Everything you need to know about Irish Wolfhounds
Written by Napo HQ
Reviewed by Dr Tamir Spiegel
10th Nov 2023
6 mins read
The Irish Wolfhound was once a formidable hunter, but now they’re more at home on your sofa. They’re big dogs with big hearts. (And you’ll need a similarly large home for them!)
71 to 86cm
40 to 54.5kg
6 to 8 years
2 hours daily
Calm, dignified, laid back
In ancient times right through to the Medieval period, there are references and stories of “wolfhounds” of Ireland. These huge dogs had a gentle disposition, but incredible size and strength that meant they were able to hunt wolves and fight lions or bears. They would also guard livestock from wolves. However, the breed dwindled after wolves became extinct, and more so after the great famine. Info varies on whether these Wolfhounds died out entirely, or at least very rare.
Then in the 19th century, a man called Captain George Augustus Graham wanted to revive these ancient dogs. He had a dog called “Faust” who was allegedly descended from these dogs. He crossbred Faust with other breeds, like the Scottish Deerhound and Mastiff, to recreate the Irish Wolfhound.
Although this breed was created to be like the ancient war dogs and guardians of old, they’re most famous for their huge size and sweet nature. They’re the definition of a “gentle giant”, and the tallest dog breed on the planet.
Wolfhounds look like a supersized Deerhound, or a huge Greyhound with a wiry coat. They’re longer than they are tall (and these guys are tall!) with long legs and neck. They’re covered in a thick, wiry coat. With a beard and eyebrows, that make them look super expressive. Although they’re often grey, they actually come in a variety of colours.
Irish Wolfhound colours
You might be surprised to find there are many Irish Wolfhound colours! It can be easy to assume they’re just grey, but they come in many shades from Cream to Black, and with or without Brindle. Brindle is the coat pattern some dogs have, and looks like tiger stripes.
The Irish Wolfhound colours according to the breed standard are:
- Black brindle
- Dark brindle
- Grey brindle
- Red brindle
- Wheaten brindle
Irish Wolfhound temperament
Irish Wolfhounds are gentle giants. They’ve got a sweet and friendly nature. Wolfhounds are also very affectionate, which can be a problem when these huge pups want to snuggle on your lap! But they're usually more reserved around strangers.
These pups are known for being calm and easygoing. If anything, they can seem lazy as they loaf about the house or snooze on the sofa.
Although they’re generally good with children, their huge size means they should be supervised around kids and animals, and might not be suitable for young families. They can be great alongside other dogs and cats if socialised from a young age, but they still have a high prey drive so might not be great around small furries.
How much exercise does an Irish Wolfhound need
Despite their massive size, Irish Wolfhounds don’t need an absurd amount of exercise. They should have 1-2 hours of exercise a day. Although their size means playtime might be limited to when you’re outside and have the space for zoomies. (Otherwise, you might find some of your furniture knocked over!)
But when your Irish Wolfhound is a puppy, you’ll need to take extra care with their exercise. Because they grow very quickly, you need to keep exercise gentle and limited, to protect they’re growing bones and joints. Ben the Vet talks abouthow long to walk a puppy in his article
How to groom an Irish Wolfhound
Irish Wolfhounds have a double coat, with a thick wiry topcoat and a soft fur undercoat. Their harsh topcoat keeps them surprisingly clean, protecting them from water, dirt, and harsh weather. It shouldn’t be shaved otherwise it'll lose it's texture and protective properties.
Brushing them once or twice a week will help get rid of any dirt in their fur, or dead hair. Although they shed all year round, it’s not excessive, and regular brushing can keep on top of it. They might shed more as they change between their summer and winter coats, but brushing them more regularly should stop it from being an issue.
As for bathing, they should only need a bath when they’re smelly or visibly dirty. Like if they’verolled in something
. You’ll need to trim their claws once a month andclean their teeth
regularly to help preventdental disease
Common Irish Wolfhound health problems
Like many breeds, Irish Wolfhounds are prone to a few health problems. And their unusual size sadly can make them prone to a few issues.
