Irish Wolfhound

Virginia LaMon, DVM
By Virginia LaMon, DVM on Dec. 9, 2022
irish wolfhound lying in grass

In This Article

General Care

Irish Wolfhounds are a giant, docile breed with a dignified appearance and a long, fascinating history. They were created by breeding Middle Eastern hounds with the native dogs of Britain. The first recorded report of an Irish Wolfhound is in a letter by a Roman statesman in 391 AD, according to the Irish Wolfhound Club of America. The Irish Wolfhound earned the name by assisting in hunting Irish wolves to near-extinction in the 1700s.

Today, this gentle breed makes a wonderful house pet—if you have room for them. This giant dog breed can approach 130 pounds and stand 28-35 inches tall. The average Irish Wolfhound lifespan is 6-8 years.

Caring for an Irish Wolfhound

chart depicting an irish wolfhound's breed characteristics

Despite their intimidating size, Irish Wolfhounds are a gentle, calm breed that craves affection. They are affectionate with most people and generally patient with children. Many challenges associated with their size can be solved by early socialization and obedience training.

Because of the Irish Wolfhound’s history as a hunting dog, they can have a strong prey drive. A home with a (tall!) fenced-in yard will keep them from chasing neighborhood wildlife.

As for grooming, the Irish Wolfhound has minimal needs and does not shed or drool excessively.

Irish Wolfhound Health Issues

The Irish Wolfhound has a handful of serious health conditions pet parents need to stay vigilant for, and pet health insurance might be a good investment. And even with proper care, Irish Wolfhounds have a shorter life expectancy than smaller breeds, at around 7 years.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat, GDV)

Gastric dilatation-volvulus, a severe form of bloat in dogs, is a condition that occurs suddenly and requires immediate life-saving intervention.

GDV happens when the stomach fills up with food or gas, causing expansion and increased pressure. The stomach can then rotate, which causes inadequate blood supply to the spleen and stomach. If not treated quickly, shock, tissue damage, and even death can occur. Increased risk is seen in:

  • Older dogs that have a deep chest (like the Irish Wolfhound)

  • Dogs that are fed from elevated bowls

  • Dogs that are fed only once per day

Immediate veterinary intervention is needed to stabilize and treat GDV. The longer a dog has this condition without intervention, the greater the risk of death.

Symptoms include non-productive retching, swollen abdomen, drooling, and collapse. To prevent GDV, a prophylactic gastropexy can be performed to secure the stomach to prevent it from twisting. This is often done at the same time as the dog’s spay or neuter surgery.

Bone Cancer (Osteosarcoma)

Osteosarcoma is an aggressive, malignant bone cancer Irish Wolfhounds are predisposed to. This is the most common type of bone tumor found in dogs, especially larger breeds. The first symptom that is noted is usually lameness/limping. If this is observed, the veterinarian may take x-rays to look for this type of cancer.

If osteosarcoma is diagnosed, the most important first step is pain control.  Then, the recommendation is usually removal of the affected area. In most cases, this involves the amputation of a limb. Chemotherapy treatment is recommended following the removal of the tumor to slow the spread to other areas of the body.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a condition where the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, causing a loose joint. This can be influenced by growth rate, hormones, diet, and exercise. Hip dysplasia can cause degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis. This arthritis leads to pain, limping, and difficulty standing.

Maintaining a lean body condition is important for preventing arthritis. Many vets recommend low-intensity exercise, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin supplementation for dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia. In severe cases, surgery may be needed.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia, like hip dysplasia, is a condition where the elbow joint develops abnormally. This is usually influenced by genetics, abnormal/rapid growth, diet, and trauma. The condition can cause pain and lameness, and can progress into arthritis. Treatment of elbow dysplasia varies based on the severity, but surgery is required in most cases.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is degeneration of the heart that causes the muscle of the left ventricle to become very thin and pump weakly. The symptoms of the disease may occur suddenly or progress gradually as the disease worsens over time. DCM can eventually lead to congestive heart failure.

DCM is a very serious condition that requires intensive treatment, and not all dogs will return to normal. A correlation between DCM and grain-free diets has been found but is not fully understood. Talk with your veterinarian about the risks and benefits of feeding an Irish Wolfhound a grain-free diet.

What To Feed an Irish Wolfhound

Feeding commercial kibble or wet food that’s compliant with Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards is a good way to make sure the Irish Wolfhound receives a complete and balanced diet.

As a giant breed, Irish Wolfhound puppies need to grow at a steady rate so their muscles and bones grow in unison. The bone and joints can become weak if their bones grow too quickly, and additional body weight places extra strain on these weak spots. Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia can also happen due to rapid growth.

