Scottish scientist wins international award for dedication to improving Irish Wolfhound health

Dr Maura Lyons from Forfar, Scotland, has been announced as winner of the International Canine Health Awards 2023 in the Breed Health Co-ordinator category, in honour of her work improving the health and welfare of Irish Wolfhounds.

Dr Lyons is the Breed Health Co-ordinator for Irish Wolfhounds; her role involves being the main point of contact between The Kennel Club and the Irish Wolfhound Health Group (IWHG) to help spearhead research and development, and increase awareness of vital health schemes to a variety of audiences, including scientists, breeders, everyday owners and the wider public to help improve the wellbeing of this unique breed. Her role in raising awareness is something particularly important for the lesser-known Irish Wolfhound, which is the biggest of all dog breeds in size, but not in population, as they remain on The Kennel Club’s Vulnerable Native Breeds list with fewer than 300 annual puppy registrations per year in the UK.

Maura has owned Irish Wolfhounds as pets for nearly 30 years. Outside of her work for the IWHG, Maura holds a degree in botany and a PhD in molecular genetics and works as a laboratory manager in a tissue culture laboratory.

A key focus of the IWHG has been improving treatment of pneumonia in Irish Wolfhounds. The breed do not present the same symptoms of infection as other breeds, however, treatment is most effective when recognised quickly, otherwise the infection can become fatal. The IWHG collaborated with a researcher to collect case studies and produce specialised pneumonia treatment guidelines to increase awareness of the symptoms and have recently created a pneumonia taskforce to further accumulate information on the infection. Dr Lyons has dedicated her time to disseminating these life-saving guidelines among veterinary professionals and everyday owners which has resulted in saving countless lives of Irish Wolfhounds.

Irish Wolfhounds also present with heart disease differently to other breeds, so a heart screening programme was developed 37 years ago and the IWHG has been working to develop and increase accessibility to this. The group now provides the service to over 250 Irish Wolfhounds annually across over 20 different regions. Dr Lyons works to promote and expand the scheme encouraging both reputable breeders and everyday owners to take up regular screening opportunities and share their results. Data collection from the screening programme is credited with the recognition that Irish Wolfhounds with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) do not show the same symptoms as in other breeds, further helping with earlier detection and treatment.

Dr Lyons also investigates and collates information herself and leads on updating the Breed Health Conservation Plan through conducting breed health surveys at regular intervals. In addition to her work for the IWHG in the UK, Dr Lyons is also a founding member and trustee of the Irish Wolfhound Database project ( which curates valuable health information and pedigree data on more than 170,000 Wolfhounds internationally to the benefit of researchers and breeders. 

On being informed of winning the award, Dr Maura Lyons said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been chosen as the winner of this prestigious award. This award will mean the Irish Wolfhound Health Group can continue to offer affordable heart screening sessions for all Irish Wolfhounds throughout the UK.

“I feel this award also recognises our breed community for their dedication to Irish Wolfhound health because without the IWHG and the support of owners and breeders, I would not be able to fulfil my function as Breed Health Co-ordinator.”

Running for over ten years, the International Canine Health Awards are the largest awards in the veterinary field worldwide, inspiring scientific innovation and recognising excellence in canine research, health and welfare. Organised and run by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, and with a major financial gift from Vernon Hill, founder of Metro Bank and the Vernon and Shirley Hill Foundation, the 2023 awards aim to make a truly global impact – with prize money more than doubled from 2022 and an increased focus on funding projects focussed on the One Health concept and those committed to advancing canine medicine in developing nations.

Applications for the awards are judged by a panel of independent and eminent international veterinarians and scientists. The awards will be presented via a virtual ceremony on Wednesday 12 July, 15:00 BST, with further details available to those who register their interest here.

This year, the International Canine Health Awards created a Special Award category to recognise the work of three extraordinary veterinary clinics in war-torn Ukraine, and each will receive a $20,000 prize fund to support their work. In addition, five individual winners have been selected in the following categories: the Alan Kelly International Award with a prize of $100,000; the Lifetime Achievement Award with a prize of $50,000; the two Student Inspiration Awards, undergraduate and postgraduate with a prize of $20,000 for the postgraduate and $10,000 for the undergraduate winners; and The Kennel Club’s Breed Health Co-ordinator Prize – the winner of which receives £5,000.

Dr Nick Blayney, who Chairs the selection panel for the Breed Health Co-ordinator Award, said: “Dr Maura Lyons wonderfully exemplifies the vital role Breed Health Co-ordinators have in improving the health and welfare of our much-loved breeds. Dr Lyons’ work in improving the awareness of health issues in Irish Wolfhounds on both the veterinary side and public side is invaluable.

“We were excited to read about her plans to put the prize money towards expanding the breed’s heart screening scheme and analysing the results, further research into pneumonia cases, creating a database of vaccination data and further developing the group’s health webinar series.”

Vernon Hill, founder of Metro Bank, and whose major gift from the Vernon and Shirley Hill Foundation underwrites the awards, said: “Dr Maura Lyons work with the Irish Wolfhound Health Group in improving the health of this unique breed is clearly evidenced through these incredible results. It is inspiring to see her passion for the breed and how she has collaborated with so many different groups – I look forward to hearing how she continues to protect and improve the health of this wonderful native breed.” 

Find out about information on the International Canine Health Awards.