. I've shown dogs, bred a few litters, and had dogs competing in various disciplines. Writing this column about the breed I cherish is a labor of love for me.

At the English Setter National Specialty in October 2015, one important topic of conversation was epilepsy in English Setters. Like me, you may be surprised to hear that English Setters are one of the almost 30 breeds affected by this serious disease. There are enough people speaking out that it seems undeniable that it exists in English Setters. According to some, there have been English Setters with epilepsy at least as far back as 20 years ago.

Per the AKC Canine Health Foundation, epilepsy is the most common neurological disease in dogs. It affects up to five percent of the canine population. http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/top-health-concerns/epilepsy/Understanding-Canine-Epilepsy-June-2014.pdf Epilepsy is a particularly difficult disease to diagnose and even more difficult to control through breeding. Dogs can have one or a few seizures for a number of reasons – injury, reaction to medication or a household substance, tumor, and the list goes on. Cases of chronic, recurring seizures appear to be inherited.

Unfortunately, inherited epilepsy appears to be polygenetic, which means multiple genes combine to produce an affected dog. That makes the task of finding a genetic marker or avoiding it in a breeding program very difficult. With idiopathic or inherited epilepsy, age of onset is often between 1 and 3 years, so a dog may not have a seizure until after he or she has already produced offspring.

If a dog does not have a seizure until later in life or has mild seizures, the seizures can usually be controlled with medication. Some dogs may have one seizure and never have another one. The severity of the disease can vary greatly.

Research is being done on canine epilepsy but so far there are no tests to identify the specific gene or genes responsible. You can find out more about research into canine epilepsy on the AKC Canine Health Foundation web site at http://www.akcchf.org/search/search.jsp. The University of Missouri has been doing research into canine epilepsy for more than 10 years. They maintain a site you can visit for information. http://www.canine-epilepsy.net/

At this time we don't know how widespread epilepsy may be in English Setters. It's not something that people have ever discussed openly before.. Admitting there is a problem is a vital first step in solving it. Once we are ready to confront it openly, we can collect pedigree information and support research appropriate to our breed. Most importantly, we must communicate with each other so we can help our dogs.

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