Irish Wolfhound

Ancient Dog Breed Will Surprise You

With its large size and shaggy coat, the Irish wolfhound is a somewhat intimidating-looking dog.

Don't judge a book by its cover: The Irish wolfhound has the grace and speed of a greyhound, the gentle, loyal nature of a Great Dane, and the protectiveness of a mastiff.

The breed also has an ancient history that has played a role in shaping the dog's status as a popular family dog.

Irish Wolfhound

The Irish wolfhound has been making history for centuries.

While speculation exists that the breed was brought to Ireland by early settlers in 3500 BC, historical accounts — one written by Roman emperor Julius Caesar — describe Irish wolfhounds fighting along side Celts in the Gallic Wars during 391 BC.

What is known is that the dog was originally bred to be a war dog, and a trained guardian of homes and Irish livestock. The Irish wolfhound's speed and intelligence made them ideal for hunting, particularly wild boar and wolves, a result of which both remain extinct to this day in Ireland.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Irish wolfhound was a status symbol of sorts: only the noble could afford an Irish wolfhound and, revered by their owners, many of the dogs found themselves bedazzled with jewel encrusted collars and chains. As companions, the breed began living side by side with their noble owners and became further domesticated.

By the early 1800s, the dog breed itself was near extinction, but due to the efforts of an English captain named George Augustus Graham, the breed was revived and crossbred with the Great Dane, deerhound and mastiff to create the modern day Irish wolfhound.

In 1885, Captain Graham and fellow Irish wolfhound breeders founded the Irish Wolfhound Club. While the breed is sometimes misidentified as Ireland's national dog, the Irish wolfhound has been adopted as the symbol for both of Ireland's national rugby teams, one of which is nicknamed the "wolfhounds" and the other as the "Ireland Wouldfhounds."

While an Irish wolfhound looks like an adult dog at eight months of age, it actually takes a minimum of 18 months for the dog to fully mature.

Irish wolfhounds are loyal, needy dogs — they tend to form a very strong bond with their families and can actually display some anxiety if left alone for long stretches of time.

Typically quiet by nature, this breed, while affectionate with family members — are usually standoffish with strangers. Considered easy to train, the Irish wolfhound is known to be gentle and patient with children but socialization with other pets is recommended, as this breed has a deeply rooted history in tracking and pursuing other animals.

Irish Wolfhound

Considered the tallest dog breed on average, the Irish wolfhound has a muscular stature similar to that of a greyhound's, with a long, tapered muzzle and small ears. Most noticeably, the breed's coat is coarse and shaggy, with a bushy area over the eyes and on the chin.

The average Irish wolfhound weighs between 100 to 150 pounds, with the females typically on the lower end of the scale. The height range for male Irish wolfhounds can be as much as 38 inches, while females average between 30 to 35 inches tall.

The Irish wolfhound's coat can be one of a few colors: gray, white, black, red, fawn or brindle.

While an Irish wolfhound looks like an adult dog at eight months of age, it actually takes a minimum of 18 months for the dog to fully mature.

Irish Wolfhound

The medical conditions listed below are some of the more common and serious genetically predisposed disorders know to occur in the Irish wolfhound. Your Irish wolfhound will not necessarily be affected by any of the disorders listed.

  • Bone cancer (osteosarcoma) is one of the most common cancers in the Irish wolfhound. It most often occurs in the leg bones, but can occur elsewhere.
  • Cataract is an opacity of the lens of the eye that may cause blindness if not treated surgically.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart muscle disease caused by an autosomal recessive gene and is the leading cause of death in Irish wolfhounds. A genetic linkage test with a high degree of accuracy is now available to help breeders determine if their dogs carry the gene.
  • Gastric torsion (bloat) is very serious and often deadly condition where the stomach becomes painfully distended, either due to food, water or gas. The distended stomach then has a tendency to rotate twisting off its own blood supply and the only exit routes for the gas inside.
  • Hereditary intrahepatic portosystemic shunt is a condition that occurs when abnormal blood vessels develop within the liver that causes the blood supply to bypass the liver. In the Irish wolfhound's case, the shunt is usually found inside the liver and is difficult to treat. Symptoms usually appear around 6 months of age and may include vomiting, failure to gain weight, seizures, depression and drooling. Surgical treatment is best, when it can be performed.
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia, a malformation of the hip and elbow joints that causes arthritis, is especially crippling in large breeds of dogs.
  • Hypothyroidism is due to a low circulating thyroid hormone level, which can result in skin, coat and weight abnormalities, behavior changes, and fertility problems.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA): is an adult-onset condition which gradual degeneration of the retina leading to blindness.
  • von Willebrand's Disease is a common inherited blood disorder, characterized by a deficiency in clotting factor VIII. The main symptom of vWD is excessive bleeding following injury or surgical procedures.
As with any pet, be sure to regularly consult a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.