Orthopedic and Joint Issues

The growth rate of an Irish Wolfhound puppy is truly astounding. Not surprisingly, sometimes things go wrong. Many of these problems are caused or made worse by inappropriate diet. Too much calcium, for example, is linked to osteochondritis dissecans (OCD). Feeding too much is also linked to OCD and other disorders. Slow and consistent growth is desirable to try and avoid joint issues in a puppy. Click here to read the article entitled "How Much Exercise Is Appropriate For a Young IW?" from Harp & Hound by Mel Mercer, DVM, CCRT. Your breeder and veterinarian are excellent resources to help you manage your puppy's growth.


Bursas (or hygromas) are benign fluid-filled sacs around a joint. They are most commonly seen on elbows, but can occur around other joints. No one is completely sure why they occur, but it may be related to growing puppies flinging themselves onto hard surfaces such that the body forms a fluid cushion to protect the joint. They are unsightly, but don't hurt the dog and eventually go away on their own. Surgery to drain or remove the bursa is not recommended, as complications like infections are possible, and often the body simply regrows the hygroma, anyway. Patience is required on the part of the owner!

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

Like many other breeds of dogs, IWs can have hip or elbow dysplasia, which can lead to lameness.  However, the incidence in the breed is low. Since both are believed to have a genetic component, the IWCA recommends that all adult IWs be tested for dysplasia. Testing consists of xrays of the hips and elbows. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals registers test results and has a database where you can search for individual dogs or list all Irish Wolfhounds in their database.


Panosteitis is a poorly understood disorder resulting in pain and lameness in puppies 6-18 months of age. It can be thought of as literal "growing pains." Often symptoms come and go in several weeks-long episodes. Xrays can confirm the condition. Ultimately, the puppy will grow out of the condition with no permanent effects. Pain should be managed and activity restricted when symptoms appear.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)

HOD occurs in younger puppies (3-6 months of age) and results in lameness and pain. The growth plates swell, the puppy can be lethargic and uninterested in food, and there is often a fever. Diagnosis is via xray. Like other puppy joint disorders, HOD can be episodic and will eventually be outgrown, although there can be lasting damage to the bones if there have been enough incidents. Pain management, restricted exercise, and a balanced diet aimed at slow, stready growth are important in treating this condition.  

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

OCD is a disease of the cartilage rather than the bones, and typically appears between the ages of 4 and 10 months. Cartilage pieces in the joint cause pain and lameness and may damage the growing bone. It can be treated conservatively with strict rest, pain medicine and a slow growth diet. In extreme cases, surgery to remove the cartilage pieces may be required.

Rear-End Weakness

About 20% of senior IWs (those 8 or older) experience a gradual weakening in the rear, to the point that they are eventually unable to use their back legs. There is no known single cause. Possibilities that should be investigated include arthritis, myasthenia gravis, degenerative myelopathy, and spondylosis. In addition to treatment for any cause that is discovered, alternative therapies such as acupuncture may be beneficial in reducing pain and regaining function.

This page was last updated 01/04/2021.