Irish Wolfhound

 

A sight hound breed native to Ireland, the Irish Wolfhound was the chosen war dog, personal protector and hunting companion of the Irish nobility.  The breed is world famous because it has the tallest average height of any dog, often standing more than 30 inches tall at the shoulders.  The Irish Wolfhound is a very ancient breed, but nearly became extinct by the end of the 19th Century.  The breed was revived (many say recreated) by a small group of dedicated fanciers led by Captain George Augustus Graham and has since found new life as a beloved companion dog.  The Irish Wolfhound has also been known historically as the Irish Wolfdog, the Cu, the Cu Faoil, the Cuchulainn, Irish Greyhound, and Celtic Greyhound.

 

Breed Information

Breed Basics

Country of Origin: 
Size: 
XX-Large 90-120 lb+
LifeSpan: 
6 to 8 Years
Trainability: 
Moderate Effort Required
Energy Level: 
High Energy
Grooming: 
Everyday
Professional Grooming May Be Required
Protective Ability: 
Good Watchdog
Hypoallergenic Breed: 
No
Space Requirements: 
Needs Alot of Space
Compatibility With Other Pets: 
Generally Good With Other Dogs
Likely To Chase Or Injure Non-Canine Pets
May chase or injure smaller dogs
May Have Issues With Other Dogs
Not Recommended For Homes With Small Animals
Litter Size: 
4-8 puppies
Names: 
Cú Faoil, Irish Wolfdog, the Cu, Cu Faoil, Cuchulainn, Irish Greyhound, Celtic Greyhound

Height/Weight

Males: 
100-150 lbs, 28-36 inches
Females: 
100-150 lbs, 28-36 inches

Kennel Clubs and Recognition

American Kennel Club: 
ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council): 
CKC(Canadian Kennel Club): 
FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale): 
KC (The Kennel Club): 
NZKC (New Zealand Kennel Club): 
UKC (United Kennel Club): 
History: 

 

Depending on who you believe, the Irish Wolfhound’s history may go back thousands of years or less than 200.  All dog experts agree that the Irish have possessed a massive sight hound breed for untold centuries, but they disagree on what happened to the original type.  One line of thinking believes that the ancient Irish Wolfhound nearly became extinct in the 1800’s and was revived with the introduction of foreign blood.  Others claim that the breed did in fact become extinct and was subsequently recreated by using the very closely related Scottish Deerhound.  Unless more evidence can be found, this debate will probably never be solved, and for the purposes of this article the term Irish Wolfhound will be used to describe both the ancient and modern breeds whether or not they are actually one and the same.

 

Perhaps no breed is as associated with the Celtic ethnicities in general and the Irish people in particular as the Irish Wolfhound. Some of the fist written documents describing the island of Ireland , which to 1st century Romans was known as Hibernia or Scotia, indicate the presence of these dogs, and the prevalence of the breed in even older Irish mythology indicates that they may have been on the island long before that.  The Irish Wolfhound was developed in an era long before writing was even present in Ireland, so no records have survived as to shed light on its ancient history.  However, some probabilities can be put together based on what is known.  While some experts have suggested that the Irish Wolfhound may have arrived in Ireland even before the first Celts did (with peoples who are essentially unknown), most agree that the breed’s ancestors arrived with the Celtic people.  Although now limited to the British Isles and Northwest corners of France and Spain, Celtic tribes once inhabited vast stretches of Western Europe.  The Celts were initially native to continental Europe and from there they would spread to Great Britain and then Ireland.  Several Roman sources have indicated that the Celts of Gaul (modern day France) kept a unique breed of hunting dog, the Canis Segusius.  The Canis Segusius was famous for its wiry-coat.  This breed is considered the probable ancestor for all Griffon-type dogs, and also the likely ancestor or close relative of the Terriers, Irish Wolfhound, and Scottish Deerhound. If the Celts did bring the Canis Segusius or one of its ancestors to the British Isles, they almost certainly crossed it with other breeds to develop the Irish Wolfhound.  The breeds most likely to have been used were the much disputed ancestors of the Greyhound.  This probably resulted in a dog very similar to the modern Irish Wolfhound, albeit much smaller.

