The Irish Wolfhound should be a strong, athletic dog with the personality of a sweet, easy-going couch potato However, to maintain health and condition, he should not spend all his time lounging around the house. Daily walks, especially if you have a safe area for some off leash exploring are good for both body and soul...they allow the dog to exercise his muscles and his mind. To maintain good health, proper nutrition and proper exercise are key...but there are some medical issues that may arise in spite of your best efforts, so I will discuss some of the more common ones here. For more information about IW health concerns I refer you to the national club website at www.iwclubofamerica.org/health and to the IW Foundation website at www.iwfoundation.org/about.html.
First, potential puppy problems:
1. Bursa or Hygroma - These are fluid filled sacks which may develop, usually on the elbows, but sometimes on the buttocks or hocks. They usually occur in puppies because they are clumsy and in laying down they often cause repeated trauma to these areas. The body then puts out fluid to act as a cushion. Although unsightly, these are harmless and should go away on their own...it may take a few weeks, or in some cases a few months, but generally they are best left alone. Do not allow anyone to drain them as this just risks the potential for infection and may make the problem much worse. If you cannot encourage the puppy to lay on padded surfaces, sometimes people have had success
by padding the affected part of the anatomy. Long time wolfhound owner, Jill Bryson, will
Or you can sew padding into the sleeve of a sweatshirt and have your dog wear it,
if they will. In any case, this is an issue that we treat with "watchful neglect".
The picture illustrates a typical elbow bursa on a youngster.
You can click on the picture to enlarge it.
2. Juvenile Vaginitis - It is very common for immature female wolfhounds to develop vaginitis. This is evidenced by a sticky vaginal discharge and often you will notice her doing excess licking at this area. The vaginal opening in a young girl is rather small and as she squats to urinate, she may pick up dirt or debris which then leads to irritation and/ or infection. Just keep this area clean...you can clip the hair around it and the rectum to aid in hygiene. If it is bad, you can use a soft rubber pediatric bulb ear syringe and gently flush out the vagina with a mild douche solution. Doing this every other day for a week or two usually clears up the problem. In any case, once she matures and goes through her first season, this should no longer be an issue.
3. Premature Closure of the Distal Ulna or Radius. This can occur in immature dogs with open physes (growth plates). An affected dog will show signs of intermittent lameness with varying degrees and the lower front limb is deformed by bowing. The growth plates are responsible for bone growth in immature dogs, until the growth plates close around one year of age. The growth plates are located at the end of each bone, and immature (open) growth plates are softer than mature bones, so they are more susceptible to injury. The distal (towards the bottom of the bone) growth plate is responsible for 90% of the entire bone’s growth. Causes of premature closure may include growth plate trauma, abnormal nutrition, hereditary factors, and infection. It is very important to minimize "pounding" type trauma to the front legs. Do not let your wolfhound puppy jump in and out of your vehicle, off your porch or deck, etc. Do not take your puppy jogging or running next to a bike, horse, etc. where he subjects his front legs to continuous pounding. If this problem occurs, it usually starts to be evident around 4-6 months of age. Because of the length of our breed's limbs and the length of growing time, the sooner this conditition is diagnosed and treatment started, the better the outcome. It requires surgical correction, and sometimes more than one surgery.
4. Fibrocartilaginous Emboli - This is a condition that is very unusual in its presentation in our breed. Most veterinary literature discusses this phenomenon in adult dogs, but in our case it most commonly occurs in 3-5 month old puppies. A normal, happy, healthy puppy is suddenly paralyzed in one or both rear legs with no history of trauma. There is no pain, no fever, no swelling....the puppy may have been trotting across the yard and suddenly goes down and is unable to rise again. I refer you to an excellent article written by Ellen Kroll and published on the Irish Wolfhound Foundation Website. http://www.iwfoundation.org/articles_detail.html?item_id=37&year=2011
5 Osteochondritis dissecans, commonly known as OCD, is a disease of the cartilage that can affect various joints in a dog. OCD may affect the shoulder, elbow, knee or hock, although the shoulder is most commonly affected. The symptoms are lameness in the affected limb. Some dogs have a barely noticeable limp and others are unable to bear any weight on the leg. The lameness tends to worsen after periods of exercise and improves after rest. When it affects the shoulder, a shortened forelimb stride may be noted due to reluctance to flex and extend the shoulder joint. Occasionally, the disease will affect both limbs simultaneously and the dog may be reluctant to move. There are currently two ways to treat OCD, conservative medical treatment or surgical removal of the lesion. Conservative treatment may be indicated for dogs that have early mild symptoms of OCD or where a specific lesion cannot be identified on radiographs. Conservative treatment consists of strict rest for 4 to 8 weeks. Leash walking is permitted but no running or playing is allowed. Anti-inflammatories and painkillers such as carprofen (Rimadyl) may be indicated. In addition, the use of glucosamine/chondroitin products has been suggested, yet there are no current studies that confirm their beneficial use in this particular disease. Conservative treatment may be difficult in young, active puppies who may still need to undergo surgery, if the symptoms do not improve.
