The Breed History
This breed is similar in type to the deerhound but is much larger; in fact it is the tallest breed of dog in the world. The first written records of this breed date to the year 391 in a document authored by a Roman, though evidence exists that they were in Ireland before that. At one point the breed almost became extinct but in 1862, remaining stock was gathered and restoration of the breed began. Infusion of Scottish Deerhound, Great Dane, and Borzoi bloodlines helped to widen the gene pool. The first breed standard was drawn up in 1885.
Breeding for Function
The Irish wolfhound was used for the hunt in pursuit of wolves and elk and was renowned for courage and an excellent gentle temperament. Bred for sight hunting and chase, these dogs were renowned athletes. They were not considered suitable for guarding, watchdog or other such work. The breed has become a valuable country companion, and also excels at coursing and obedience competitions. They are not built for draft.
Height at Withers: female 30" (76 cm), male 32" (81 cm). Weight: females 105 lb minimum (48 kg), males 120 lb minimum (54.5 kg). Some males have reached 180 lb and exceed 35"in height. Coat: They possess a rough-coated hard, weather resistant haircoat with wire over eyes and under the mandible. A soft dense undercoat is present. Approved colors include red, brindle, black, fawn, gray, or white.
Longevity: 6-8 years
Points of Conformation: The Irish Wolfhound is often described as a heavy-set greyhound type. They possess moderate bone weight. They posses high head carriage, the head is long and the muzzle has a moderate point. Eyes and nose are dark, and the small ears are carried back. The neck is long, muscular and arched without a dewlap. The thorax is very deep and is wider at the front aspect. The ribs are well sprung. The long back transitions smoothly into arched loins and the tail is long and thickly coated, with a curved tip. The strong boned limbs are straight, feet are large and round, and the toes well knuckled. The gait is smooth, easy and elastic. Hips are broad, and the abdomen well tucked up.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Requires a rural setting, preferably a property with a securely fenced perimeter so that the dog can freely exercise. They are very large in stature and may not fit in well in small rooms and homes. These dogs do settle down indoors, and are intelligent. They require close human companionship. Sensitive, they require a soft touch, and they require mental stimulation and physical activity; bored ones will become destructive. Early socialization and obedience training is important.
Though they do very well around children, puppies can easily weigh 75 lb and so care must be taken that rambunctious puppies do not inadvertently injure small children. Minimal grooming is needed (biweekly will suffice). They shed year-round, but tend not to blow the coat. Many chase cats and small dogs so ideally, they should be raised with them (even so, quick movements can trigger a chase reflex). Provide soft bedding or calluses and hygromas may form. Beard may need cleaning after a meal. Good trainability. Generally get along with other dogs.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Sight hounds have lower normal ranges for T4 and T3 concentrations compared to other breeds.
Echocardiography: The predictive value of body weight for echocardiographic measurements was clinically not relevant. Sex had no influence on echocardiographic values.
Echocardiographic Normal Values:
Parameter Mean Range Mean В±2SD
LVIDs (mm) - 35.4 /25.4-41.5 /29.8-41
LVIDd (mm) - 53.2/ 42.7-65.5 /45.2-61.2
FS (%) - 34.0/ 25-48 /25-43
FWs (mm) - 14.9/ 9.7-21.3/ 10.6-19.2
FWd (mm) - 9.8 /6.6-13.8/ 6.6-13.0
IVSs (mm) - 13.7/ 8.1-19.0/ 8.9-18.5
IVSd (mm) - 9.3/ 5.2-13.5/ 5.7-12.9
LA (mm), M-mode - 32.9 /25.4-40.9/ 26.1-39.7
AO (mm), M-mode - 33.1/ 23.1-39.7/ 27.7-38.7
EPSS (mm) - 6.8/ 4.0-11.4/ 3.6-10.0
LA (mm), 2D - 47.3/ 36.5-56.8/ 38.7-55.9
RA (mm), 2D - 40.4/ 30.9-54.6/ 25.4-55.4
RVIDd (mm), 2D - 29.1/ 17.9-37.6/ 21.4-36.8
ESVI (ml/m2) - 29.0/ 15.3-40.6 /17.2-40.8
Heart rate (bpm) - 121/ 74-166/ 74-168
Age (yrs) - 3.4/ 1-8.5
Body weight (kg) - 65.0 /48-93
N - 262
LVIDs, left ventricular end-systolic dimension; LVIDd, left ventricular end-diastolic dimension; FS, fractional shortening; FWs and FWd, left ventricular free wall thickness at end-systole and end-diastole; IVSs and IVSd, interventricular septum thickness at end-systole and end-diastole; LA, left atrial end-systolic dimension; AO, aortic root diameter at end-diastole; EPSS, E-point to septal separation; RA, right atrial end-systolic dimension; 2D, two-dimensional echocardiographic measurement; RVIDd, end-diastolic right ventricular internal dimension; ESVI, end-systolic volume index.