 

The Celtic tribes of Britain had a serious wolf-problem, and needed a dog capable of hunting these beasts which at one time were quite fearsome.  Over many generations, they bred a massive dog capable of bringing down a wolf.  They also discovered that the breed was more than capable of being used on Elk (the species Americans call Moose) and Red Deer (the species Americans call Elk).  The ancient Celtic tribes were very warlike, both among themselves and against foreigners.  They regularly used these massive and ferocious dogs not just as a hunting accompaniment but as beasts of war.  Incredibly fast, massively powerful, and fiercely tempered, the Irish Wolfhound was a devastatingly effective combat asset in an era when almost all fighting was done hand to hand.  The breed was many times more imposing in ancient times, when the combination of poor nutrition and inadequate medical care meant that the average height for a man was several (in some places as many as six) inches shorter than it is today.  Of the breed’s many talents in battle, it was most famed for its effectiveness against mounted opponents.  The Irish Wolfhound was fast enough to catch a rider on horseback, tall enough to grab a hold of the rider, and strong enough to drag him to the ground where he could be slain more easily.  This method also had the added benefit of not doing damage to the horse, one of the most valuable of all spoils in ancient warfare.

 

Although the Celts of Britain did not possess writing of their own, they did make art, and wood carvings dated to around 273 B.C. depicting dogs that are probably Irish Wolfhounds.  The first written records of this breed were made by Roman conquerors, who had regular contact with the islands since the time when Julius Caesar raided Southern Great Britain for plunder in the 1st Century B.C.  The Romans encountered massive war dogs used by the Celts, and called them the Pugnaces Britanniae.  The Pugnaces Britanniae was said by Caesar and other writers to be superior in combat to any other dog, even the much feared Molossus, war dog of Ancient Rome and Greece.  The exact nature of the Canis Britanniae is much disputed.  Traditionally thought to be the English Mastiff, some newer dog experts have come to believe that it was actually the Irish Wolfhound.  Although initially arriving only as raiders, the Romans eventually conquered what is now England, Wales, and Cornwall.  The Pugnaces Britanniae and smaller hunting dogs (most likely Terriers) became some of Britain’s primary exports.  The breed was highly in demand as a combatant in the gladiatorial arena, where it was pitted against other dogs, lions, tigers, bears, humans, and according to legend even Elephants.  If the Canis Pugnaces was in fact the Irish Wolfhound, the Romans may have exported so many from Britain that it became extinct there.

 

The Irish  who called the Irish Wolfhound by the name Cu or Cu Faoil valued the breed more than perhaps any other animal.  The breed was exclusively the property of the Irish ruling class, a complex and ever-changing parade of kings, chieftains, strong men, war lords, and pirates.  The Irish Wolfhound was primarily tasked with wolf-hunting and protecting its masters, very necessary in an incredibly violent society.  The Irish Wolfhound figures very prominently in the mythology of Ireland, Scotland, and Man, especially the tale of Cuchulain.  Chulainn was the ruler of Ulster, who owned a hound or Cu said to be the largest and most ferocious in all history.  Setanta, a son of the god Lug, due to a misunderstanding killed Cu in battle.  In order to pay for his crime, Setanta had to serve Chulainn in the dog’s place.  Setanta became known as Cuchulainn, the Hound of Chulainn for his service, and eventually became the greatest hero in Celtic mythology.  The Irish Wolfhound was seen as a symbol of nobility and was commonly given as a gift to foreign rulers, a practice first recorded by the Roman Consul Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, who was given seven of these dogs in 391 A.D.  This gift is also the first definitive record of the breed’s presence in Ireland.  Irish Wolfhounds also figure prominently in the tales of Saint Patrick.  As a runaway slave, Saint Patrick once supposedly obtained passage on a ship by offering to care for its cargo of over one hundred Irish Wolfhounds.

