Your Irish Wolfhound
Caring for Your Faithful Companion
Irish Wolfhounds: What a Unique Breed!
Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Wolfhounds and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:
- Loyal and loving companion
- Energetic, active, and athletic
- Intelligent, friendly, and easily won over
- Even temper and gentle disposition
- Affectionate, easygoing, and lovable
- Good with children
However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- Can be rambunctious and rowdy, especially as a puppy
- Exhibits signs of separation anxiety if left alone too much
- Sensitive by nature, a bit slow to mature
- Takes up a lot of room due to her massive size
- Needs frequent attention from her family
- Strong prey drive—will chase and grab things that run, including cats and children
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is a quiet, easy-going dog that requires close human companionship. Give her soft bedding and ample space to stretch out.
The Irish Wolfhound is an ancient breed with references in Roman records dating back to 391 AD. The Irish Wolfhound is the tallest of all dog breeds and the largest of all of the sighthounds. They were bred to hunt wolves and elk, but as wolves became extinct in Ireland, the Wolfhound population declined. The breed was restored in the late 19th century, and the Wolfhound is often referred to as a “gentle giant.” Because of her loving temperment, she forms strong bonds with her family. The Irish Wolfhound is patient and gentle with children, but her large size makes her prone to accidents with small children and other pets.
Your Irish Wolfhound’s Health
We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your IW. By knowing about health concerns specific to Irish Wolfhounds, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed. That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen in Irish Wolfhounds to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Irish Wolfhounds. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Wolfhound looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.
General Health Information for your Irish Wolfhound
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Wolfhound is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Wolfhound’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.
Irish Wolfhounds are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections — the same ones that all dogs can get — such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, her age, and other factors.
Obesity can be a significant health problem in Irish Wolfhounds. It is a serious disease that may cause or worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Wolfhound’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your IW is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.
Genetic Predispositions for Irish Wolfhounds
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, also known as GDV or Bloat, usually occurs in dogs with deep, narrow chests. This means your IW is more at risk than other breeds. When a dog bloats, the stomach twists on itself and fills with gas. The twisting cuts off blood supply to the stomach, and sometimes the spleen. Left untreated, the disease is quickly fatal, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes. Your dog may retch or heave (but little or nothing comes out), act restless, have an enlarged abdomen, or lie in a prayer position (front feet down, rear end up). Preventive surgery in which the stomach is tacked down or sutured in place so that it is unlikely to twist is an option. If you see symptoms, take your pet to an emergency hospital immediately!
Your Wolfhound is more likely than other dogs to have a liver disorder called portosystemic shunt (PSS). Some of the blood supply that should go to the liver goes around it instead, depriving the liver of the blood flow it needs to grow and function properly. If your friend has PSS, his liver cannot remove toxins from his bloodstream effectively. To check for this problem, we’ll conduct a liver function test in addition to a standard pre-anesthetic panel every time he undergoes anesthesia. If he develops symptoms such as stunted growth or seizures, we’ll test his blood and possibly conduct an ultrasound scan of his liver. Surgery may be needed, but in some cases, we can treat with a special diet and medication.
Irish Wolfhounds are especially prone to a life-threatening heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, in which the heart becomes so large, thin, and weak that it can no longer effectively pump blood to the body. As this problem advances, he may act weak or tired, faint or collapse, breathe in a labored way, or cough. We’ll conduct a yearly electrical heart screening(ECG) and/or an echocardiogram starting at age one to look for abnormal heart rhythms early. If found, we’ll treat this condition with medication and may also recommend dietary supplementation.
Cancer is a leading cause of death in older dogs. Your Wolfhound will likely live longer than many other breeds and therefore is more prone to get cancer in his golden years. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, and some types are treatable with chemotherapy. Early detection is critical! We’ll perform periodic diagnostic tests and look for lumps and bumps when we examine your pet.
Osteosarcoma is the most common bone tumor in dogs. It typically afflicts middle-aged large and giant breeds like your IW. Early symptoms include lameness and leg pain. Early detection is critical! Call right away if you notice that your dog is limping. This is a painful and aggressive tumor, and the sooner it is removed, the better his prognosis.
A genetically linked neurological condition that could occur in your Irish Wolfhound causes a wobbly, drunken gait. This condition, known as wobbler disease or wobbler syndrome, happens because there is a narrowing of the vertebrae in the neck, which pinches the spinal cord and associated nerves. If the nerves do not send signals to the brain the way they are supposed to, your dog cannot feel his feet. The first signs you will often notice are unstable hind legs, stumbling, and sometimes falling. Medications, neck braces, rehabilitation exercise programs, and surgery are treatment options.
There are several types of inherited bleeding disorders which occur in dogs. They range in severity from very mild to very severe. Many times a pet seems normal until a serious injury occurs or surgery is performed, and then severe bleeding can result. Von Willebrand’s disease is a blood clotting disorder frequently found in Irish Wolfhounds. We’ll conduct diagnostic testing for blood clotting time or a specific DNA blood test for Von Willebrand’s disease or other similar disorders to check for this problem before we perform surgery.
Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Irish Wolfhounds can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.
Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older IWs. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.
Entropion is a condition where the eyelid rolls inward, causing the eyelashes to rub against the cornea (surface of the eyeball). This is an extremely irritating and painful condition that can ultimately lead to blindness. It can happen in any dog breed; however, your IW is especially at risk for this heritable disorder. Surgical correction is usually successful if performed early.
Distichiasis is a condition caused by extra hairs that grow inside of the eyelid and rub on the surface of the eye. This is one of the most commonly inherited diseases in dogs, and your IW is more likely than other dogs to develop this painful condition. If untreated, these abnormal hairs can cause corneal ulcers and chronic eye pain. Several treatment options are available, and the prognosis is good once the hairs have been permanently removed.