Surgery is indicated in animals that show severe symptoms, in cases where large lesions are identified on radiographs or when conservative treatments fail. The surgery is very straightforward. The affected joint is opened and the offending flap, defect, or joint mouse is removed. The prognosis is generally good when the shoulder joint is affected. With other joints, degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) is more common. When the elbow is affected, the OCD may contribute to the development of other abnormalities in that joint.
6. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia - People often assume that all big dogs get hip dysplasia, but may never have heard of elbow dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a condition that should never be seen in or breed or any of the sighthounds. These dogs were bred for generations based on their ability to gallop. Although the IW is large, he is not heavy compared to some of the other large and giant breed dogs who were bred to do their work at the walk or trot with more concern for chest and shoulder strength and less concern about hindquarter soundness. In more than 40 years in this breed we have never had a case of hip dysplasia. Elbow Dysplasia does occur in IWs and is a general term used to describe one or more of three conditions affecting the bones that form the elbow joint. Breeding stock should always have both hips and elbows x-rayed after they are two years of age a certified free of signs of abnormal joint configuration.
7. Panostetis - Often referred to as Pano ...presenting symptoms include a history of acute sudden lameness not associated with any trauma. It is usually a large breed male dog between the ages of 6 to 18 months. There are periods of lameness lasting from 2 to 3 weeks and it may shift from leg to leg. The most commonly affected bones are the radius, ulna, humerus, femur, and tibia, though the foot and pelvic bones may also be involved. The dog may show a reluctance to walk or exercise. When the affected bones are squeezed, the dog reacts painfully. Occasionally, affected dogs will have a fever, tonsillitis, or an elevated white blood cell count. We have never experienced this problem in any of our young hounds, but if it occurs, be comforted by the fact that it is usually a short lived and self-limiting condition. The treatment involves pain medication and rest.
8. Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy - Another condition we have never seen in any of our IWs, but it certainly could happen and we want owners to be informed. Dogs that are stricken with HOD often show symptoms of mild to moderate painful swelling of the growth plates in the leg bones. It most commonly affects the ends of the radius, ulna, (long bones from the elbow to the wrist) and tibia (long bone from the knee to the hock). The dogs may show lameness and a reluctance to move. They may be lethargic and refuse to eat. A fever may come and go rising as high as 106 degrees. The disease usually affects both legs at the same time. The symptoms may wax and wane and resolve on their own or if the fever is very high for long periods and the bony involvement severe, the dogs may suffer permanent structural damage or even die.
The treatment is generally supportive. Since this is a very painful condition anti-inflammatories and painkillers such as buffered aspirin or carprofen (Rimadyl) are given. (Do NOT give your cat aspirin unless prescribed by your veterinarian.) In addition, the animals are usually given a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Strict rest on a comfortable warm bed is recommended. Feeding a nutritious, highly palatable food will help to encourage some dogs to eat. In severe cases steroids may need to be given to control the pain, but because of the possibility of this being a bacterial disease their use may be contraindicated due to their immunosuppressive qualities. Vitamin C is often supplemented though its benefit may be questionable.
9. Split tail - This is a problem which can occur at any age. Because wolfhounds have long, strong tails and are usually a happy breed, they frequently wag their tails hard and can damage the end by hitting it against a solid surface. When the end of the tail is split it BLEEDS! As they continue to wag it, the blood goes everywhere. In order to control the mess and, more importantly, to prevent repeated trauma and allow healing to occur, many methods have been tried. Most do not work...either the bandage falls off, is put on too tight and causes further damage, encourages the dog to chew it off and, perhaps, chew at the tail itself, and so forth. One method that seems to work well is to use a pair of old pantyhose. Cut one leg off, put the top of the panty hose on the rear of the dog and slip the tail into the other leg. Then tie the end of the pantyhose leg up onto the waist of the pantyhose. Wrap tape around the tail in two or three places to prevent the tail from slipping out of it's pantyhose sleeve. Be sure to NOT wrap tape over the injured area. This
approach has several advantages; the fabric allows the wound to breath to encourage healing,
it prevents the tail from hitting anything, it doesn't need to be removed to allow the dog to
urinate or defecate and it prevents the dog from chewing at the end of the tail. The only
problem I see would be if the dog chews the whole apparatus off. Be sure to monitor your
dog for a while when you first put this on, so that you can observe his/her response to it.
This picture illustrates the finished product. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.
10. Liver Shunt - Everyone considering an Irish Wolfhound puppy needs to familiarize
themselves with the symptoms and testing for Portosystemic Shunts (liver shunt). This is an illness sometimes acquired in older, or middle aged dogs, but is congenital and genetic in Irish Wolfhound puppies. The two most common types of shunt are intra-hepatic (inside the liver) and extra-hepatic (outside the liver). You can see both types of shunts in Irish Wolfhounds, though by far the most common (and the most difficult to surgically treat) is the intra-hepatic shunt. All wolfhound puppies should be tested by their breeder prior to going to their new homes. If you are thinking of purchasing an IW puppy this should be on your "non-negotiable" list of expectations of your breeder.