 

For many centuries, Ireland was dominated by England.  The English were just as impressed with the breed as had all others who encountered it and put more formal restrictions on its ownership.  Only the English and Irish nobility were allowed to own these dogs, which had become a symbol of English power on the island.  The restrictions were so severe that each owner was only allowed to possess a certain number of these dogs, a number which depended on that person’s position.  The dogs would continue to be used to kill wolves, which remained a serious threat to the Irish economy and people, and were relatively common until at least the early 1600’s.  However, just as the Irish chieftains had, the English used the breed as a gift to impress foreign rulers and the breed became so highly desired abroad that it was greatly feared they would become extinct in their native Ireland. To prevent this in 1652, Oliver Cromwell himself banned their export from Ireland.  However, by that point the breed’s usefulness had begun to decline.

 

It also important to note that prior to the 1700’s Ireland was basically an underdeveloped and lightly populated wilderness, the ideal home for the wolf. That is until the introduction of the potato from the Americas, ideally suited for Irish agriculture, the potato provided a readily available and plentiful food source. This allowed people to lessen their dependency on hunting for survival and instead feed their families through agricultural production setting the stage for a population explosion.  As a result of the potato, over the course of the next century Ireland would go from sparsely populated to one of the most densely populated places on earth. Greater populations meant that more land was needed for cultivation and therefore less was available for wildlife.  As its habitat was destroyed, the wolf became progressively rarer and by the early 1700’s the Irish wolf was almost extinct.  It did not help the wolf’s case that it was still considered a menace and that killing them was a public service.  Irish Wolfhounds were used to kill wolves in Ireland until there were no more wolves to kill.  Although it is impossible to be sure, it is generally believed that Ireland’s last wolf was killed in 1786 at Myshall.  Sadly but perhaps fittingly, the last wolf was killed by its ancient nemesis, a pack of Irish Wolfhounds.

 

Without the wolf to pursue, the Irish Wolfhound found itself unemployed and like its former prey began the journey towards extinction. It was incredibly expensive to keep such a massive dog, especially in ancient times in an impoverished Ireland where humans were at times barely able to feed themselves and starvation was a real possibility.  A few members of the ruling class, however, would continue to keep the breed, especially descendants of the Irish chieftains.  Once a multi-purpose and beloved breed, the Irish Wolfhound had become little more than a status and nationalist symbol. It was also during the 1700’s that literary references to the Irish Wolfhound, in addition to describing its tremendous size, great beauty, and noble nature, also began to describe it as extremely rare.  Records which mention the few Irish Wolfhounds kept by the Irish nobility often call them, “The last of their kind.”  Although it is not known for certain, it is possible that a few of the last remaining Irish Wolfhounds were exported to the United States and Australia, where they may have influenced early lines of American Staghound and Kangaroo Dog.

 

It is at this point that there is substantial disagreement as to the history of the Irish Wolfhound.  There are three competing lines of thought.  Some believe that the ancient breed went completely extinct, which is exactly what some 19th Century sources claim.  Others claim that a few members survived, but were heavily crossed with the Scottish Deerhound and reduced in size.  A few fanciers of the breed in the early 1800’s claim to have maintained the ancient lines, but their claims were disputed both at the time and afterwards.  An English military officer named Major Richardson was the most prominent breeder of the supposedly ancient lines.  The third theory holds that the Scottish Deerhound and the Irish Wolfhound were always one and the same, but that the Scottish Deerhound was simply a smaller variety used to hunt deer.    Multiple authors have made this assertion.  In any case, the modern history of the Irish Wolfhound begins with the Englishman Captain George Augustus Graham.

