The Breed History
The tallest of the spaniel breeds is also an ancient one, and original spaniel type fits the modern type of this breed. A member of the water spaniel group that includes the extinct Tweed water spaniel, these dogs are thought to have arisen from the South Country Water Spaniel and the North Country Water Spaniel. Written records begin in 1607. The first Irish Water Spaniels came to America around the year 1873. and became an AKC breed in 1884.
Breeding for Function
Their primary function was to perform as a high endurance waterfowl retriever. They were bred with a heavy oily coat to allow them to retrieve in cold waters. They were less commonly used for upland game hunting.
Height at Withers: females 21-23" (53-58.5 cm), males 22-24" (56-61 cm).
Weight: females 45-58 lb (20.5-26 kg), males 55-65 lb (25-29.5 kg).
Coat: The tail, front of the neck and face are covered in very short hair. The main haircoat is a longer crisp, dense, oily, and tightly curly overcoat. The undercoat is short and dense. The standard coat color is liver. The liver haircoat has a purplish tinge referred to as puce liver.
Longevity: 12-14 years
Points of Conformation: The water-repelling curly coat, rat-tail, beard and sideburns and the loose curly topknot that reaches the eyes of this dog are distinctive breed characteristics. They possess a strong square conformation, and the wedge-shaped head is well chiseled. The skull is domed, stop is moderate, and occipital protuberance is prominent. The muzzle is long and square, the nose large and liver colored. Almond shaped eyes are medium sized and hazel in color. The very long pendulous ears are low set with extensive curly feathering at the tips. The neck is arched, long and muscular. The topline is level, though it may be slightly higher in the rear. The thorax is deep and the ribs are well sprung. The rib cage extends well back. Limbs are straight boned, feet large and spreading with webbed toes, and the low set tail is generally carried level. The ground-covering gait is long, low, smooth, and seems effortless.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Loyal with family, some dogs are so reserved as to be aggressive with strangers, and intelligent. They have a strong willingness to please, high activity and exercise needs, and high trainability. Grooming needs consist of a weekly combing. They are a low to moderate shedder depending on the season. This breed is not always good with other pets. Early obedience training and socialization are recommended. This breed is considered a good watchdog, but has a low barking tendency otherwise. They are also considered an excellent swimmer.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Some Irish Water Spaniel females can have irregular heat cycles.
The Irish Water Spaniel breed club websites alert to possible reactions to potentiated sulfonamide antibiotics.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 16.1% affected.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 12.0% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Too few Irish Water Spaniels have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 18.55% of Irish Water Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Follicular Dysplasia (Hair Loss): Hair loss may be somewhat cyclical, and typically affects the trunk and spares the head and distal extremities. Hair loss in IWS can be influenced by dietary factors and an abnormality of their sex hormone intermediates, especially an exaggerated response of 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-OHP) in ACTH-response tests. Unknown mode of inheritance, although one study suggested a dominant mode of inheritance. Diagnosis by skin biopsy. Treatment with melatonin.
Cataracts: Anterior and posterior cortex intermediate cataracts predominate in the breed. Age of onset averages 5 years of age. Unknown mode of inheritance. Identified in 5.43% of Irish Water Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Irish Water Spaniel with a cataract.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 2.5% positive for thyroid autoantibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 2.26% of Irish Water Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Entropion: Rolling in of the eyelid. Can cause corneal irritation. Entropion is reported in 1.36% of Irish Water Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Inherited Epilepsy (Hereditary seizures): Generalized or partial seizures. Control with anticonvulsant medication. Reported as a problem in the breed on the IWSCA website. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Coat dilution Alopecia and Progressive Retinal Atrophy are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Epitheliotropic (T-cell) lymphoma: A 9-year-old Irish water spaniel with nodular areas of alopecia and erythematous skin lesions was diagnosed by biopsy with epitheliotropic lymphoma.
Tests of Genotype: none
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Hip and Elbow radiographs, CERF eye examination (after 2 years of age), and thyroid profile including autoantibodies. (See CHIC website; www. caninehealthinfo.org). Recommend patella evaluation and cardiac examination.
- Breed name synonyms: IWS, Water Spaniel, Shannon Spaniel (historical), Rat-tail or Whip-tail Spaniels, Southern Irish Water Spaniel (all historical)
- Registries: AKC, CKC, ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 144 (83 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Irish Water Spaniel Club of America: http://iwsca.webs.com
Irish Water Spaniel Association of Canada: www.iwsac.org
UK Irish Water Spaniel Association: www.irishwaterspaniels.org.uk
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