Traits, Personality and Behavior
The Deerhound has two great joys in life: running after things for great distances at enormous speed, and lying next to you on the sofa, head in lap, great dark eyes gazing into yours with equal parts love and laughter. If you can provide him with both those things, then you face a bright future together. If you can't, however -- if your idea of lots of exercise is a trip around the block and your idea of spending time with your dog is an absent-minded pat on the head when you get home from work -- then this is not the dog for you.
Deerhounds are extremely attached to their human family members, and are miserable, bored and destructive if left alone too long and too often. Like his cousin the Greyhound, an adult Scottish Deerhound is perfectly happy with much less exercise than he needed in his younger years. He never gets over the desire for human company, though. That's a deep and inalterable part of his nature -- as is chasing things, so even if a Deerhound in his senior years is happy with a trot around the block a couple of times a day, that walk will still need to be on a leash. Few Deerhounds are "too old" to chase a deer, a squirrel, or a neighborhood cat.
Deerhounds tend to be very good with children, but their large size can make them somewhat hazardous playmates. Never let your Deerhound develop a habit of jumping on people, no matter how cute it is when he's a puppy. An adult deerhound stands more than six feet tall on his hind legs, and even if all he's trying to do is plaster your face with kisses, that's a lot of dog -- especially for someone just meeting him. The Scottish Deerhound is the second-tallest of all dog breeds, after the Irish Wolfhound. He weighs between 70 and 130 pounds, with females typically being smaller than males.
His harsh coat is usually easy to care for, but some Deerhounds have a silkier, longer coat that can become quite tangled. All he needs is a good brushing with a pin brush two or three times a week, and a few baths a year.
Health Issues Common to Scottish Deerhounds
Scottish Deerhounds are fairly healthy for a giant breed, but like all giants, they suffer from a high incidence of some forms of cancer, heart disease, and bone problems.
In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and prevent any new ones from emerging, the Scottish Deerhound Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC).
CHIC requires that breeders test all their breeding dogs for heart and blood diseases that occur in the breed and recommends dogs also be tested for liver function. All breeders should be able to show written documentation that those tests have been done.
Ideally, breeders will also have OFA certification of thyroid health and the results of at least one normal urine test for cystinuria, done by the University of Pennsylvania.
Like the Greyhound, Scottish Deerhounds can suffer from 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 Deerhound has never been anesthetized before, or is known to suffer from MH, make sure that any veterinarian anesthetizing your Scottish Deerhound is familiar with the condition and ready to treat it.
Scottish Deerhounds 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.
Scottish Deerhounds suffer from a high rate of bone cancer (osteosarcoma), 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, Scottish Deerhounds 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.
Scottish Deerhounds, like human marathon runners, have big hearts, and often have minor heart murmurs without having heart disease. Many general practitioners are unfamiliar with what is normal for a Scottish Deerhound 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. While Scottish Deerhounds, like all dogs, can suffer from heart disease, there may be nothing to treat.
Or there may, because Deerhounds are at risk for a number of heart conditions, such as cardiomyopathy, which causes an enlarged heart, and arrhythmia. An annual heart exam is critical in catching these conditions early, and no dog with cardiomyopathy should ever be bred. Nor should any Deerhound be bred without a comprehensive heart examination by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and OFA certification in the previous year. The sad reality, however, is that a dog who tests fine one day can develop heart disease the next, and the puppy of two parents without heart disease can still develop it.
As with the related Greyhound, healthy Scottish Deerhounds 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 the anomalies of the Greyhound-type breeds, and if she isn't, ask her to speak to the pathologist at the veterinary lab the practice uses.
Hip dysplasia is virtually unheard of in Scottish Deerhounds, so if your dog is limping, in pain, stiff or reluctant to get up or 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 Scottish Deerhound is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon.
Male Scottish Deerhounds can also suffer from cystinuria, a genetic kidney defect that leads to the formation of bladder stones. Cystine stones are very difficult to manage with diet or medication and often require surgery both to remove the stones from the bladder and to repair urinary blockages. There may be no advance signs that the dog is forming cystine stones, and many veterinarians are unfamiliar with cystinuria and may mistake them for more common stones such as struvites. Urinary blockage is a life-threatening veterinary emergency.
Unfortunately, the current screening test for cystinuria is of limited use, as it frequently gives a false negative. It does not give false positives unless the dog is on a particular type of antibiotic at the time the urine sample is taken, however, so a dog that tests positive does, in fact, have the condition, even if he tested negative in the past or tests negative in the future. There is no genetic screening test, so it's impossible to determine if a dog is a carrier or not.
A good breeder will be able to discuss how prevalent these and other conditions that have no genetic screening test are in her dogs' lines, and help puppy buyers make an informed decision about health risks to their dog.
4 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Scottish Deerhound Puppy
If you decide a Scottish Deerhound may be right for you, make sure to select a breeder who is a member in good standing of the Scottish Deerhound Club of America.
Puppy or adult, take your Scottish Deerhound to your veterinarian soon after he becomes part of your family. 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 Scottish Deerhounds this includes advice on how to prevent and respond to bloat and torsion.
Although Scottish Deerhounds are virtually never found in pet stores, the advice to never, ever, ever buy a puppy from that source still stands. 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.
Make sure you have a good contract with the seller 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 Scottish Deerhounds
Pet insurance for Scottish Deerhounds costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Scottish Deerhounds are a great deal more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat. Embrace dog insurance offers full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are preexisting) to which Scottish Deerhounds are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Scottish Deerhound 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.