Bone and Joint Problems
A number of different musculoskeletal problems have been reported in Wolfhound. While it may seem overwhelming, each condition can be diagnosed and treated to prevent undue pain and suffering. With diligent observation at home and knowledge about the diseases that may affect your friend’s bones, joints, or muscles you will be able to take great care of him throughout his life.
Both hips and elbows are at risk for dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the joints to develop improperly and results in arthritis. Stiffness in your IW’s elbows or hips may become a problem for him, especially as he matures. You may notice that he begins to show lameness in his legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis—the sooner the better—to minimize discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s bones to identify issues as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes a good option in severe and life-limiting cases. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering!
When IW puppies are allowed to grow too quickly, the cartilage in their joints may not attach to the bone properly. This problem is known as osteochondritis dissecans or OCD. If this occurs, surgery may be required to fix the problem. It’s best to stick to our recommended growth rate of no more than four pounds per week. Don’t overfeed him and don’t supplement with additional calcium. Feed a large-breed puppy diet rather than an adult or a regular puppy diet. Weigh your puppy every three to four weeks.
Growing IWs can suffer from a painful inflammation of the long bones in the legs, a condition called eosinophilic panosteitis, pano or eo-pan. It usually starts at around six to ten months of age and shifts from leg to leg. We’ll look for this condition upon examination; if your pal exhibits pain when the area is squeezed or palpated, we’ll take X-rays to diagnose the problem. Panosteitis usually causes no permanent damage, but requires pain medication. If your dog has the condition and has developed an abnormal gait to compensate for the sore leg(s), rehabilitation exercises may be required.
There are three types of seizures in dogs: reactive, secondary, and primary. Reactive seizures are caused by the brain’s reaction to a metabolic problem like low blood sugar, organ failure, or a toxin. Secondary seizures are the result of a brain tumor, stroke, or trauma. If no other cause can be found, the disease is called primary, or idiopathic epilepsy. This problem is often an inherited condition, with Irish Wolfhounds commonly afflicted. If your friend is prone to seizures, they will usually begin between six months and three years of age. An initial diagnostic workup may help find the cause. Lifelong medication is usually necessary to help keep seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness. If your dog has a seizure: Carefully prevent him from injuring himself, but don’t try to control his mouth or tongue. It won’t help him, and he may bite you accidentally! Note the length of the seizure, and call us or an emergency hospital.
The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth into the stomach. If the esophagus isn’t contracting properly to move food down, it becomes stretched out to “mega” size, and food stays in the esophagus instead of going into the stomach. If your IW is affected, he may throw up tube shaped portions of undigested food. Special feeding postures, dietary modifications and sometimes medications may be needed to manage this problem. Unfortunately, dogs with megaesophagus commonly inhale bits of food and can develop severe pneumonia. If you notice any unusual eating behaviors or vomiting after eating, be sure to let us know. A quick and painless x-ray can help us determine if he has this condition.
IWs are prone to a common condition called hypothyroidism in which the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin and coat, hair loss, susceptibility to other skin diseases, weight gain, fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes. We’ll conduct a blood screening test annually to screen for the disease. Treatment is usually simple: replacement hormones given in the form of a pill.
When it is time for a dental cleaning, surgery, or minor procedures such as suturing a wound, anesthesia is usually necessary. Irish Wolfhounds have a number of idiosyncrasies that can increase the risk of anesthesia. The good news is we have many years of experience with sighthounds and know to pay special attention to anesthetic problems such as:
- hyperthermia (body temperature dangerously high) in nervous dogs
- hypothermia (body temperature dangerously low) in dogs with a lean body conformation
- prolonged recovery from some intravenous anesthetics and increased risks of drug interactions
While we cannot eliminate his risk entirely, we are able to use anesthesia safely in these pets.
Some dogs tend to form calluses as a result of lying on hard surfaces. Large breeds like your Irish Wolfhound tend to form them on their elbows and hocks (ankles). Calluses normally provide protection at pressure points, but when they become infected the dog is said to have callus pyoderma. Pyoderma means skin infection. If you notice that a callus has reddened areas, bumps, blackheads, holes, or discharge it is probably infected. Because problems are worse in heavier dogs, keeping your dog at a trim weight is helpful. Make sure he has access to soft bedding, and encourage him to use it. Carpet fibers may actually be somewhat abrasive, so blankets or padding are preferred over carpet. Special pads held on by straps over the shoulders can take pressure off calluses or infected areas.
Taking Care of Your Irish Wolfhound at Home
Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in IWs. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Wolfhound live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.
- Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
- Brush her coat as needed, at least weekly.
- Irish Wolfhounds generally have good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
- Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
- She’s a large dog with lots of energy, so keep her mind and body active, or she’ll get bored. That’s when the naughty stuff starts.
- She has a strong chase instinct, so she needs to be leash walked and a fenced yard is a must.
- Her beard can get messy while eating and drinking and will need some attention to keep it clean.
- Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
- Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
- Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.
What to Watch For
Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Irish Wolfhound needs help.
Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Change in appetite or water consumption
- Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
- Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss
- Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
- Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
- Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
- Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
- Dry heaving or a large, tight, painful abdomen
- Slow or stunted growth; sometimes seizures after eating
- Fainting, collapse, breathing issues, cough
- General reluctance to run or play
- Any abnormal shaking, trembling, or excessive involuntary tremors
- Tubular vomit, undigested food
- Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
- Leg stiffness, reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, run, jump, or “bunny hopping”
Partners in Health Care
DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.
Your IW counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.
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- Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
- Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://ic.upei.ca/cidd/breed/irish-wolfhound
- Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=irish-wolfhound