The earliest puppies can be tested for shunt is 8 weeks of age, but due to how the liver develops I prefer to test later. My personal preference is to test as close to the time the puppies are going home as possible, so if I can test at 11 or 12 weeks I will wait to do so. I prefer not to test puppies until at least 10 to 11 weeks of age. If puppies are tested prior to 9 weeks there is a greater risk of the test showing the puppy clear of a shunt when in fact he or she isn't, I'll explain this later. If you want to understand why waiting to test is important, you need to understand a little about how the liver works and how shunts develop.
The job of the liver is to remove toxins from the body. If it isn't functioning, or functions poorly, toxins build in the body, eventually causing disease processes which will lead to death. If a liver shunt is caught early enough it can be either medically managed or surgically repaired, but even this is still not a guarantee of a positive outcome. The intrahepatic shunt, a blood vessel within the liver itself called the ductus venosus, carries blood from the newborn to the mother bypassing the newborn's liver. This is a natural occurrence in the puppy while in the womb. The mother's liver does the work of removing waste and toxins for her unborn infant; she is functioning for both herself and ALL of her puppies. The puppies' livers are growing and developing during this time and aren't prepared to take on the work load for their little bodies. The need of the mother to process all these toxins is yet another reason why proper feeding and deworming of the bitch is so important. You don't want to make her body work any harder during gestation than it is already.
The interior vein (e.g. the ductus venosus) normally closes off at birth, thus allowing the pup's liver to take over the job of removing toxins out of the body. If this fails to happen during development, then a congenital intra-hepatic shunt occurs. If the puppy's body forms an additional and unnecessary blood vessel on the outside of the liver (a congenital vein bypassing the liver on the outside), then this is called an extra-hepatic shunt. If this happens it won't matter if the interior vein closes, you'll still have a shunt moving blood around the liver instead of through it.
So, on to the shunts themselves; they are not all created equal. You can have a partial closure of the interior vein where the puppy's liver is doing some of the work of removing toxins, or you can have no closure at all. If you have no closure you will see signs of disease much earlier in the puppy's life, say around 5-7 weeks. If you have a partial closure, or an extra-hepatic shunt that is quite small, you may not see symptoms until a year of age or more. The reason for this is twofold. First, the liver of the puppy is initially quite large in comparison to the size of the puppy's body when it is born. The liver begins growing when the interior vein closes and is often fully formed by 2-4 months of age. This means you would not want to test earlier than 8 weeks when the liver is fully formed. Testing past 8 weeks decreases the risk of false negative results. The reason you sometimes get a negative result with a shunt in place is because the puppy's liver is quite large in relation to its body size and can compensate for a minor shunt for quite some time. This allows a minor shunt to remain "hidden" until the puppy's body has grown to the point where it can no longer compensate. In this scenario the puppy will not test positive until later in life, upwards to a year or even 18 months.
A reputable breeder should provide a bile acids panel on all wolfhound puppies prior to sending them to their new homes. The testing starts with a period of fasting, generally overnight, drawing a pre-feeding blood sample on each puppy, feeding a fatty meal, waiting two hours and then drawing a post feeding blood sample on each puppy. The two samples are sent to the lab for testing. The test analyzes the level of bile acids in each sample. If the post feeding sample is overly high a portosystemic shunt is suspected. Bile acids are removed from the blood in the liver by the liver cells, if these cells aren't functioning as they should the bile acids remain in the blood flow and enter the body blood flow, raising the level of bile acid in the body's blood. Your breeder should be able to provide you with laboratory testing on each puppy showing normal liver values post feeding.
Now, how about some potential adult onset issues:
1. Cardiac issues - Irish Wolfhounds, unlike many smaller breeds, rarely have congenital (present at birth) cardiac issues. The most common cardiac concerns in this breed tend to come on in middle to later life and include Atrial Fibrillation and Dilated Cardiomyopathy. ALL IRISH WOLFHOUNDS, whether they are in show homes, belong to breeders or are someone's beloved companion, should have an annual ECG, beginning at 2-3 years of age, as part of their routine veterinary care. Complete and up to date information on cardiac disease in this breed is available on the Irish Wolfhound Foundation Website at https://www.iwfoundation.org/documents/2016-IWCA_talk_BT_1335379016_8874.pdf
2. Cancer - Cancer can affect dogs of all sizes, genders, purebreds, and mixed breeds. It is estimated that 1 in 3 people and 1 in 3 dogs will be affected by some form of cancer in his/her life. In Irish Wolfhounds, the most commonly seen cancer is osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. It can affect any bone in the body, but most often is seen near the carpus (wrist) in the front legs or the hock (heel) in the hind legs. This form of cancer is usually highly aggressive and tends to metastasize quickly. Although a cure is always the hope, realistically, the goal is to provide palliative care for as long as your companion can enjoy a good quality of life. Amputation of the affected limb does away with the source of pain quickly, but may not be an acceptable option for some cases. Radiation treatment is a new option and is explained well here. http://www.iwfoundation.org/articles_detail.html?item_id=47&year=2014
More to follow