 

In the mid-1800’s, Graham became interested in the Scottish Deerhound, which by this time was either extinct or had become exceptionally rare.  Through the Deerhound, he became intrigued by the possibility that the some bloodlines of the Irish Wolfhound may have survived.  Graham made it his personal mission to save the breed from extinction.  Sometime between 1860 and 1863, he began to collect every specimen that was supposedly a descendant of the ancient lines that he could locate.  Graham especially favored Richardson’s dogs and their descendants.  His search was so exhaustive that in 1879 he famously claimed to have acquired every Irish Wolfhound in the world.  Graham worked tirelessly to revive the breed.  He had the combined belief that some of the ancient lines did in fact survive, but that the Scottish Deerhound was actually the same breed as the Irish Wolfhound.  Graham found that many of the dogs he had been able to locate were of poor health and soundness, likely as a result of many generations of inbreeding.  Many of his earliest dogs died young, leading him to complain that illness and infirmity robbed him of some of his finest specimens.  Some of the dogs he collected were actually incapable of breeding.  Graham made heavy use of Scottish Deerhound and Great Dane crosses, as well as possibly a few Mastiff-crosses.  Initially working almost alone, he was able to enlist the aid of several other breeders by the end of his life.  In 1885, Graham and other breeders founded the Irish Wolfhound Club and published the first breed standard.

 

Graham’s project was not without its critics at the time, the most prominent of which was Hugh Dalziel, a highly regarded British dog expert and the author of British Dogs.  Many claimed that the breed had gone completely extinct, and that Graham’s dogs were nothing more than a Scottish Deerhound/Great Dane cross which looked like the ancient Irish Wolfhound, but was not in fact the same breed.  Less harsh critics were willing to admit that some lines of the ancient type may have survived, but the breed Graham created had so little of their blood that it was essentially a different animal.  Many of these critics thought that the Scottish Deerhound and Irish Wolfhound were considerably more different than Graham believed.  To support their belief, they used many old sources describing not only the size of the Irish Wolfhound, but also its coat.  While there appears to have always been rough-coated Irish Wolfhounds, most records indicate that smooth-coated Irish Wolfhounds were considerably more prevalent.  The majority of early Irish Wolfhound descriptions paint the dog as pure white, a feature that was comparatively uncommon in Graham’s dogs.  Many detractors claim that the Irish Wolfhound was actually more similar to a giant Greyhound than a large Scottish Deerhound. Proponents of this assertion backed it up by pointing out that the breed is very commonly referred to as an Irish Greyhound, but never an Irish Deerhound.

 

Unfortunately, unless new genetic evidence comes to light, it will probably never be known whether the modern Irish Wolfhound was a breed revived or an entirely new creation designed to look like the original.  Regardless, the breed that Graham saved/created quickly became well-established and in 1902, an Irish Wolfhound was presented to the Irish guard at which point the breed became the Irish Guard’s mascot, a role it has held ever since.  The Irish Wolfhound is also a commonly used mascot for Irish sports teams, including the national rugby team.  The breed was quickly exported to the United States, which by that point was already home to by far the largest Irish population in the world, including some of the most prominent Irish nationalists.  The American Kennel Club (AKC) became the first major canine organization to grant full recognition to the Irish Wolfhound, placing the dog in the Hound Group in 1897.  America’s other major kennel club, the United Kennel Club (UKC) followed suit in 1921.  The Irish Wolfhound Club of America (IWCA) was founded in 1927 to promote and protect the breeding of this dog.  The World Wars were very hard on the Irish Wolfhound breed in Europe, and greatly reduced its numbers there.  Luckily, the breed was not as heavily damaged as many other breed had been and American dogs were summarily imported to help restore postwar numbers.  It is frequently said that the Irish Wolfhound is the Official National Dog of Ireland.  Although the breed is a common symbol for that country and quite popular there, no dog has been granted that status (and if one was it would likely be the Kerry Blue Terrier anyways).

 

Irish Wolfhound populations would  continue to grow throughout the 20th Century, especially in the United States, which now is probably home to the world’s largest Irish Wolfhound population.  However, breed numbers are limited by the fact that the breed is massive in size and has a high exercise requirement.  This means that few owners are willing to take on the responsibility of this breed, as those owners who want a giant dog are more likely to select a lower energy dog.  In 2010, the Irish Wolfhound ranked 79th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations, and the breed is considered uncommon but not rare.  This is to the great satisfaction of the IWCA as it has allowed them to better control the quality of the breed while maintaining a sustainable breeding pool.  However, in recent years an increasing number of breeders are creating what the IWCA considers pet quality Irish Wolfhounds, which the club considers a great danger to the breed’s future quality.  The Irish Wolfhound has also come under fire from some animal rights and veterinary groups because of the dog’s health.  Many Irish Wolfhounds suffer from a number of health problems and the breed generally lives very short lives.  Many Irish Wolfhounds retain a strong prey drive and would likely be a talented hunting dog if given the chance.  However, the breed is rarely (if ever) used for that purpose today, and the vast majority of modern Irish Wolfhounds serve as mascots, companion animals, and show dogs.  

