Irish Wolfhound Health and Longevity

Health and Research Chair

Mariellen Dentino

Irish Wolfhounds are generally a hardy dog once grown, and the breed has few unique medical problems. They are fairly stoic, and even if they are in pain, they may be difficult to diagnose. Their rapid growth makes them prone to injury as puppies, and they suffer from the diseases common in giant breeds, some of which are serious. As a result, their lifespan is, on average, less than some breeds. Further, when they do get ill, canine specific medication is usually expensive as it is prescribed by weight. (Sometimes generic human medications can be used to reduce costs; always ask your vet if there are alternatives.)

Some of the serious health issues include:

  • cancer, particularly osteosarcoma
  • heart disease including dilated cardiomyopathy (often treatable)
  • bloat and torsion (a.k.a., GDV for gastric dilatation and volvulus), a GI issue which requires immediate emergency care
  • pneumonia, another serious emergency
  • liver shunt (a.k.a., PSS or portosystemic shunt), a developmental disorder for which puppies should be screened at 8-10 weeks of age, before going to their new homes

Other issues include:

  • joint issues, especially in rapidly growing puppies
  • megaesophagus, a gastrointestinal problem, either congenital or acquired
  • eye disorders, particularly progressive retinal atrophy
  • seizures and other neurological issues
  • low thyroid levels (hypothyroidism)
  • Von Willebrand's disease, a bleeding disorder
  • hygromas
  • rear-end weakness in older dogs

Your breeder should be able to show that they have done testing for diseases known to be heritable (primarily eye, cardiac and joint diseases) and give you a family health history. 

Some diseases are known to be genetic, and many are probably a combination of genetic predisposition and environment.  Most of these diseases are being heavily researched, and the IWCA supports such research in several ways.  

Some research is funded by donations to The Irish Wolfhound Foundation, a sister organization to the IWCA. The IWF focuses on health, education and rescue, sponsors and promotes scientific studies on IW health concerns, and sponsors health testing at Irish Wolfhound specialties in the US and Canada. Where relevant, the health information presented on this website is linked to the IWF website for the most up-to-date information.

The IWCA also funds health initiatives through the AKC's Canine Health Foundation (CHF), which allows us to leverage the activities of other breed groups and make use of the CHF process for evaluation of proposals and influence them with our needs.

The IWCA provides information on this website for the education of its readers. No information on this website should be used for veterinary medical purposes, diagnostically, therapeutically, or otherwise. Consult a veterinarian before attempting to medically treat your dog or changing your dog's medical treatment.

Need to find a veterinarian? Start with the Canine Health Foundation's links to veterinary schools to find one in your area.

This page was last updated 01/26/2021.