I understand you have a long list of these questions, but figured I'd get in line. I want to adopt a retired greyhound racer. What health problems do you see with them? I've also heard they are especially sensitive to anesthesia due to their low body fat. Do you have a protocol you find is particularly safe for them? The rescues have too many conflicting answers. One even claims they never should be put under anesthesia ever, even for dentals, because they "just die!" Which is ridiculous.
Anonymous said: Is it ok to request another breed? If so, greyhounds? Possibly rescue racing hounds if that specification has any problems that pet raised greyhounds dont
Anonymous said: Hello! I was wondering if you could (or have already done) a post about greyhounds? Specifically racing-quality ones? I read something earlier that claimed they were a lot healthier than most dogs and I’m wondering if that’s true. Thanks!
Anonymous said: Hey there! I noticed you said recently you’d like to see more ex-racing greyhounds as pets - I’m seriously considering adopting one in the future and I was wondering what health issues you see in them? I’ve heard that they can get painful corns on their feet and that you need to be careful about their temperature, but is there anything else you see that a future adopter should be watching for? Question tax: came for the the vet stories, stayed for the refreshingly sensible advice :)
Oh vetlings, I have a lot to say about Greyhounds.
I adore these dogs, and am glad to work with them, but don’t specifically condone organised greyhound racing. Most of these dogs like to run, I would have no problem with them running around a track casually for fun, but once prize-money is involved it becomes too tempting to push limits, to cheat, to cut corners, to overbreed, and this leads to poor welfare outcomes for too many dogs.
Please note the disclaimer that these
posts are about the breed from a veterinary viewpoint as seen
in clinical practice, i.e. the problems we are faced with. It’s not
the be-all and end-all of the breed and is not to make a judgement
about whether the breed is right for you. If you are asking for an
opinion about these animals in a veterinary setting, that is what you
will get. It’s not going to be all sunshine and cupcakes, and is
not intended as a personal insult against your favorite breed. This
is general advice for what is common, often with a scientific
consensus but sometimes based on personal experiences, and is not a
guarantee of what your dog is going to encounter in their life.
Also please note that this will be a Long Post.
General conditions of Greyhounds
Whatever their history all greyhounds have a few things in common. Most of them struggle to sit, they tend to either stand or lie down. Their pain tolerance is interesting, walking in with a broken bone but screaming at a tiny needle prick. They like to feel someone touching their head. There are also a few conditions common to them, regardless of their lifestyle or upbringing. They are one of the very few breeds that I think it’s not an exaggeration to say you benefit from seeing a vet with experience in this breed. We have a lot to get through, so I’ll try to keep the basics fairly short.
Bloat, (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus) is more common in the big males, but can occur in any greyhound due to their deep chest. Delicate, picky eaters seem less at risk.
Greyhounds are generally very athletic, but they can and do develop Dilated Cardiomyopathy. While they have generally reached a reasonable age before developing this condition,
Pannus can affect any greyhound, and this chronic eye condition is generally made worse by UV light exposure. Once diagnosed it’s not too hard to control with medication but it is a long term condition. This is the most likely reason you would see a greyhound wearing doggy sunglasses or ‘Doggles’.
Greyhounds can also get Progressive Retinal Atrophy, which may manifest as ‘night blindness’ first, though this seems to be less common lately.
Greyhounds, perhaps surprisingly for all the raw food they seem to get when racing, have generally poor Dental Health. Despite being big dogs that are generally pretty tolerant, most of them don’t like to chew. They’re delicate chewers and won’t necessarily gnaw a bone.
Speaking of bones, these dogs get Osteosarcoma (Bone cancer) fairly readily. This cancer has a biphasic age pattern. Basically it usually occurs in dogs around 2 years of age, and dogs around 8-10 years of age. It’s all kinds of bad, every time and there’s not much else to say about it, other than the life expectancy is short. I’ve talked about it previously.
Of purely cosmetic concern, greyhounds also commonly develop pattern baldness. Typically the affected areas are the thighs and ventral neck, and there are a few possible reasons for this. It might be genetic, it might be nutritional or stress related, or it might be due to blood vessel compression under due to large muscle groups underneath the skin. This generally bothers the owners more than the dog.
Greyhounds often have thin skin, and while this doesn’t necessarily bother the dogs most of the time it certainly bothers me as the surgeon! Some of these poor dogs will seem to tear themselves open with any little scrape, so be careful of the suture materials you choose. They are prone to pressure sores with poor bandage care too.
with their thin skin, some of these dogs develop “Happy Tail,”
which is basically a chronic injury on the tail tip which wont heal
because the blessed dog insists on wagging it against solid objects
all the time, despite the
pain and injury. They can’t help it. They’re too happy, hence the
name of the wound. This takes creative bandaging or the occasional
partial amputation to fix.
Conditions associated with Racing
Most greyhounds are reared for the race track and it’s not until later that they’re identified as being 'unsuitable’ for the track. Some greyhounds will be 'retired’ early, before they ever get to run, but many will be retired either with injuries or because they just don’t win. Greyhounds that have been retired due to injury are not necessarily lame, they may have healed well enough to do normal dog activities, just not enough to win races.
Track leg is probably the most common 'racetrack injury’ we see. It’s basically a swelling on the inside of the tibia below the knee, caused by the greyhound continually hitting its hind leg with a front leg as it runs around the track in the same direction all the time. They’re usually not painful, and generally go away when the greyhound is not restricted to always running in a very large circle.
