Traits, Personality and Behavior
Although a small number of Greyhounds are bred for the show ring, the majority of pet Greyhounds in America are former racing dogs, and in fact, there are currently more ex-racers in homes than there are dogs still racing --approximately 120,000 Greyhounds live in homes as pets, compared to 55,000 Greyhounds on the track nationwide.
Greyhounds are incredibly loving dogs, as well as graceful and quiet ones. Their favorite activity is no activity at all; they love to drape themselves over the nearest soft surface -- such as the living room sofa -- and give you adoring looks from their dark eyes. At that point, your natural reaction will be to sit down next to your dog, rub his tummy and tell him how wonderful he is, which is exactly what he had in mind when he practiced that endearing look in the mirror while you were at work.
Greyhounds are, by nature, good housemates. They're quiet, clean, and while not great at formal or competitive obedience, they're very tractable dogs with natural good manners. Puppies need the same training all young dogs need -- house-training, no jumping, don't chase the cat or eat the couch -- but adult dogs usually only need to understand what's expected of them, and be given the time and gentle guidance to get used to new things.
The single trait that surprises people most about Greyhounds is their low level of activity. Adult Greyhounds, including dogs with racing backgrounds, are very happy with leash walks, and might even have to be prodded into getting enough exercise once their senior years hit. They enjoy the outdoors, and some of them become their new owners' best jogging buddies, but don't let concerns about not being able to give an ex-racer enough exercise dissuade you from considering adopting one.
Young Greyhounds and puppies need a lot of exercise, but they need it in safe places. The urge to chase is strong, and that impulse will likely to override any amount of training your young dog has had. By the time he's older, if you put the effort into training him to come when called, you may be able to be less strict about fences. However, some owners of Greyhounds and similar breeds, known as "sighthounds," are never able to let their dogs off-leash in unfenced areas. This is true of dogs from both show and race lines.
If some toy dogs are said to be "big dogs in little dog bodies," the Greyhound is, in some ways, the opposite. He's a tall but slender dog and weighs anywhere from 50-80 pounds if he's from racing lines; show-bred dogs are often much larger. But his gentle manners and somewhat lazy nature make him a quiet presence in the house. He is, nonetheless, a big dog, both strong and fast, so make sure you're able to hold and restrain him if he sees something that triggers his instinct to chase.
The Greyhound is an easy-care dog. His smooth coat, which comes in a near-infinity of colors and patterns -- including gray! -- does shed, but his grooming needs are minimal. A fast weekly brushing and bathing only when the dog gets into something, as well as regular nail trimming and ear cleaning, are all that he needs.
Track Greyhounds are sometimes unpredictable in how they'll react to dogs that look very different from a Greyhound -- which is understandable, since they probably never saw a dog of any other breed before. If you have dogs of other breeds or cats, discuss your situation carefully with the Greyhound adoption group, and make sure to choose a suitable dog.
Track-bred Greyhounds have an upbringing that gives them many experiences that serve them well as companions after their racing careers are over. They are used to being crated, transported and being around strangers and they're rarely nervous or unstable. And the best Greyhound adoption groups help their dogs overcome any initial fearfulness about new experiences before making them available to a new home, which can help with the transition.
Most families interested in a Greyhound will adopt a retired racetrack dog. There are very few non-racing Greyhounds bred in the United States and a very large supply of ex-racers in need of a new homes.
Health Issues Common to Greyhounds
Some Greyhounds have a condition known as malignant hyperthermia, a reaction to gas anesthesia that can be fatal and requires very specific treatment. Dogs with MH always react to gas anesthesia in this way, so if your Greyhound was altered, as he or she almost certainly was by the adoption group, they will know if the dog has MH. If the dog's surgical history is unknown for some reason, make sure that any veterinarian anesthetizing your Greyhound is familiar with MH and ready to treat it if your dog is affected.
Greyhounds are more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Bloat and torsion strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it's wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure. It's generally thought that dogs from show lines are more likely to bloat than track dogs.