To maintain a healthy growth rate in Irish Wolfhound puppies, proper amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrates are necessary. They can get all their nutrition through AAFCO-compliant foods that are designed for giant and large-breed dogs. Discuss with your veterinarian which diet is best for your dog.

How To Feed an Irish Wolfhound

The Irish Wolfhound does best if fed about every 12 hours as an adult. Raised food and water bowls may increase the risk of bloat and need to be avoided.

How Much Should You Feed an Irish Wolfhound?

Just like humans, the recommended caloric intake for an Irish Wolfhound varies from dog to dog due to size, metabolism, and activity level. The best way to determine how much to feed your Irish Wolfhound is to talk with your veterinarian and consult the feeding guide labels on your chosen dog food.

Maintaining a lean body and healthy weight are very important for protecting an Irish Wolfhound’s joints.

Nutritional Tips for Irish Wolfhounds

Irish Wolfhounds benefit from the addition of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA/EPA) into their diets. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in skin and joint supplements, fish oil, and even in some specially formulated dog foods. These fatty acids will act as natural anti-inflammatories that help to support the skin, coat, kidneys, joints, and heart.

Behavior and Training Tips for Irish Wolfhounds

Irish Wolfhound Personality and Temperament

Irish Wolfhounds are generally a calm, gentle, and easygoing breed. Wolfhounds will become accustomed to nearly any level of activity, but they should be exercised regularly to limit health concerns.

Most Irish Wolfhounds are comfortable with children and other dogs if they are socialized at an early age. That said, they can have a powerful prey drive and may chase smaller animals, like cats, or bolt to catch a squirrel while on a walk.

Irish Wolfhound Behavior

Most Irish Wolfhounds do not bark to excess, but they will alert you if anything is amiss. Some might develop separation anxiety when left alone, so they shouldn’t spend hours apart from their family. Increasing physical and mental activity will also help prevent anxiety from developing.

Irish Wolfhound Training

Irish Wolfhounds are sensitive and eager to please, so they can easily be trained by using positive reinforcement. The Irish Wolfhound does not respond well to rough treatment or scolding—if these tactics are used, these sensitive creatures will shut down.

Fun Activities for Irish Wolfhound

  • Tracking

  • Agility

  • Racing

  • Obedience training

Irish Wolfhound Grooming Guide

The Irish Wolfhound has a wiry, medium-length coat with minimal grooming needs. They are moderate shedders but don’t drool excessively.

Skin Care

Irish Wolfhounds do not require any special skin care. They should be bathed with a dog-specific shampoo for wiry hair every 1-3 months as needed for odor and appearance.

Coat Care

The Irish Wolfhound’s coat does not form mats or knots easily, but weekly brushing is recommended to remove loose hairs. Every six months, the Irish Wolfhound should be hand-stripped, which is done by hand-plucking or using a stripping rake to remove dead hair. 

Eye Care

No special eye-related grooming care is necessary for the Irish Wolfhound. However, if squinting or ocular discharge is noted, contact your veterinarian. These can be signs of more serious eye conditions.

Ear Care

Cleaning your dog’s ears every 2-4 weeks will help to prevent ear infections. If you see any redness or heavy debris, an examination by the veterinarian is in order.

Considerations for Pet Parents

Irish Wolfhound are gentle and sensitive, making them fabulous family friends when socialized and trained early. Their giant stature should be considered, especially by families with limited space. They may have a strong prey drive thanks to their hunting history, so care should be taken around small animals like cats or rodents.

Irish Wolfhounds have a fair number of health conditions, making pet health insurance a wise decision. The hardest part about having an Irish Wolfhound is their short lifespan of 6-8 years.

Irish Wolfhound FAQs

How long do Irish Wolfhounds live?

As with many giant breeds, the Irish Wolfhound has a short lifespan, averaging 6-8 years.

Is an Irish Wolfhound a good pet?

The Irish Wolfhound makes a wonderful pet due to his gentle temperament and desire to please the family. His giant size makes obedience training crucial, and he’ll pick up cues and commands easily.

Is an Irish Wolfhound larger than a Great Dane?

On average, a Great Dane is a little larger than an Irish Wolfhound, though individuals may vary. A Great Dane can weigh up to 180 pounds and stand 32 inches tall. While the Irish Wolfhound’s height also reaches 32 inches, they are typically lighter, at 105-120 pounds.

Featured Image: iStock/slowmotiongli

Virginia LaMon, DVM


Virginia LaMon, DVM


Dr. Virginia LaMon graduated from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. She completed her clinical year at Auburn...

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