The Irish wolfhound is a relatively healthy breed of dog, but is occasionally affected by heart disease. There are different heart problems that may affect the Irish wolfhound, but the most common heart disorder is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Until recently, many Irish wolfhounds (as well as other dogs) died because there just wasn't enough research available for a local vet to correctly diagnose the problem as DCM. DCM is now much better known, so veterinarians will usually run tests to rule out this disorder, especially in breeds that are prone to developing DCM, such as the Irish wolfhound.
When the dog is affected by DCM, the heart muscles become weak so it becomes enlarged as a way of compensating for the weakness. The heart goes through atrial fibrillation, which is when the rhythm becomes very irregular. Most cases of cardiomyopathy eventually lead to total heart failure. It is important to realize that there are two types of cardiomyopathy. In one type, the Irish wolfhound will show symptoms early in the disease. Some of these symptoms may be weight loss, fluid retention, intolerance to exercise and occasionally they may act like they are having a heart attack. If an ECG is taken, it will indicate a rapid or irregular heart beat, as well as other abnormalities that an ultrasound scan will show.
In the second type of cardiomyopathy, the Irish wolfhound will show nothing irregular or abnormal on the ECG or ultrasound, and the dog may not have any signs or symptoms or bad health. But suddenly the dog may go into heart failure and not respond to any treatment. There is also a third type that affects only young dogs, under the age of two and usually while they are exercising. Unfortunately, this type of cardiomyopathy leads to sudden death.
In spite of the different symptoms that may show, the most obvious one in the most common type of DCM is weight loss, even though the dog may still have a large appetite. Another symptom is when an otherwise active dog is suddenly walking instead of running around and is stopping to rest often while walking. Pale gums in the Irish wolfhound are also a sign of poor circulation. You may be able to check the heart rate of the Irish wolfhound by putting your hand on their heart area as well as the pulse on the inside of their thigh.
Other symptoms you may notice are a cough that sounds like the dog is clearing his throat. If the Irish wolfhound is retaining water, he may indicate that he is experiencing abdominal pains. Any time your Irish wolfhound is showing any of these symptoms, get him to a vet as soon as possible for medical treatment.