Bloat or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)
is common in large deep-chested dogs, including Irish Wolfhounds. It’s caused by the stomach being filled with food and gas, making it expand and increasing pressure. This can cause it to twist, which stops blood reaching the stomach and spleen properly. If untreated, it can cause shock, tissue damage, or even death so it has to be treated as an emergency.
Irish Wolfhounds are prone to a type of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This makes the muscle in one area of the heart thin and weak, which stops it from pumping as well as it should. If untreated, it can lead to congestive heart failure. All breeding dogs should have their hearts tested before breeding, so puppies have the best chance of being healthy.
Liver shunt or “portosystemic shunt” (PSS), is when blood from certain organs doesn't go into the liver as normal. That means the blood isn't filtered or detoxified, which can cause a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream. It’s usually present from birth, so puppies should be screened before going to their new homes.
A kind of bone cancer called Osteosarcoma is a common health problem in Irish Wolfhounds and is sadly one of the most common causes of death. One of the common symptoms is lameness or limping, so it's always best to take your Wolfie to the vet if you notice this.
Irish Wolfhounds can develop a condition called “progressive retinal atrophy”.it's a degenerative eye disorder, caused by gradual loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. This causes the affected dog to slowly lose their sight.
Hip dysplasia is common in many large breeds, including Wolfhounds. It causes significant pain for puppies as their hip joints grow in an abnormal manner. Some dogs with a mild form of the condition won’t show signs until they are older and develop arthritis in their hips. Breeders should screen dogs for this before breeding.
Like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia causes the elbow joint to grow abnormally. It's believed to happen because the three bones that make the dog's elbow grow at different rates, resulting in a loose joint. This can lead to painful lameness.
Frequently asked questions about Irish Wolfhounds
How long do Irish Wolfhounds live?
The average Irish Wolfhounds lifespan is 6 to 8 years. Sadly, large dog breeds on average don’t live as long as small breeds.
When are Irish Wolfhounds fully grown?
Given their giant size, Irish Wolfhounds take longer than average to reach their adult size and for their skeleton to mature. It’ll take at least 18 months before your pup becomes an adult.
Do Irish Wolfhounds shed?
Yes, they shed throughout the year, but it isn’t excessive. You might notice they shed more as they change from their winter to summer coats. Regular brushing should get rid of most dead fur though.
Are Irish Wolfhounds hypoallergenic?
No, Irish Wolfhounds are not hypoallergenic. They’ll shed fur and dander, and occasionally may drool. However, brushing can reduce the fur and dander shed. If you have sensitivities, it’s best to spend time with a breed before committing to see if they’re suited for you. And remember, no dog is 100% hypoallergenic!
What were Irish Wolfhounds used for?
Irish Wolfhounds of old were used as guardians to protect farm animals from wolves and other animals. They were also war dogs, tall enough to pull soldiers off of horses. They were also used to hunt large animals from deer to boar and wolves. Hence they’re name, they’re hounds that hunted wolves. Modern wolfhounds haven’t been used for these jobs though, and make calm and loving pets.
Are Irish Wolfhounds easy to train?
Irish Wolfhounds are smart dogs and very people-focused, so they aren’t the most difficult dog to train.
Irish Wolfhound vs Great Dane
Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes are two of the biggest dog breeds on the planet and do share some common ancestry.
In terms of size, Great Danes are generally bigger and heavier, however, Irish Wolfhounds are taller. In appearance, they have some similarities. Not only are they both big, but they’ve both got long legs and necks, deep chests, long, thin tails, and drop ears. The key visual difference is their coat, since Wolfhounds have long, shaggy coats and Great Danes have short, smooth fur and a wider variety of colours.
As for how they are as pets, they’ve got pretty similar personalities. Both make loyal, affectionate, calm dogs. And whichever breed you prefer, you’ll need to account for their huge size and the amount of space and food they need. Both breeds need a similar amount of exercise, about 2 hours a day. They’re also prone to many of the same health problems, like heart disease and bloat. They both shed, although Great Danes can be brushed less frequently as their fur is shorter. However, the drool a lot more!