Medical Information

Reprinted with kind permission of the Rocky Mountains Irish Wolfhound Rescue, USA 

The material on this page comes from two documents:

 1.         An open letter to IW 'admirers', printed and distributed by the Rocky Mountain Irish Wolfhound Rescue (Gloria Barrick and Tracy Luty);

2.         An IW breed information packet prepared by Jean Fleetwood for the Willamette Valley (Oregon) IW Club.

 The material is made available by the RMIWA Rescue and Educational Committees to promote long-lasting, enjoyable relationships between new and prospective IW owners and their hounds. The following is excerpted from these documents and reprinted here with the kind permission of the RMIWR.

 "YOU should understand and discuss the current health issues that are listed below with the Irish Wolfhound breeder and your veterinarian - BEFORE purchasing a puppy."

 Symptoms of Illness.

 Your veterinarian should be consulted whenever a dog gives an indication of being ill:

 1.        Abnormal behavior, sudden viciousness or lethargy.

2.         Abnormal discharges from the nose, eyes, vagina, penis or other body openings.

3.         Abnormal lumps, limping for more than three days, or difficulty getting up, or lying down.

4.         Loss of appetite, marked weight losses, or gains; excessive water consumption. Difficult, abnormal or uncontrolled waste elimination.

5.         Diarrhoea, particularly if accompanied by vomiting and/or fever.

6.         Excessive head shaking, scratching, and licking or biting any part of the body.

7.         Dandruff, loss of hair, open sores and a ragged or dull coat. Foul breath, sores in the mouth, or excessive tartar on the teeth.

8.         High temperature. (A dog's normal temperature rectally is 101-102 degrees).

 If you think there is something wrong with your dog, chances are you are right. See your vet!



Cancer is the number one killer of IW's in the United States. Two most frequent types are osteogenic sarcoma and lymphosarcoma.


Cardiovascular Disease

This is the number two killer of IW's in the US.


Gastric Torsion 

This is also know as bloat. Behind heart disease and bone cancer, bloat is one of the leading causes of death in the Irish Wolfhound. Although there are many theories, the exact cause has not been pinpointed. It occurs when a gas-filled stomach flips over on itself, twisting the opening to the oesophegus and intestines. It can be fatal! Without immediate veterinary care/surgery, the dog will die a very painful death. Gastric Torsion is the number three killer of IW's.

 MEMORIZE THIS!  The early signs of bloat:










IMMEDIATE veterinary care is imperative! Bloat begins as an accumulation of gas within the stomach, may or may not proceed to rotation of the stomach on its oesophageal axis and is accompanied by pathological changes of horrendous proportions. The mortality rate is well above 50%!  

Von Willebrand's Disease

 This and other genetic bleeding disorders are not uncommon in IW's. They can cause serious complications both during and following surgery and may lead to death. Tests are available to test pups and parents.


Elbow Hygroma (commonly known as bursas)

 Elbow hygroma is a problem common in Wolfhounds as in other giant breeds. Hygroma is the soft to firm swelling that occurs just behind the elbow. The most common cause is trauma to the bursa that results from lying on hard surfaces. Hygromas will resolve themselves spontaneously; sometimes six months after onset. It is unnecessary to treat hygromas by surgically draining them and this is not recommended. Ordinarily, hygromas cause no permanent damage. There is speculation that a predisposition to hygromas may be hereditary because they seem to be seen more in some lines than in others.


Hip Dysplasia

 As the dog matures, the hip joints don't grow correctly due to inherited factors. Normal wear and tear can lead to lameness, crippling arthritis and severe pain. Some dogs become so lame and pain-ridden that surgery or euthenasia, is necessary. The best way to avoid the heartbreak of hip dysplasia is prevention.


Osteochondrosis: Osteochondritis Dessicans & Panosteitis

 Osteochondrosis is primarily degeneration of the cartilage. If the dead cartilage gets into the joint fluid and into the joint cavity, the joint becomes inflamed. The lesion is then called osteochondritis dessicans, usually called OCD. The condition usually appears between the ages of 4 - 7 months. The first indications are lameness, which becomes worse after exercise, and stiffness after rest. Surgery is usually necessary. A dog with OCD should not be bred. Panosteitis is also known as wandering disease. Both of these conditions are crippling orthopaedic diseases that may have hereditary factors.


Genetic Eye Problems

 These include Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), and Juvenile Cataracts. Most areas have low cost eye clinics to check dogs for problems 'before' purchase and before breeding.


Thyroid Disease

 Hypothyroidism shows itself as low or non-existent levels of thyroid production as a result of thyroiditis or other causes. Hypothyroidism can result in associated immune-mediated genetically transmitted diseases.



 Dogs get worms from the ground, other animals or fleas. Almost all puppies are born with round worm. A responsible breeder will have wormed a litter several times before they are allowed to go to their new homes. At that time they should be worm free. All dogs should be checked for worms on a regular basis. Check with your vet regarding a schedule for your dog. Dogs are infected with tape worm by eating fleas or rodents. The presence of tape worm is usually evident in the stool. Segments may be seen in the dog's bedding, at the base of the dog's tail or in fresh stool. They look like rice grains, are pinkish or white and wriggle when fresh; brown, when dry. If your dog has tape worm, obtain Droncit from your veterinarian. If you live in an area where heartworm is a problem, consult your vet immediately concerning heartworm preventative. Heartworm is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito.


What Your Veterinarian Needs To Know:

 1.         Wolfhounds are extremely sensitive to anaesthesia and tranquillisers.

2.         Many Wolfhounds cannot tolerate the drug ATABRINE sometimes used in the treatment of giardia. Serious neurological side effects may occur, possibly resulting in death.

3.         Wolfhounds do not tolerate the wormer TASK. (As this is reprinted from a US web site, this may not be used in Australia.)

4.         Wolfhounds often have adverse reactions to flea products containing cholinesteraese inhibitors. Read the labels!

5.         Hypothyroidism is not uncommon in Wolfhounds, particularly in older dogs.

6.         Wolfhounds can be in severe pain and in real trouble, without showing obvious signs, even to the point of showing no reaction to abdominal palpation with perforated intestines and peritonitis.