Greyhounds suffer from the highest rate of bone cancer (osteosarcoma) of any dog breed, usually in one of their legs. It's not known exactly why this is, but there is almost certainly some genetic component. While bone cancer is almost always fatal, Greyhounds often do very well for quite some time after the affected leg has been amputated, so don't let human prejudices about amputation close your mind to the possibility. Dogs from track lines are currently thought to have higher rates of bone cancer than dogs from show lines. If this is true, it may be related to track injuries in combination with an underlying genetic susceptibility, or entirely genetic.
Potential for Misdiagnosis
Greyhounds have big hearts, and often have minor heart murmurs without having heart disease. They can also have somewhat elevated blood pressure. Many general practitioners are unfamiliar with what is normal for a Greyhound and will suspect or mistakenly diagnose heart disease when none is present. If your veterinarian suspects a heart problem, ask to be referred to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist for a cardiac ultrasound before making any treatment decisions.
Hip dysplasia is virtually unheard of in Greyhounds, so if your dog is limping, stiff or reluctant to get up and move around, look for another cause. There are a number of neck and spinal problems that can cause those symptoms, and the best place to get a diagnosis for any persistent muscolo-skeletal problem in a Greyhound is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon.
Many Greyhounds are treated for diseases they don't have, such as hypothyroidism, due to a lack of familiarity with the breed's normal values on common lab tests. This happens less frequently than in the past because Greyhounds are growing in popularity as pets, but it's still important that Greyhound owners are aware of the issue.
Normal, healthy Greyhounds often have low platelets, low thyroid readings, and lower or higher than normal values on a number of common blood chemistry levels. Make sure your veterinarian is familiar with these anomalies of the Greyhound, and if she isn't, ask her to speak to the pathologist at the veterinary lab the practice uses, or ask her to read "Why is my dog's labwork different from yours?" from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine's Greyhound Health and Wellness Project.
Racing Greyhounds have some health risks not shared with dogs from show breeders, and these risks are not genetic. They often come off the track with very bad dental problems, so if the adoption organization hasn't had the dog's teeth cleaned by a veterinarian (the kind of cleaning done without anesthesia is cosmetic only and will not address the types of dental health problems commonly found in Greyhounds), have this done by your veterinarian immediately.
Greyhounds sometimes have bloody, crumbling toenails caused by symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy (SLO), an often-misdiagnosed, rare auto-immune disease sometimes called "toenail pemphigus." If your Greyhound has problems with this, before treating with antibiotics, foot soaks, and other therapies that are meant to address fungal or bacterial diseases, ask your veterinarian if it's possible that he has SLO. This is a rare diagnosis in most breeds of dog, but pretty common in Greyhounds with toenail problems.
It's also wise to run a complete tick disease panel on an adopted racing Greyhound, as many of these dogs come off the track with current or past infections transmitted by these parasites. They're often adopted into homes in areas that have little or no tick diseases, and vets in those communities may not be familiar with their symptoms and treatment.
Most tick diseases can be treated easily with antibiotics if caught early, so if the dogs were not screened before adoption for infection with Anaplasma phagocytophilum (formerly e. equi), Ehrlichia canis, or Borrelia burgdorferi, the pathogen that causes Lyme disease, have the testing done by your veterinarian right away. Your Greyhound should also be tested for exposure to heartworm, although the adoption group will almost certainly have done that already.
Finally, some Greyhounds from a track background have never been alone, ever, in their entire lives. They're usually fine if there are other dogs at home, but they can suffer from separation anxiety while their owners are out of the house otherwise. Discuss this carefully with the adoption group, and make sure the hound you adopt will fit your lifestyle. Or adopt two!
To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Greyhound before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.
4 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Greyhound Puppy
Although Greyhounds are virtually never found in pet stores, never, ever, ever buy a puppy from that source. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
If you do decide to purchase a Greyhound from a show breeder, make sure he's a member in good standing of the Greyhound Club of America.
Puppy or adult, take your Greyhound to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. For all Greyhounds, this includes advice on how to prevent and respond to bloat and torsion, and for ex-racers, dental problems and tick-borne diseases.
Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Pet Insurance for Greyhounds
Pet insurance for Greyhounds costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Greyhounds are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Greyhounds are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Greyhound is while he's still healthy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.