Blood Pressure: Irish wolfhounds have lower arterial blood pressure than other sight hounds. Arterial blood pressure measurements were obtained from 158 healthy Irish wolfhounds using the oscillometric technique. Mean systolic pressure was 116.0 mm Hg. Mean diastolic pressure was 69.2 mm Hg, and the average mean arterial pressure was 87.8 mm Hg. Blood pressure measurements were higher in older wolfhounds than in young dogs. There was no difference between systolic and mean arterial blood pressures in lateral recumbency compared to the standing position. However, diastolic pressure was slightly lower when standing. Calm dogs had lower pressure than anxious wolfhounds. There was a significant interaction between the effects of age, gender, and mood on systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial blood pressure values.
A study in the UK reports 40.3% of Irish Wolfhound litters are delivered via Cesarean section.
Anesthesia: Sight hounds require particular attention during anesthesia. Their lean body conformation with high surface-area- to-volume ratio predisposes them to hypothermia during anesthesia. Impaired biotransformation of drugs by the liver results in prolonged recovery from barbiturate and thiobarbiturate intravenous anesthetics. Propofol, and ketamine/diazepam combination are recommended induction agents.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): Complexly inherited form of dilated cardiomyopathy with a 3:2 male/ female ratio. In one survey of 500 dogs, 24.2% had DCM, with 88% of those having an accompanying Atrial Fibrillation (AF). Another study reported a frequency of 12.1%. Right-sided congestive heart failure develops with pleural effusion and pulmonary edema. The mean age at which AF was first detected was 3.8 years in males and 4.9 years in females, and the mean time from the first detection of AF to CHF was 6.4 years in males and 2 years in females. Dorn reports a 3.43x odds ratio for cardiac disease versus other breeds.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 12.1% affected. Reported 93.4x odds ratio for the fragmented coronoid process form of elbow dysplasia versus other breeds.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 5.3% 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 Wolfhounds have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Epilepsy (Inherited Seizures): Partial or generalized seizures. Treat with anticonvulsant medications. Reported at a frequency of 18.3% in one study, with a heritability of 0.87. Suggested autosomal recessive inheritance with incomplete penetrance and a male prevalence.
Iris Cysts: Fluid filled sacs arising from the posterior surface of the iris. They may remain affixed to the iris, or break free into the anterior chamber. Identified in 7.92% of Irish Wolfhounds CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cataracts: Anterior, posterior, intermediate and punctate cataracts occur in the breed. Age of onset 1-2 years with rapid progression, or 5-7 years with slow progression. Identified in 6.19% of Irish Wolfhounds CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Irish Wolfhound with a cataract.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 5.20% of Irish Wolfhounds CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer): Irish Wolfhounds are a breed with a predisposition to develop malignant osteosarcoma. It usually occurs in the extremities. Dorn reports a 27.50x odds ratio versus other breeds. Unknown mode of inheritance. One study showed an increased risk in castrated male Irish Wolfhounds.