Corns are hard thickenings in the bottom on a footpad, either secondary to trauma, foreign objects (grit) or papilomas. They start out small but grow with time, and are painful. It’s like having a stone in your shoe all the time and many greyhounds will become footsore because of it. Affected greyhounds are often reluctant to walk on harder surfaces, and anti-inflammatories doesn’t seem to make much difference. We treat them by paring them out and waiting patiently.
Grit in foot pads can cause corns, and can cause similar lameness to corns, but will show up on Xrays if you use high enough detail. These are fragments of sand or other foreign objects that have become embedded in the foot pads while running. Greyhounds are particularly lame with this injury and often don’t respond fully to anti-inflammatories. They need surgery to remove these pieces of grit, and the surgery can result in corns.
A Fractured hock, carpus or metacarpal/metatarsal might be a racing career ending injury, but not necessarily a life ending one. Depending on the extent of the fracture the greyhound may have no lameness with a walk or light run, or may end up with a completely fused joint. Generally these dogs are only retired to pet homes if they can still get themselves around pain free.
A Split Webbing is an injury to the web of skin between toes. When this skin tears it’s nearly impossible to get it to heal if both layers are torn, so the recommended technique is to split it all the way to the base of the toes and remove the webbing. This doesn’t seem to bother the dogs at all, and prevents it from re-tearing over and over again as it heals.
Maxillary Fractures are a rare injury of long-nosed dogs who are also klutzes and trip over, slamming their nose into a fence or the ground. This upwards force can fracture the upper jaw, just in front of the canine teeth. These fractures may be non displaced, causing little more than a blood nose and needing pain relief and soft food for a few weeks, or they may be loose and need wiring. They are fairly uncommon overall, but it seems to be greyhounds that get them most.
Associated with racing greyhound husbandry, Neospora infection from raw, infected beef consumption (and similar Toxoplasma from kangaroo or sheep) is more common in greyhounds due to their high prevalence of raw meat being fed. It may present as anything from back pain to blindness, and you can lose whole litters to these parasites.
There are a number of odd Assorted Sports therapy things that greyhounds might be subjected to, from particular lineaments being used, ultrasound therapy, chiropractic treatment or 'seeing the muscle men’, some of the 'treatments’ racing greyhounds are exposed to seem more like hope and witchcraft than medicine. These dogs may also have been supplemented with all sorts of things during their racing days, including iron and B12 as the most common supplements. You don’t necessarily know what a dog has or hasn’t been given in its racing days, but most will be little consequence, if any, after a few months.
Racing greyhounds are also known for a few particular metabolic weirdnesses. Exercise associated heart conditions, exercise associated epilepsy, water diabetes (like a temporary diabetes insipidus), rhabdomyolysis and acidosis are the most well known.
Now, this is an interesting difference. Greyhounds are a bit different when it comes to anaesthetics. Most vet students will easily recall that barbituate anaesthetics aren’t recommended in sighthounds due to their proportionally low body fat (and very young or very fat dogs for the same reasons), but greyhounds also seem to have a different liver metabolism that makes handling this class of drugs more difficult. Fortunately there are many other options these days.
The whole 'they die under anaesthesia’ thing is…sort of true. If you put them under anaesthetic when they’re under 24 hours off the race track then they tend to…well… die. But when these dog’s have been at rest for at least 24 hours there doesn’t seem to be a particular increase risk of death specifically.
These dogs are prone to both hypothermia and hyperthermia under anaesthetic, and in life in general.
They are prone to rapid wake ups from anaesthesia, which is not fun when you have a 30kg dog thrashing about and freaking out. For this reason higher premed doses seem to help if you’re using an alfaxalone protocol, medetomedine/butorphanol works well for sedation and we usually use xylazine/ketamine/atropine for orthopaedics. I will not be posting dose rates on this blog, but rest assured greyhounds are perfectly able to have an anaesthetic. They’ve got to get their dental disease treated somehow!
Compared to other breeds
Generally greyhounds are considered pretty healthy. They’re not free of problems, but their common problems are different to common problems in other breeds. Greyhounds have one of the lowest incidences of hip dysplasia in purebred dogs, and rarely develop the same common structural issues we see in other breeds.
Their blood results are often a little different. A greyhound in racing condition will have a higher PCV, and a pet greyhound may keep this in their retired life. They often have a lower platelet count, by around 20-25% or so, and may have a relatively low T4. A low T4 can be normal for a greyhound, and hypothyroidism shouldn’t be diagnosed without a TSH level.
They are, in general a little more prone to being clingy or developing separation anxiety. This is generally because most of these dogs are raised in big groups in a kennel situation, and may not get to be truly 'alone’ until they’re in a pet home. Some dogs just need a few weeks of being spoiled with TLC to adjust, some dogs need some pharmaceutical assistance for a while. Some dogs only really relax if they have a companion, but it depends on the individual.
is the greyhound breed from a veterinary viewpoint in a nutshell.
Some of these points are brief because I only want to give you an
overview, but I do recommend vet students spend some time in a
greyhound practice, even if you don’t want to work with them or the
racing industry, because the musculoskeletal exam of a greyhound is
so much more thorough and I understood hocks and carpi much better in
greyhounds than I ever did in horses.