Health Related Issues of the Irish Wolfhound

Irish Wolfhounds, like all breeds, are subject to some genetic disorders and other health problems. The following is a brief outline of some of the more common health concerns found in the breed:


Gastric Dilitation-Volvulus (Bloat)

Bloat is a condition caused by a twisting of the stomach and thus trapping the stomach contents and gases resulting in a rapid swelling of the abdomen accompanied by pain and eventual death if untreated. It is an emergency, requiring immediate veterinary action. This condition is most often found in large, deep chested dog breeds. Anyone owning a deep chested breed, susceptible to Bloat should be prepared to handle the emergency procedures necessary, including having readily available the name and phone number of emergency clinics and/or after-hours Veterinarians.

Breeds with a deeper and narrower chest are most susceptible, including the Bloodhound. Within the breed, dogs with the deepest, narrowest chests are the most vulnerable.

Symptoms can be subtle. You should learn to recognize them:

  • Continuous pacing and/or lying down in odd places
  • Salivating, panting, whining
  • Unable to get comfortable
  • Acting agitated
  • Unproductive vomiting or retching (may produce frothy foamy vomit in small quantities)
  • Excessive drooling, usually accompanied by retching noises
  • Swelling in abdominal area (may or may not be noticeable)

If ANY combination of these symptoms are noticed, CALL YOUR VET and get the dog there as fast as possible. Bloat is LIFE-THREATENING.

Additional Information:

For more information on what you can do in the case of a Bloat emergency, see First Aid for Bloat.


Cancer

Bone cancer (Osteosarcoma) is one of the most common cancers found in the Irish Wolfhound, usually occuring in the leg bones but can occur elsewhere. Lymphosarcoma (Lymphoma) is also seen in the breed and is the third most common cancer diagnosed in dogs.

Additional Information:

  • Cancer — From the Health and Nutrition section of the Canada's Guide to Dogs website.


Hip & Elbow Dysplasia

Canine Hip Dysplasia afflicts millions of dogs each year and can result in debilitating orthopaedic disease of the hip. It is caused when the femoral head does not fit properly in the hip socket, causing instability of the joint. Over time, this malformation can cause degenerative joint disease which causes increased pain and immobility.

Elbow Dysplasia may be due to different growth rates of the three bones making up the elbow. In affected dogs, the joint is lax or loose and, in mildly affected dogs, leads to painful arthritis.Severely affected dogs can develop osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), fragmented medial coronoid processes and united anconeal processes resulting from the stress in the joint.

Through selective breeding strategies, veterinarians and breeders are attempting to eliminate Canine Hip Dysplasia. All breeding dogs should be x-rayed and certified clear by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and/or by the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP).


Fibrocartilaginous Embolic Myelopathy

FCE is the blockage of blood flow to part of the spinal cord by pieces of cartilage-like material that get displaced from their normal location in the body and move into blood vessels supplying the spinal cord. This blockage of spinal cord blood flow damages the spinal cord in the same way that a stroke would damage the brain. The cause of FCE is not known but it is believed to arise from an abnormal, degenerating disc along the back or neck.

There are no warning signs, however, as soon as a blockage of blood flow happens, a sudden loss in the ability to walk occurs with subsequent nervous tissue damage. Treatment can include high doses of corticosteriod drugs which can sometimes limit the extent of the damage if given within a few hours of the onset of signs. Once this initial treatment is completed, no other medication is available that will speed recovery. The prognosis varies depending on the severity of the spinal cord injury.

Additional Information:


Heart Disease

Heart failure is one of the major causes of death in the Irish Wolfhound.

Additional Information:


Hypothyroidism

Canine Hypothyroidism is the most commonly diagnosed hormonal disease found in dogs. The term hypothyroidism simply means the underproduction of thyroxin, the hormone produced by the thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is located on the trachea (wind pipe) of the dog, just below the voice box. It exerts its influence on the dog's body by producing and releasing thyroxin into the blood stream. This hormone, and thus, the thyroid gland itself, is very important in controlling growth and development and maintaining normal protein, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism of the dog.

Hypothyroidism usually occurs between the ages of two to six years. The most common sign is an increase in body weight. Lethargy and some form of skin disease (i.e., thin coat, loss of hair, dandruff, oily skin, increased scratching) are also common signs of Hypothyroidism.

