Bone Cancer is Highly Heritable in Irish Wolfhounds

Author: Sharon M. Albright, DVM, CCRT

Bone cancer, also known as osteosarcoma, in dogs is an aggressive cancer that typically affects the leg bones of middle-aged to older large dogs. It has usually spread throughout the body at the time of diagnosis, so even with tumor removal and chemotherapy, the median survival time is only 8-11 months. Some breeds, such as the Irish Wolfhound, have a high rate of bone cancer at a younger age (less than five years old), suggesting a significant genetic influence. With funding from the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF Grant 02782: Genetic Contribution to Early-onset Osteosarcoma) and in collaboration with the Irish Wolfhound Foundation and Irish Wolfhound Club of America, investigators at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine are studying the genetic basis of early-onset bone cancer in the Irish Wolfhound. Results will hopefully lead to a genetic test to guide selective breeding decisions for this breed.

Investigators first studied the heritability of bone cancer in Irish Wolfhounds. Heritability estimates how much variation in a trait in a given population is due to genetic factors. It provides a relative measure of genetic influence as compared to the influence of environmental, epigenetic, or other factors. Heritability is reported as a number from zero to one, with zero indicating that trait variability has little to no genetic influence. Data analysis for a population of 5,110 Irish Wolfhounds showed that bone cancer is highly heritable in this breed with a heritability of 0.65.1

Bone cancer is highly heritable in the Irish Wolfhound. Research is underway to identify the specific mutations that influence its development in this breed.

This high heritability means that additional study is warranted to identify the limited number of genetic mutations that contribute to disease risk in this breed. Previous study identified four genes potentially associated with bone cancer in the breed.2 Investigators will now sequence these genes of interest in more detail.

Irish Wolfhound owners – click here to learn more about participating in this study.

Even though bone cancer in all dog breeds and mixed breeds is a complex disease with multiple factors influencing its development, identifying the specific genetic mutations that influence disease in Irish Wolfhounds will help breeders decrease the incidence of this terrible cancer. CHF and its donors are committed to funding studies that help breeders, dog owners, and veterinary professionals better prevent and treat cancer in dogs. Learn more about our work at


  1. Momen, M., Kohler, N. L., Binversie, E. E., Dentino, M., & Sample, S. J. (2021). Heritability and genetic variance estimation of Osteosarcoma (OSA) in Irish Wolfhound, using deep pedigree information. Canine Medicine and Genetics, 8(1), 9.
  2. Karlsson, E.K., Sigurdsson, S., Ivansson, E. et al. Genome-wide analyses implicate 33 loci in heritable dog osteosarcoma, including regulatory variants near CDKN2A/BGenome Biol 14R132 (2013).

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