Optic Nerve Hypoplasia/Micropapilla: Congenital defect of optic nerve development affecting vision, or a small optic disc. Identified in 1.24% of Irish Wolfhounds CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat, GDV): Polygenically inherited, life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate veterinary treatment. Dorn reports a 5.52x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Corneal Dystrophy: Epithelial/stromal form of corneal opacities on the surface of the cornea. Unknown mode of inheritance. Identified in 2.48% of Irish Wolfhounds CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 2.3% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Retinal Dysplasia: Retinal folds, geographic, and generalized retinal dysplasia with detachment are recognized in the breed. Reported in 2.23% of Irish Wolfhounds CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Porto-Systemic Shunt (PSS, Liver Shunt): Congenital abnormality of abnormal blood vessels connecting the systemic and portal blood flow. Causes stunting, abnormal behavior and possible seizures. Tobias reports a 9.9 odds ratio versus other breeds. Post-prandial bile acids and blood ammonia tests are used for diagnosis, as fasting samples are often normal. Diagnosed in 2.1% of Irish Wolfhounds in the Netherlands. Appears to be complexly inherited without sex influence.
Everted Cartilage of the Third Eyelid: A scroll-like curling of the cartilage of the third eyelid, usually everting the margin. Can be unilateral or bilateral, and cause ocular irritation. Identified in 1.24% of Irish Wolfhounds CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): Polygenically inherited cartilage defect of the humeral head or stifle. Causes joint pain and lameness in young growing dogs. Mild cases can resolve with rest, while more severe cases require surgery. There is a 2.24:1 male to female ratio. 75% of all cases are unilateral. Dorn reports a 3.65x odds ratio versus other breeds. Another study reports a 523.5x odds ratio for stifle OCD, and a 47.1x odds ratio for shoulder OCD versus other breeds. Shoulder OCD is reported at a frequency of 1.2% in the Irish Wolfhound.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): Inherited degeneration of the retinal leading to blindness. Onset is early with blindness developing in the young adult (2-3 years of age). Presumed autosomal recessive mode of inheritance. CERF does not recommend breeding any Irish Wolfhound with PRA.
Rhinitis/Bronchopneumonia Syndrome: Affected Irish Wolfhounds present beginning at less than 1 year of age with transient to persistent mucoid or mucopurulent rhinorrhea, cough, and dyspnea. Affected dogs responded to antibiotics, but were chronically recurring. In one study, ciliary function tests were normal, but low circulating IgA levels were seen. Abnormal ciliary function is still being investigated. Occurs worldwide. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Megaesophagus is also reported on the IWCA website. Cervical Vertebral Instability, Entropion, Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy, and von Willebrand's Disease are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Fibrocartilaginous Embolism: Diagnosed in eight Irish Wolfhounds between eight and 13 weeks of age. Affected dogs have an acute onset of abnormal locomotion. Diagnosis by histopathologic identification of focal myelomalacia and Alcian blue-positive-nucleus- pulposus material in the spinal cord vasculature. Dogs with mild signs can improve and survive.
Juvenile Nephropathy: Case report of one Irish Wolfhound presenting with severe polyuria and polydipsia, and progressing to chronic renal failure. Histopathology included immature glomeruli and/or tubules, and persistent mesenchyme.
Spinal Nephroblastoma: A 1-year-old Irish wolfhound was presented with a history of slowly progressive left pelvic limb paresis. An intradural, extramedullary mass at the caudal aspect of T13 was diagnosed histologically as an extrarenal nephroblastoma.
Tests of Genotype: None.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Elbow and hip radiographs, CERF eye examination, and cardiac evaluation. Optional testing includes serum bile acid test. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend thyroid profile including autoantibodies and patella evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Greyhound of Ireland, Wolfdog of Ireland, Irish dogs, Big dogs of Ireland, Great Hound of Ireland (all historical), wolfhound, IW, Cu Faoil.
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club).
- AKC rank (year 2008): 81 (863 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Irish Wolfhound Club of America: iwclubofamerica.org
Irish Wolfhound Club of Canada: irishwolfhoundclubofcanada.ca
Irish Wolfhound Club (UK): irishwolfhoundclub.org.uk
The Irish Wolfhound Foundation, Inc.: iwfoundation.org
Irish Wolfhound Health Group: iwhealthgroup.co.uk
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