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Irish Wolfhound Longevity

The Irish Wolfhound is a breed that is often misrepresented as having an unnaturally short lifespan, with an expectation of 6-7 years.  Whilst this may be true in some cases, many Wolfhound owners know that many hounds exceed this.

The IWHG has for some time been trying to debunk this misinformation, but to do that we need some hard evidence. Whilst we may have personal, 'factual' evidence that many IWH live beyond this age, it is only anecdotal and not based on scientific data.

Vets refer to the 6-7 years lifespan as 'average', but it is often taken as the breed norm.  However, the term ‘average’ can be determined and defined in many ways and is usually based on some hard evidence provided by the actuarials in insurance companies.  They will always have the worst case scenario because their data is derived from dogs that have been taken to the vets with fatal outcomes and that are insured. It is their job to highlight the worst case scenario to ensure that premiums are targeted correctly to prevent the insurers losing money on likely outcomes.

However, factors not taken into consideration as they are un-recordable may be that not all dogs are insured, so their data is  not known or recorded on a database; and owners may not take them to the vets as readily; the older dogs may generally be healthier for longer and may never see the vets at the point of death if they die from natural causes; vets have the perception that the breed is short lived and may recommend euthanasia rather than treatment so the data is skewed as the dog wasn't given a chance for recovery; and dates of death in non-insurance covered events are not recorded etc.

So the vets only have the evidence that the insurance companies can 'prove' and that breed average is what is then incorrectly taken to be the lifespan of the breed as a whole. But it is correct for the cross section that the insurers deal with - we know this is the case as we are penalised by higher premiums when our dogs reach 5+ as they are seen as higher risk.

However, to effectively refute this misconception, we will have to produce some hard evidence to the contrary and Pernille Monberg and Edita Beresova's longevity study (below) is already going some way to achieve this. This study has already demonstrated that 'average lifespan' across many breeds is the same and there is always a natural distribution curve that means that in any litter, and across any breed, there will always be some that live longer and the majority that hit that average - and the important thing is to increase the 'average' lifespan, which many of our breeders are trying to achieve.

So we believe that the only way to start changing perception is to be able to present some hard evidence and that surely has to be recorded and verifiable dates of death across the breed.  Pernille and Edita’s study already has that data coming into the database and also the new Irish Wolfhound database (IWDB) which is open to all, has the capacity to record and analyse date of death as well - and they are encouraging people to do so.  But we need large numbers to be able to state that the results have any significance - and we will probably also need some way of verifying the dates of death as more than anecdotal again - but perhaps with microchipping and the supporting vet records confirming date of euthanasia, that might enable us to determine whether or not the average is actually different.

Until vets and the KC are recording dates of death, there is no way of knowing if any breed has good longevity - or indeed, if the mongrel or designer dog population has better longevity than pedigree dogs.

Until we can prove there is better 'average' longevity, we will not be able to convince the veterinary profession or the insurers - and a welcome by-product could be that we see our insurance premiums reduce . . .


Please take some time to help these studies. Thank you.

The Irish Wolfhound Longevity Study
Pernille Monberg and Edita Beresova

The Irish Wolfhound Longevity Study is a population study, aiming at establishing the status quo of the Irish Wolfhound Worldwide. Like many purebred dogs, the Irish Wolfhound has been bred within closed registries for approximately a century and a half; since the forming of pedigree issuing kennel clubs during the last quarter of the 19th century. A purebred population of domesticated dogs can be defined as the result of a pedigree recorded, selective breeding program, which frequently is based on limited founding stock. It is no secret that a vast number of present day dog breeds have reached critical points, where the results of human selection processes, inadvertently have caused various breed specific health challenges. Based on our findings, it is our aim that The Irish Wolfhound Longevity study will be able to provide a strategy for the future of breeding pedigree Irish wolfhounds and possibly pedigree dogs in general, where the next best thing to survival of the fittest will be a selection of the fittest.

Findings in various human population studies, combined with our preliminary data on 3.500 Irish wolfhounds, strongly indicate that the potential for longevity contains inherited components. Although, dog owners generally wish for their companion animals to live long lives, longevity in itself has no significance from a biological point of view: We base our study on the assumption, that the greatest drive in all life forms is the competition for the right to reproduce; a process which requires all encompassing vitality and strength. There are numerous examples from a vast number of species, where parental life is sacrificed in the name of reproduction, thus demonstrating how strong this drive can be. As a rule, life is not necessarily sacrificed in the competition for the right to reproduce among canids, however, the process requires good health, vitality and stamina if left without human interference. It is our hypothesis that the potential for longevity is a “by-product” of good health, vitality and stamina. In other words, by selecting breeding stock from long-lived families, theoretically one should reap a series of health benefits in addition to longevity.

Preliminary findings
From the trial calculations done on our preliminary data of 3.500 dogs we see indications that:
  • There is a strong element of heritability in the potential for longevity. This is supported by a number of human population studies.

  • In the group of dogs surviving 8 years and above, the sex ratio shows nearly 50% more bitches than male dogs, a gap which grows proportionally with an increase of age.

  • The majority of veteran dogs (8 years and above) have at least one veteran parent.

  • The potential for longevity increases exponentially according to the number of long lived dogs present in a 4 generation pedigree.

  • Dividing the data in two groups: 1) dogs which have died under the age of 8 years and 2) dogs which have died at the ages 8 years and above, show that in the first group 38% died from cancer (all forms) and 22% died from cardiovascular disease (all forms). In the second group, we found that 35% of the dogs died of cancer (all forms) while the cause of death in 18% of the dogs was due to be cardiovascular disease (all forms). The relatively small variance in the percentual distribution of causes of death in the two groups may indicate that disease control could be exercised more effectively, if we aim at a postponement of the time of onset, rather than aiming at a total elimination of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
  • Even kennels which have bred more than an average amount of veterans have not eliminated diseases such as osteosarcoma or heart disease from their stock. However, compared to the breed average, the time of expression frequently occurs much later, usually in the senescence of life.

Data for the Irish Wolfhound Longevity study has been collected through personal contact with breeders and owners and from various Irish wolfhound club publications and websites around the World. Finally, two separate Facebook pages were created; The Irish wolfhound Veterans page and The Irish wolfhound Memorial page, which have provided information on sex, age at death, cause of death and parentage on close to 1000 Irish wolfhounds. Some kennels have shared their kennel notes with us, which can prove extremely valuable for the study. The gathered material has a disproportionate number of veterans and is therefore as a whole, not a reflection of the actual world population of Irish wolfhounds. However, within the data are several identifiable populations, which reflect the general state of the breed. These results are used separately for relevant calculations. Since we are working with owner reported data, the goal is to collect information on approximately 6.000 dogs or more to balance out sporadic inaccuracies in the data collected. Several recent independent studies done on Irish Wolfhounds in various countries along with a study from 1955 by A.COMFORT Department of Zoology, University College London seem to come to the conclusion that median lifespan of the Irish wolfhound is somewhere between 6 and 6½ years.

What we need
We are asking you if you would please help our project by sharing information about your passed Irish wolfhounds with us. The details needed are:

  • Registered name of dog
  • Sex of dog
  • Copy of its pedigree
  • Year and month of death
  • Cause at death
  • Other ailments or diseases (if any) during its lifetime

If possible, we would appreciate the same information on littermates to the dog.

Information can be submitted to: Pernille Monberg or Edita Beresova

Longevity study  

Longevity and major causes of death are heritable in Irish Wolfhound  

Devoted to the health and welfare of Irish Wolfhounds
Patron: Trudie Sumner
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