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Irish Wolfhound – age and cause of death

Irish Wolfhound...an impressive breed, much-loved breed, controversial breed.
In the past the wolfhound was not a long-lived breed. This did not use to be required of dogs. The dog was a working animal and he was required to perform.

Nowadays it is mainly a matter of emotional ties, the dog is a companion, the owners are happy about any extension of the time they can spend with their dogs. In the case of large breeds like the Irish Wolfhound 10 years is regarded as the equivalent of 90 – 100 years in humans. Even though we should bear it in mind that this is not completely accurate. Large breeds usually die between the ages of 5-8, whereas small breeds are expected to live from 10-14 years on average, i.e. twice as long . Large breeds die at a younger age, initially their body weight increases rapidly and later they age faster. The phase of adulthood is relatively short, the wolfhound takes a long time to mature and in the best case he also lives for a long time as an old dog.
Unfortunately, a ten-year-old wolfhound is old and by no means all of them live as long. The whole world´s population is in a similar state to ours. There are countries, where some preventive veterinary-breeding programmes have been in place for some time, but not even their wolfhounds live longer. The dogs from which present day breeders all over the world bred their Irish Wolfhounds, lived to a similar age as today´s dogs and they died of the same diseases. The art of diagnosis is better today and in some cases medication can stabilize the ill dog´s condition and thus prolong its life.
The negative relationship between size and length of life is more evident in the case of dogs than in any other species.

The average age from several studies carried out in different countries at different time periods and with a large amount of different data is 6.2 years.

For example, Belgium - 7 years, England – 6.5 , the USA - 6.5 , Norway - 5.7, Sweden - 6.7, Denmark - 6.6, Germany – 7, Italy -7, Holland - 6.5 years.
Ireland - lists an age of 6-10, which is very approximate. A span of 4 years really cannot be taken as an exact number.

According to the results of an American veterinary study the average age of wolfhounds is very close to the average age of all breeds including crossbreeds that died over a long period of time. This study was based on a high number of individuals - 23 535. The average obtained in this way was 6.7 years.
Another study presents a comparison of ages of 21 popular breeds of dogs from four different countries.
The Irish Wolfhound came before the Boxer, Dobermann, St. Bernard and Cocker Spaniel in equal 15th place with the Labrador Retriever. The Great Dane was listed as the breed with the shortest life at 4.6 years while the longest-lived was the Toy Poodle at - 9.3. If you take the average age of all the breeds together, the wolfhound differed by about 6 months.

Ancestry obviously has an effect on life expectancy, but influences on a specific individual also play a significant role. The influence of stress, nutrition , preventitive veterinary treatment and other external factors are increasingly emphasized.

The aim of this work is not to extend the age of the Irish Wolfhound breed or of any individual. It is based on information provided to me by owners and breeders. Now I would like to share it with everyone who is interested in this topic and to clear up the misconception that the relatively short life-span and the prevalence of specific diseases are a recent phenomenom or that they are in any way to be associated with Czech breeders. This is unfortunate, because everything would be much simpler in that cae.
Generally the term "average age“ is used. But it is not often stressed that it is a matter of the average of the available information. Maybe some dogs lived to a truly venerable or at least above-average age, but their owners did not feel the need to share this information. The average value can thus be greatly affected. Breeders generally lists only the age of dogs who lived to a high or amazingly great age and the owners of individual dogs on the other hand only do so if they are shocked by their death at a very young age. It is understandable, but from the point of view of breed it is not necessarily objective. Age is closely monitored by the breeding public and fans of the breed.

My study includes information on 898 wolfhounds (427 dogs/471 bitches) living in the Czech Republic. The first litter of Irish Wolfhounds was recorded here 1977, the last registration number from 2012 is 4151. If we go on the assumption that the average age is about 6 years old and at the end of 2006 the last registration number was 2598, we have information on about one-third of the population.

I will not name any specific dogs nor any specific kennel. I have been gathering documents from 1999 and before and I have included all available data about wolfhounds entered in the Czech stud book, that is of the dogs born and imported since the start of breeding in our country. I put the first article on this topic in the WDK newslettter in 2002. Now, after more than ten years I return to the same topic with much more comprehensive data.

In the case of 20 individuals (8/12) it is not known to which age they lived, and with 208 (89/119) we do not know the cause of death. This is mainly the case with dogs from the beginning of a breeding programme. This was of course taken into account in the calculations.

