Irish Wolfhounds

The Irish Wolfhound looks as if he might have stepped out of a medieval tapestry. His name implies ferocity, but he is one of the gentlest of creatures. Considering his giant size --105 to 120 pounds-- that’s an essential characteristic. The Irish Wolfhound has many wonderful traits, but he is by no means the right breed for everyone. His giant size and tragically short lifespan are just two of the factors you should consider before adding one to your family. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring one of these dogs.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

This is a giant breed. That gangly 20-pound puppy will eventually weigh as much as 120 pounds, sometimes more. If your home is reached by stairs, think twice before getting this breed. How will you get him up and down if he is incapacitated? His huge size is often what attracts people to him, but the tradeoff is a heartbreakingly short life span of 6 to 8 years.

There's another aspect to a Wolfhound's size to consider: He's a countersurfer and will swipe those steaks you had sitting out without a second thought. Finally, it is expensive to own a giant breed. Food, veterinary and boarding costs are all greater than those for a dog of more moderate size. If none of that fazes you, an Irish Wolfhound may well be your dog of choice.

The Irish Wolfhound may be gentle, but his size alone is enough to deter many would-be intruders or assailants. That's a good thing, because despite being alert and courageous, he doesn't have an aggressive bone in his body. He is calm, intelligent and dignified, friendly to all, including children, strangers and other pets. That said, his great size may make him unsuited to homes with toddlers. Nor is it appropriate to let children ride the Wolfhound. He isn't built for that and it can cause back injuries.

Choose the Irish Wolfhound if you have a spacious home with a large fenced area where he can run safely. Be prepared to share your furniture with him or provide him with plenty of cushioned resting places. His large, bony body can develop calluses if he is forced to lie on hard surfaces, and he needs plenty of room to spread out.

Because of their size, Irish Wolfhound puppies can be particularly destructive when left to their own devices. Don't blame the puppy if you come home to find your sofa eaten. You need to have a safe room where he can't destroy anything yet has room to stretch out. Long hours in a crate are detrimental to a Wolfhound's development.

Train your Wolfhound with positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and food rewards. He is smart and learns quickly when he has the right motivation.

For exercise, he'll enjoy a long daily walk, as well as any opportunities to run flat out in a traffic-free area. On the lure coursing field, he will take your breath away. Wolfhounds are also found competing in obedience and agility.

Sighthounds are attracted by movement, and the Wolfhound will happily chase cats and other small furry animals if he sees them running outdoors. If he is brought up with them from an early age, though, he can live amicably with cats or small dogs. Even so, it's best to supervise them when they're together and to separate them when you're not home. And don't let them outside together. They may be best buds indoors, but the instinct to chase and kill a running cat outdoors may be too strong for the dog to overcome.

Brush or comb the Wolfhound's shaggy, wiry coat once or twice a week to remove dead hair and prevent or remove any mats or tangles. Other than that, brush the teeth, clean the ears and trim the nails regularly.

The Irish Wolfhound needs to live in the house, with access to soft furniture or bedding, and never outdoors. He loves his people and it's an unhappy Wolfhound who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.

Health Issues Common to Irish Wolfhounds

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Irish Wolfhounds have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, cardiomyopathy, osteosarcoma, liver shunt, autoimmune thyroiditis, von Willebrand's disease, progressive retinal atrophy and gastric torsion. Not all of these conditions can be tested for, and some often do not appear until later in life.

Irish Wolfhounds are more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Bloat and torsion strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated will bloat again. That means it's wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.

Irish Wolfhounds also suffer from a very high rate of bone cancer (osteosarcoma), usually in one of their legs. It's not known exactly why this is, but there is almost certainly some genetic component.

The Irish Wolfhound is also at risk for heart problems, including cardiomyopathy, which causes an enlarged heart. An annual heart exam is critical in catching these conditions early, and no dog with one should ever be bred, nor should any Irish Wolfhound be bred without a comprehensive heart examination by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and OFA certification in the previous year. The sad reality, however, is that a dog who tests fine one day can develop heart disease the next, and the puppy of two parents without heart disease can still develop it.

The Irish Wolfhound Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For an Irish Wolfhound to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA certification for elbows, OFA or PennHIP certification for hips, an OFA cardiac evaluation and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC's website to see if a breeder's dogs have these certifications.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Cardiomyopathy High $500-$1,500
Portosystemic Shunts High $2,500-$5,000
Hip Dysplasia High $1,500-$6,000
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) High $1,500-$7,500
Elbow Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$4,000
Panosteitis Medium $200-$800

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Irish Wolfhound Puppy

When you start your search for a breeder, choose one who is committed to following the Irish Wolfhound Club of America's standard for ethical conduct, which prohibits the sale of puppies to pet stores or wholesalers and outlines the breeder's responsibilities to the breed and to buyers.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Irish Wolfhounds aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an adult dog, most of them can be ruled out.

Puppy or adult, take your Irish Wolfhound to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Irish Wolfhounds

Pet insurance for Irish Wolfhounds costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Irish Wolfhounds are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Irish Wolfhounds are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Irish Wolfhound is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.