Traits, Personality and Behavior
One of the true companion breeds -- dogs bred for the sole purpose of being your best friend -- the Italian Greyhound excels at his work. His dark eyes and sleek lines inspire observers with their beauty, and his affectionate nature will earn him a favored place in your lap.
He's a smart dog, but somehow didn't get the memo that he's very, very tiny and his legs are very slender. Broken bones are a fact of life with Italian Greyhounds, and while some dogs' bones are sturdier than others, it's something every IG owner needs to be prepared for, and prevent if possible.
The IG can live happily in an apartment, and while he needs to be given enough exercise to keep him tired out when he's young, he'll settle into a comfortable routine once the puppy years are behind him.
Grooming couldn't be easier: an occasional soft brushing to keep shedding from becoming a problem, along with keeping the nails trimmed and the ears clean, and you're done.
Training is another story. While they're tractable and loving people-magnets, they're also stubborn and a bit defiant -- and very creative at showing their displeasure. Unlike some very small dogs nipping and barking aren't big problems, but housetraining definitely is. Use gentle, consistent training and establish acceptable routines from the very beginning, or you might find yourself with a problem.
Although the Italian Greyhound is extremely small and needs to be protected from rambunctious children and dogs larger than he is, he usually gets along well with other dogs and with cats.
Finding a responsibly-bred puppy isn't easy, unfortunately; as with all cute little breeds, Italian Greyhounds are a favorite with puppy mills, pet stores and anyone looking to make a buck.
Health Issues Common to Italian Greyhounds
In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and prevent any new ones from emerging, the Italian Greyhound Club of America participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). It requires that breeders test all their breeding dogs for eye, knee, thyroid and hip diseases that occur in the breed.
At a minimum, your puppy's breeder must have written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) that your puppy's parents' hips are free of dysplasia, a genetic hip deformity that requires costly surgery to repair and can lead to arthritis later in life.
The OFA hip evaluation will also include Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. Dogs with this condition have reduced blood supply to the head of the rear leg bone, which begins to shrink. It usually shows up by the time the dog is around 6 months old, and the first sign is limping. While it can be treated with surgery, affected IGs are at great risk of developing arthritis later in life. The sooner it's caught and treated, the greater the chances the dog will have a full recovery.
OFA certifications that the parents are free of knee problems and thyroid disease are also required, as is Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) documentation obtained within the previous year. Even if the parents have been CERFed, make sure to have your puppy's eyes examined once a year by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist, and seek veterinary care immediately at any signs of cloudiness, redness, itching or irritation of the eyes, or if the dog is squinting or pawing at them.
The Italian Greyhound can also be affected by any of the health problems common to toy dogs, such as a collapsing windpipe, which causes respiratory problems and makes wearing a collar difficult. They can have dental problems caused by the size of their mouths, and their kneecaps sometimes slip out of place, a condition known as "luxating patellas." Ask your veterinarian to examine your dog's knees regularly, especially if you notice him limping or "hopping" while running.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is also a problem in the breed (especially in the smaller dogs and in puppies), and Italian Greyhounds are at risk of a liver defect known as "porto-systemic shunt," which can only be treated with expensive surgery.
Broken legs are very common in the breed, and can cost several hundred dollars to repair.
5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Italian Greyhound Puppy
Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills. Puppy mills also advertise through Internet sites, so never deal with a breeder who'll ship anywhere to anyone with a credit card.
Stack the odds in your favor by finding a breeder who is in good standing with the Italian Greyhound Club of America and has agreed to abide by its code of ethics, which specifically prohibits selling puppies through retail outlets such as pet stores. The breeder should be able to knowledgeably discuss any health or behavior problems in dogs related to your prospective puppy -- and if she says there aren't any, run.
Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Italian Greyhound aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, a Italian Greyhound can live 15 years or longer, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.
Puppy or adult, take your Italian 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. Ask specifically about dental care, as most toy breeds suffer from dental problems.
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 Italian Greyhounds
Pet insurance for Italian Greyhounds costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Italian Greyhounds are 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 Italian Greyhounds are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Italian Greyhound is when he's a healthy puppy. 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.