Gluten-sensitive Enteropathy Of Irish Setters

Gluten-sensitive enteropathy is an inflammatory disease of the small intestine resulting in failure to uptake nutrients. Gluten is a protein in wheat and other cereals such as barley. The condition is due to a product of gluten digestion which is toxic to mucosal cells and causes an immune response. Enteropathy causes malabsorption of iron, calcium, vitamins, and other vital nutrients. A familial gluten-sensitive enteropathy has been described in the Irish Setter. In Irish setters the disease is seen between 4 and 7 months of age. Affected puppies fail to gain weight and have chronic diarrhea.

Diagnosis is based on resolution of signs when the animal is fed gluten-free diet and recurrence of clinical signs when the diet is withdrawn. Diagnosis is further confirmed by low folate levels but normal vitamin B12 levels. A definitive diagnosis is made from biopsy of the small intestine.

Affected dogs should be placed on a gluten-free diet and maintained on this once symptoms have disappeared. This means the diet must be free from cereal products. Instead, rice-based foods and canned meat should be used. However, commercial pet foods contain some form of gluten, and even small amounts can prevent recovery. In some cases, dietary treatment must continue for months or years before remission is seen. The prognosis is generally good so long as the condition is not advanced. With time, affected animals can lose an allergy to gluten and recover tolerance for this food.


  1. John K. Dunn. Textbook of Small Animal Medicine
  2. James W. Simpson and Roderick W. Else. Digestive Disease in the Dog and Cat
  3. Donald R. Strombeck. Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: the Healthful Alternative

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