Trends in IW Health from the Life Time Cardiac Study Data

Data from the last 15 years of cardiac health testing will be presented at the National Specialty this May and then will be published in Focus and available on the web site.

The Lifetime Cardiac Study collected a tremendous amount of data. Much of the owner reported data lacked consistent follow-up and statistical analysis was not possible. However much of this is very INTERESTING even if not statistically validated and trends are noted.


In data collected from 1990-1992 for a musculoskeletal disease survey only 2% of 192 respondents fed raw diets with another 10% adding some fruits, vegetables and meat on a non- regular basis. 80% of the hounds were on Vitamin C. The dose was 1000 mg in most cases. Other supplements were used sporadically and consisted of algae, kelp, Vit E, garlic and yeast.

The LCS data, collected from 2000-2006 had detailed diet history from 124 dogs and 19.3% of hounds were fed a raw diet with another 45% adding some fresh meat/ vegetables/ fruits daily.

Supplements provided changed over the years with only 28% reporting Vit C supplementation and the usual dose being 500mg. However 37% of these 124 hounds were on multiple supplements with fish oil, glucosamine, Vit E, COQ10, green lip mussel leading the pack. Hounds with AFib were often on Hawthorne, carnitine, and taurine.

There is a difference in the survival time and progression of cardiac disease in hounds described in Germany and in the United States. It was noted in one of the German publications that all hounds had been fed a kibble diet and no supplements were used which is a different nutritional history than found in our study hounds.

Owners reported 14.7% of their hounds were overweight and 18% reported their hounds were underweight. There were not enough hounds consistently reported over or under weight to see if this was reflected in cancer incidence or length of life. This is certainly a difficult call for owners who often think their hound is substantial instead of overweight. The Irish Wolfhound Foundation is now working with Dr. Lisa Freeman of Tufts University to address these interesting questions. You may have noticed Dr Tyrrell adding another measurement to your hounds data at the EKG/ echo clinic at Delaware Valley. And you will be asked to note diet/ physical description of body weight with yearly updates for the LCS II study.


The IW is the largest of the galloping hounds and exercise patterns were reported for 68 hounds. All these hounds had regular exercise 3 to 7 days a week with 40 hounds engaging in galloping on a regular basis. Exercise duration averaged from 15 to 45 minutes per session. No hound under 7 years was unable to walk at least a mile. This is a very small number of hounds but the number engaging in routine strenuous exercise is impressive. Certainly there is a bias as owners who value this are more likely to report on this parameter.

Twenty two hounds in this cohort were in AFib at entry into the study or went into AFib during follow up. Eight hounds with atrial fibrillation reported a rapid decrease in exercise tolerance after the onset of heart failure symptoms while 14 reported a gradual decrease in exercise tolerance. The numbers are too small to advocate fitness leading to a less rapid decline in exercise capacity in hounds developing atrial fib.


Published data for the Greyhound, our close relative, documents blood test results outside the normal ranges for many commonly run laboratory tests. Results for thyroid blood levels in the IW are published and are lower
than in most other breeds. A lower than usual platelet count and white blood cell count have been suggested in the IW. Results for blood tests in the LCS show 110 hounds had a cbc with only 8 showing any abnormality.

Seventy six hounds had electrolyte panels run with only 4 abnormalities reported.

Only 8 of 85 hounds had an abnormality reported on liver enzyme tests.

69 hounds had a calcium check and all were normal.

Sixteen of 61 urinalysis were abnormal ( a test more often done for symptoms) and 13 of 81 blood tests for kidney function were abnormal.

This preliminary data did not note if these blood tests results were from routine screening or done to evaluate illness. With the low percentage of abnormal electrolyte, complete blood count, liver enzyme and calcium values it appears the IW falls within normal parameters for these routine blood tests.

The highest incidence of abnormality was for renal function tests- kidney failure is asymptomatic until severe disease is present and it is in the top 10 causes of death for the IW. It seems more likely these numbers reflect the incidence of kidney dysfunction rather than suggesting the IW does not fall in normal range for these blood tests - remembering the creatinine may be high normal due to the relative large muscle mass.


Heart failure in the IW is different than in the Great Dane, Doberman, or Boxer. Atrial fibrillation is the first sign of heart disease in the great majority of IWs and only about half the dogs with AFib actually die of heart failure.

The incidence of swelling of the abdomen or legs was low compared to other breeds - only 6% of owners noticed this. 33.8% of the hounds had gradual worsening of fatigue and and decreased appetite. 4% had coughing and 30.9% of owners noted increased panting with mild activity progressing to panting at rest.

61% of the hounds in AFib and all the hounds with congestive heart failure were on some form of heart medication- most commonly digitalis. Hounds lived longer with heart failure in the latter half of the study but there were not enough hounds followed to learn anything about time to start these meds or if some meds are better than others. Certainly extrapolating from human treatment of congestive heart failure, medication reduces symptoms and extends life.

Atrial fibrillation is an inherited problem in the IW. An autosomal dominant pattern has been suggested, but also modifiers must be present as some hounds are found to have AFib at 3 while littermates are unaffected until 7 or 8. Only 9 hounds with atrial fibrillation whose owners reported health knowledge of relatives did not have known relatives with Afib. As the study progressed more and more hounds had parents or siblings develop AFib. This data will help with efforts to locate genes for atrial fib as we continue to generate longitudinal health data and store blood for DNA on as many hounds as possible.


In humans stress is a known risk factor for heart disease. Some hounds are obviously more stressed by heart testing/ by traveling etc.

We looked at data from hounds with a normal EKG except for a heart rate of greater than 160 on screening EKG - this can be a sign of stress. There were 38 of these hounds. They did not have a premature death with age at death being 7.6 years for the group.( 7.7 years for bitches and 7.6 years for dogs). It is postulated that humans perpetuate their stress and maintain this abnormal state while our hounds go home and chill.