              
 

Appearance: 

 

The Irish Wolfhound is quite striking in terms of appearance, and almost always leaves those who see it in person with a profound impression.  The breed is perfectly described as a giant, rough-coated greyhound.  What is most immediately noticeable about the breed is its immense size.  Although the record holder for the world’s tallest dog is a Great Dane, the average height for the Irish Wolfhound is taller than any other breed.  Most breed members stand between 28 and 36 inches tall at the shoulders, with females typically being two or three inches shorter than males.  The Irish Wolfhound is not especially heavy for its size, with most breed members weighing between 100 and 150 pounds.  The Irish Wolfhound is relatively thickly built for a sight hound, with especially powerful bones.  However, the breed should never appear bulky, rather fleet-footed and energetic.  The Irish Wolfhound has a very deep chest, but not an especially wide one.  The Irish Wolfhound has long legs, which are frequently described as being horse-like.  Not only is the Irish Wolfhound quite tall, but it is even longer.  The tail of the Irish Wolfhound is very long, and often has a moderate curve in the middle.

 

The head of the Irish Wolfhound is quite massive in size, but generally proportional to the dog’s body.  The skull of this breed is not especially wide, and it transitions quite smoothly into the muzzle.  The muzzle itself is very powerful in appearance, and looks wider than it is due to the rough coat.  The face and muzzles of some Irish Wolfhounds are wider and more similar to a Great Dane and those of others are narrower and more reminiscent of a Greyhound.  Most of the breed’s face is obscured by its shaggy fur, which also makes the dark eyes look very deeply set. Many fanciers think that the coat makes the breed look like a wise old man.  The ears of this breed are very small for its body size, and are often described as being rose-shaped.  The overall expression of an Irish Wolfhound is generally one of gentleness and seriousness.

 

The coat of the Irish Wolfhound had to protect it from both the elements and the fierce claws and teeth of the wolf.  The breed’s coat because very rough and hard as a result.  The hair on the face and under the jaw is especially coarse and wiry, and is very similar to that of a Terrier.  Over most of the body, legs, head, and tail, the coat is somewhat less coarse and is more reminiscent of a Griffon.  While the Irish Wolfhound is considered to have a medium-length coat, the coats of some dogs are closer to short.  The coat’s texture is more important than its color, and the breed is found in a number of different colors.  At one time, the breed was said to be primarily white, sometimes with patches of color.  While pure white Irish Wolfhounds still exist, they are considerably less common than some other breed colors such as grey, brindle, red, black, and fawn.  In addition to these colors, Irish Wolfhounds may be found in any color that the Scottish Deerhound is.

 

Temperament: 

 

Once a dog of war renowned throughout Europe as a ferocious fighter of any man or beast which opposed it in combat, the modern Irish Wolfhound is known for its gentle nature.  The Irish Wolfhound is very devoted to its owners, and most of these dogs want to be in their presence at all times.  Some Irish Wolfhounds suffer from separation anxiety, especially those that are kept as only dogs.  Most Irish Wolfhounds prefer to be in the presence of their owners, rather than on top of them, but some come to think that they are lap dogs.  Irish Wolfhounds are generally very accepting of strangers.  With proper socialization, the vast majority of breed members are polite and friendly, although some are more affectionate with them than others. 

 

Some Irish Wolfhounds make tolerable watchdogs, but not all are interested enough.  While few dogs are as intimidating looking as an Irish Wolfhound, this breed makes a very poor guard dog as most would warmly greet an intruder before they would ever show them aggression.  Most Irish Wolfhound breeders strongly discourage any aggression training for this dog, due to its immense power.  Irish Wolfhounds have a very good reputation with children, with whom these dogs are very affectionate and gentle with.  Irish Wolfhound puppies may not be the best housemates with very young children as they may accidentally step on them or knock them over.