The calculations regarding the ages of Irish Wolfhounds are based on a total number of 878 (419/459). The average age for both sexes is 5.8 years, for dogs 5.3 and bitches 6.
Excluding the individuals who died at under a year old, which is how this indicator works in most similar studies, the average age is 6 years (5.8/6.1)
It is a matter of excluding puppies up to the age of 12 months including those who have already been issued with registration numbers. These results show that the difference between dogs and bitches in our country is not as great as has been reported elsewhere.

The causes of death were evaluated in the case of 690 (338/352) wolfhounds. The information was obtained from the dog owners and the diagnosis was only confirmed in some cases throgh pathological anatomical examination.

The highest number of deaths were from cancer, a total of 175 subjects (65/110), ie 24.4% (19.2 / 31.3). Of these almost 60% were as a result of osteosarcoma, bone cancer - 102 individuals (37/65). Almost half the dogs died of this which was not the case with the bitches.

The second most common cause of death was heart disease and failure of the circulatory system, including sudden deaths and in connection with general anesthesia - 165 individuals (106/59), nearly 24% (31.4 / 16.8), of which 47 were sudden deaths (30 / 17), ie almost 9% of the total number of known causes.
In the context of the general anesthetic 13 of these individuals (8/5) died even although it was usually not a matter of a life-threatening case, but for example dental work, tooth plaque removal and the like.

Less than half the number of bitches died of heart disease compared to dogs.

Other countries have also reported cancer as the most common cause of deaths, of which the most frequent types are osteosarcoma and various heart problems including sudden death. Also in this country both groups are almost equally represented, and together they make up half of the causes of death.

79 individuals (40/39) died of the effects of torsion of the stomach or spleen, ie 11.4%. Both sexes are represented approximately equally in this case.

54 individuals (29/25) died of liver failure, kidney and immune deficiency, ie 7.8% and the incidence is approximately the same in both sexes.

What is striking is that 30 Wolfhounds (17/13) ie 4.3% of the study groups died of an accident or injury or of the consequences thereof. Of these 13 died as a result of a collision with a car and 2 were hit by a train, ie more than 2% of the studied groups and half of all the injuries.

28 IW (14/14), 4% (4.1 / 4) died of infectious diseases. From the beginning of the period several cases of distemper occurred, and later it was generally pneumonia. These problems affect both sexes equally.

Due to motoric problems, or as the case may be paralysis, 21 individuals (14/7), i.e 3% (4,1/2) of the total number of observed cases died or had to be put down. There are twice as many dogs as bitches. This can possibly be attributed to their greater mass and the ensuing greater musculoskeletal strain.

20 bitches or 5.7 of the total died of gynecological problems, including complications associated with childbirth.

16 IW died of demonstrable liver failure – PSS, the same number of dogs and bitches. That makes 2.3%, which is comparable with similar indicators of 2.1 to 3.4%.that have been reported from other countries.

Various other reasons accounted for 63 (35/28) that is 9.1% (10.4/8) of the total observed number. It was a matter of complications from epilepsy, poisoning, foreign bodies in the digestive tract and the like.

Old age was evaluated as the cause of death in 21 cases (4/17), i.e. 3% (1.2/4.8) and the average age of these individuals was 9.9 years. This figure is somewhat misleading, because the cause of death of some wolfhounds, who lived to a relatively old age, are included in other specific diagnoses.

209 individuals (81/128) lived to 8 or more years, ie more than 30% of the wolfhounds reached old age - 24% dogs and 36% bitches.
116 individuals (39/77) lived to 9 or more years, ie 16.8% (11.5 / 21.9)
52 wolfhounds (36/1610) survived for 10 or more years, ie 7.5% (10.6 / 4.5)
25 wolfhounds (9/16) survived for 11 or more years, ie 3.6% (2.7 / 4.5)
5 wolfhounds survived for 12 years or more (4/1) or 0.7% (1.2 / 0.3)

This is not and cannot be a completely accurate picture of the breed. However, the results do have informative value.

It is known that the oldest Wolfhound lived to 16.5 years in Ireland. Although this is an absolute exception, why not look forward to the days that maybe ours will also be with us for so long .... Indeed, the very fact that almost every third Wolfhound lives to old age, and especially on account of their great character it is worth breeding wolfhounds and keeping them as companions.

The author mainly used his own knowledge as the basis of this article, but also materials from abroad by different authors that dealt with similar themes:
Pernille Monberg, Mary McBryde, Linda Gover, The American Naturalist

author: MVDr Zuzana Málková
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