The treatment is through thyroid hormone supplementation given orally once or twice a day. Usually thyroid supplementation improves the clinical signs associated with the disease within four to six weeks. All the clinical signs of hypothyroidism are reversible, once treatment is started.


Liver Shunt

Liver Shunt, also known as Portosystemic Shunts, are abnormal veins that allow blood from the intestine to bypass the liver. When a shunt is present, blood bypasses the liver with disastrous and often fatal consequences. Ammonia and other toxins are not metabolized or removed from the circulation, resulting in signs of hepatic encephalopathy (a type of brain inflammation caused by high levels of ammonia and other toxins in the blood). Symptoms can include stunted growth, persistent vomiting and diarrhea, weight loss and seizures. However, it is possible for symptoms to be very subtle as well — increased urination, thirst and salivation. Liver shunts are operable but not always successful. The errant blood vessels may be inside or outside the liver and those that are inside are much more difficult to repair.


Megaesophagus

This is a weakness of the esophagus which can be either be congenital or develop secondary to other diseases. Usually, the first symptom noticed is regurgitaiton (not vomiting).

See Megaesophagus for additional information.


Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD)

OCD is a degeneration of bone underlying the cartilage layer of joints. It can affect the shoulder, ankle or elbow joint and almost always shows up during the growth phase — between six to nine months of age — of larger breeds. It may start as an intermittent limp in one leg. Many young dogs with OCD run and play as though nothing is wrong but when they slow down they realize the limb hurts and the limp returns. Contributing factors to OCD include both environmental and genetic factors. Dogs whose parents had OCD are much more likely to also suffer from this disease and physical trauma to the joints may also cause the already weakened cartilage to chip and crack.


Progressive Retinal Atrophy

PRA is a family of diseases involving the gradual deterioration of the retina. In the early stages of the disease, an affected dog becomes nightblind and cannot see well in dim lighting. As the disease progresses, daytime vision also fails. Provided that the affected dog's environment remains constant, an affected dog can adapt quite well to this handicap. As the affected dog's vision fails, the pupils become increasingly dilated, causing a "shine" to his eyes. The lens of the eyes may also become cloudy, or opaque, resulting in a cataract. It should be noted that while some breeds are affected early in life, others can develop PRA much later.


Epilepsy

Canine Epilepsy is a chronic condition characterized by recurrent seizures. Seizures are the result of muscle responses to an abnormal nerve-signal burst from the brain. The cause can be anything that disrupts normal brain circuitry:

  • Idiopathic Epilepsy, meaning "no known cause", also referred to as Primary Epilepsy, is possibly inherited.

Secondary Epilepsy can be caused by:

  • Low blood sugar,
  • low thyroid function,
  • infections causing brain damage,
  • ingestion of toxins,
  • brain tumors, and
  • vaccinations.

Most dogs with Idiopathic Epilepsy suffer their first seizure between the ages of one and five years. A genetic basis for Idiopathic Epilepsy is strongly suspected in several breeds.

For complete details on Canine Epilepsy, visit The Epi Guardian Angels — An extensive resource for information, support, treatments and solutions for veterinarians and owners of dogs with Canine Epilepsy.


von Willebrand's Disease

vWD is a blood disorder, a deficiency in clotting factor VIII antigen. This substance is called "Von Willebrand's factor." Dogs affected by the disease do not effectively utilize their platelets for blood clotting and therefore are more likely to have excessive bleeding episodes upon injury. This is similar to hemophilia in humans.

vWD is a common inherited disorder. Certain breeds have a higher than normal incidence of this disorder.

The main symptom of vWd is excessive bleeding, generally occuring after an injury or surgery. Dog's with Von Willebrand's disease may also develop nosebleeds or bleeding from the gums; bleeding in the stomach or intestine may also occur; and some dogs may have blood in their urine. Symptoms similar to those of arthritis may also occur if bleeding is into the joints.

Additional Information:


Note: This section is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters. The information provided here is a brief outline of some of the health issues which may be of concern for the Irish Wolfhound and should not be considered a complete listing. Additional information can be found in the Health and Nutrition section of the Canada's Guide to Dogs website.