 

Irish Wolfhounds are generally good-natured with other dogs, provided that they are medium-to-large in size.  This breed shows comparatively low levels of dog aggression, and has few dominance, territorial, or possessiveness issues.  However, these dogs have some issues with very small dogs, especially toy breeds.  Unless carefully socialized, Irish Wolfhounds make no distinction between a tiny dog and a rabbit, and are likely to pursue and potentially attack such dogs.  Although not commonly seen in this breed, any dog aggression issues that do develop are very serious, because an Irish Wolfhound could seriously injure or kill any other dog with little effort, and some Irish Wolfhound breeder refuse to place their puppies with owners of breeds that they consider aggressive.

 

Irish Wolfhounds are generally not good with non-canine animals.  This breed has one of the highest prey drives of any dog, along with incredible speed and immense power.  Although there are a few exceptions, most Irish Wolfhounds will pursue any creature which they sense, whether it is a cockroach or a moose.  Unlike many other dogs, the Irish Wolfhound is capable of catching and killing almost anything it chases, and this breed does the drive to kill other animals.  Owners who leave Irish Wolfhounds in a yard for any length of time will almost certainly receive presents of dead animals.  Rabbits are among the most common, but these dogs can even bring down a deer, especially a fawn.  With proper socialization from a very young age, some Irish Wolfhounds will be fine around the family cats or horses, but others will unhesitatingly kill a cat they have known their entire lives if presented with the opportunity.  Even those Irish Wolfhounds that have been socialized with individual cats are not trustworthy with strange pets.

 

Irish Wolfhounds are neither exceptionally easy nor exceptionally difficult to train.  This breed is not particularly stubborn and responds well to patient, rewards-based training.  Once trained, this dog tends to be generally obedient and rarely willful.  However, Irish Wolfhounds are very independent-minded and absolutely do not live to please.  They will only obey those that they consider a leader, so owners must be in a position of dominance at all times.  Although definitely not unintelligent, the Irish Wolfhound is also not a very fast learner and takes a little bit of extra-time to train.  It would also be fair to say that the training ceiling for an Irish Wolfhound (unless handled by a masterful trainer) is probably lower than that of a breed such as a German Shepherd or Labrador Retriever, but this breed is more than capable of learning basic obedience and a few tricks.  It is of the utmost importance that owners do make sure that their Irish Wolfhound is well-trained, because this breed would be absolutely unmanageable otherwise.

 

Irish Wolfhounds need a substantial amount of exercise, but not an excessive amount.  45 minutes to an hour of vigorous daily exercise will probably satisfy an Irish Wolfhound, although most would prefer more.  The Irish Wolfhound enjoys walks and makes a good jogging companion.  However, what this dog really wants to do is run, and run freely in a secure enclosure.  Many who see this breed run are amazed by how fast that it is.  Though it does not have quite the top speed of the Greyhound or the stamina of the Saluki, the Irish Wolfhound is very close to both.  It is very difficult to keep Irish Wolfhounds in an apartment, and even with a small yard.  Some Irish Wolfhounds enjoy having a task to perform such as running through an agility course, but most prefer to walk and run.  Although this breed does not have abnormally high exercise requirements, it is absolutely imperative that its needs are met.  Unexercised Irish Wolfhounds often develop behavioral and emotional issues, such as destructiveness, excessive barking, and hyperexcitability.  Any behavioral problem experienced by an Irish Wolfhound, especially destructiveness, is magnified many times because of the dog’s size.  Once an Irish Wolfhound has its needs met, they tend to be very relaxed in doors, and many could be described as couch potatoes.  Owners must carefully regulate the exercise levels of Irish Wolfhound puppies to prevent crippling bone deformities later in life.

 

Irish Wolfhounds should be kept on a leash at all times when outside of a securely fenced area.  When an Irish Wolfhound gives chase to something it considers prey, it can be almost impossible to call them back and it is absolutely impossible for a human to catch up to them on foot.  Additionally, any enclosure that keeps an Irish Wolfhound must be very secure.  This dog is more than powerful enough to force its way through most fences, especially if there is a weak spot.  Any fence that is meant to contain one of these dogs must also be very tall, at least 8 feet and preferably higher.  Shorter fences are virtually useless because this breed is actually taller than them when it stands on its hind legs, and in any case is a talented jumper.

 

Grooming Requirements: 

 

The Irish Wolfhound’s coat requires a fair bit of maintenance.  This coat should be thoroughly brushed several times a week, a process which can be quite time consuming due to the dog’s size.  The coat also needs to be plucked once or twice a year to remove excess hair.  It is relatively easy for owners of these dogs to learn how to do this at home, but many choose to have it done professionally.  The Irish Wolfhound is a shedder, but is considered to be an average one.  Also, the coat of this dog tends to catch some of the hair that falls off, so that it doesn’t release quite as much hair as other breeds of similarly-sized dogs.  It is highly advisable that owners introduce all regular maintenance procedures such as baths and nail clippings from a very young age because of the size of an adult, or even adolescent, Irish Wolfhound.

 

Health Issues: 

 

The Irish Wolfhound is considered by many to be an unhealthy breed, and they tend to have very short life expectancies.  Although most large breeds live shorter lives, the Irish Wolfhound lives one of the shortest.  Although different studies in the United States and the United Kingdom have come up with slightly different results, most put the breed’s lifespan between 5 and 8 years, and it is very rare for one of these gentle giants to reach its tenth birthday.  Studies conducted by the IWCA found that the average life for American Irish Wolfhounds is about 6.87 years.  Although their lives are short, many Irish Wolfhounds are plagued with painful and crippling conditions for many years before they pass.  Although different studies place different rankings and percentages, the three leading cause of death for Irish Wolfhounds is probably bone cancer, followed closely by heart disease, other types of cancer, and gastric torsion in some order.  Skeletal issues are the most common non-fatal problem.

 

Although not necessarily the leading cause of death for the breed, the problem of greatest concern for Irish Wolfhound owners is gastric torsion, better known as bloat.  Bloat occurs when the dog’s stomach twists around inside of its body.  Large, deep-chested breeds such as the Irish Wolfhound and Great Dane are more susceptible to this condition because their ribs are not as closely attached to the internal organs.  Bloat is normally a fatal condition unless an emergency surgery is performed, and even that is not always successful.  What makes bloat so deadly is the speed at which the condition develops and kills.  A perfectly healthy dog in the morning may well be dead by the time its owners get home from work.  There are many different causes of bloat, some of which are virtually unpreventable.  However, one of the leading causes of bloat is a dog getting too much exercise on a full stomach.  For this reason, Irish Wolfhound owners are advised to feed their dogs three or more small meals a day instead of one or two large ones, and also to restrict their dogs’ exercise immediately after eating.

 

As is the case with many giant breeds, the Irish Wolfhound suffers from a number of skeletal problems.  The large bones of this breed take extra time and nutrition to develop properly.  Irish Wolfhounds that are exercised excessively at too young of an age or that no not get the proper nutrition when growing often develop skeletal growth abnormalities.  The severity of the abnormality depends on many factors, but most are painful or even crippling.  Irish Wolfhounds also suffer from high rates of arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other common skeletal problems.  Of perhaps most concern is the Irish Wolfhounds high rate of bone cancer.  Bone cancer is responsible for more Irish Wolfhound deaths than perhaps any other condition, and some breeders believe that its incidence is increasing.  Although Irish Wolfhounds can get bone cancer in any bone in their body, it is by far the most common in the massive leg bones.  Not only does this breed develop bone cancer at very high rates, but Irish Wolfhounds also develop bone cancer at much younger ages than other dogs, sometimes as young as three.

 

Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).  The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up.  This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have it tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.

 

Many different health problems are common in the Irish Wolfhound.  Some of the more common or serious include:

 

 

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