Chapter 3 – Greyhound Care
When you take your greyhound home for the first time, the staff will show you what to feed and when, based on its existing regime.
Your greyhound is probably used to eating twice a day; usually the main meal in the morning and the smaller one in the afternoon. I suggest you initially feed your dog at the times they’re fed at the kennels (9 am and 3.30 pm) as a familiar routine for them and then gradually move the times to more convenient ones if necessary. Try to feed before 7 pm otherwise you may be woken up by your dog at 2 am wanting to be let out.
What you will need in the way of food depends on how you want to feed your dog. I suggest you keep it simple to begin with and carry on the regime that it’s used to in the kennels for a period of time, as the dog has enough new things to contend with in your home, without giving its digestive tract something new to cope with.
There are many schools of thought out there as to what is the best diet for your dog. BARF diet (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) and Grain-free are two that are gaining popularity at the moment and there is plenty of information online about both. Whatever you decide on, the best signs for how your dog is doing are weight, coat health and waste product! You want a well-filled dog; you should not be able to see its spine and its rump should be nicely rounded without the pin bones (hips) showing. That’s how you know if you’re feeding your dog the right quantities. Its coat should be shiny without dry skin and its stools should be firm.
The one thing your dog will need is MEAT. Meat can be bought in various forms:
(1) Large pet shops have freezer sections where you will find blocks of tripe, beef, rabbit etc. Follow the feeding directions on the packaging but DO NOT cook the tripe – you will live with that smell all week!
(2) Supermarkets sell packs of mince that can also be fed raw or cooked (lamb, chicken, turkey, beef)
(3) Packaged food (Nature Diet, Nature’s Menu, Wainwright, Forthglade)
(4) A good quality dog food tin
(5) Canned fish in oil or tomato sauce as a weekly treat.
There are many makes of dry dog food, or kibble, as it’s otherwise known. I recommend that you avoid the cheapest with a great deal of filler in it and not much meat but don’t necessarily spend money on the most expensive. Only use it as a complementary food to go with the meat – my experience is that greyhounds do not do well on just kibble, regardless of the manufacturer advertising it as a complete food.
Greyhounds can be picky eaters – refusing food if they are tired or stressed or seemingly growing bored with being fed the same food all the time. If your greyhound is generally fit and healthy, don’t panic if it skips the occasional meal or two. Do seek the advice of the vet if the refusal of food stretches on, if your greyhound usually eats well and stops suddenly or if your greyhound seems unwell and has other symptoms such as sickness or diarrhoea.
If your dog finds it difficult to maintain weight (provided, of course, that this is not a sudden unexplained weight loss, which should be checked by your vet), try increasing the portions, especially if your dog is clearing its bowl in one go and is looking for more.
Your dog may find it more comfortable to feed from a raised feed stand.
Whichever feeding route you take, good quality treats are always welcome, for example pigs’ ears and tripe sticks. Larger pet shops often have freezer sections of raw bones, which are excellent for dental health. There are two kinds of bone – edible, such as turkey wings and ducks’ necks, which are soft enough to consume entirely and recreational bones, such as marrowbones and knuckles. These bones are for gnawing on only and not for consumption. Too much bone in the digestive tract can be dangerous and a hard bone can break a dog’s teeth. Never leave your dog unsupervised with a treat in case of choking and to prevent them from getting carried away with one of the recreational bones. If you have to remove it, please DO NOT attempt to just take it as, unsurprisingly, that is a sure way to get bitten. Lure your dog away with another treat or maybe the lead, to ensure the situation does not become a confrontation. You can also source your bones from a reputable butcher but be aware that dogs should never be given pork bones or bones that have been cut or sawn, making them more likely to splinter. Never feed cooked bones or those from pet shops that have been smoked.
Although your dog’s ancestors would have eaten bone in the wild, it would be irresponsible of me not to point out that there are always risks as it passes through the digestive tract; it’s up to you to decide whether the benefits outweigh those risks.
Just a warning – the following foods are poisonous in varying quantities to dogs: chocolate; grapes (including sultanas, raisins and currants); the allium family (onions, garlic and chives); macadamia nuts; blue cheese; corn on the cob; the artificial sweetener Xylitol (found in some makes of peanut butter); and certain moulds, especially those found on bread, pizza etc.
Fresh, clean water should always be available!
Feeding and exercise
Don’t let your dog indulge in strenuous exercise such as running around off-lead in the hour either side of a meal – this could lead to an extremely dangerous condition called gastric torsion. Much like colic in horses, it can prove fatal.
Fleas, ticks and worms
Personally, I tend to treat for fleas as and when I see evidence of them. When you take your dog home ask to be shown how to look for them. Your vet may advise you to treat for fleas every month but in general, your dog may not need it and too much exposure to chemicals may not be in the dog’s best interests. Fleas become more of a problem in the warmer months and if your dog mixes with cats. Ticks also raise their rather unattractive heads as the temperature rises and are more of a risk if you walk near a lot of bracken, tall grass and where deer graze, as some ticks can carry Lyme disease, a nasty disease for both dogs and humans.
Your vet may advise you to worm your dog every 3 months. Unless it is mixing with a lot of dogs that you suspect may not be wormed, or your dog regularly ingests or licks vegetation that slugs and snails have been over, increasing the risk of lungworm, you may find that every 5 months is sufficient.
There are lots of products to treat parasites. The following are commonly used, either in combination or on their own, depending on the dog’s needs:
● Advantage (fleas)
● Advocate (fleas and worms, including lungworm but not tapeworm)
● Advantix (fleas and ticks)
● Drontal and Easimax (worms but not lungworm)
● Milbemax and Panacur (worms and may be used for prevention / treatment of lungworm – consult with your vet on the dosage)
Anything you can purchase from your local supermarket or pet shop is unlikely to be effective enough. All of the above can be purchased from your vet, or more cheaply online, although some may need a prescription from your vet. If you are using 2 different products to treat fleas and worms, don’t give them together – leave a fortnight between.
Many dog owners are concerned about the use of chemicals on their pets and may use alternative methods of managing parasites. There is a lot of information available, so do some research and make an informed and personal choice.
When you adopt your greyhound, you should be shown how to brush its teeth. This is very important – bad dental health can lead to gum disease and in turn, infection entering the bloodstream and affecting the major organs. If your dog is not too keen, start gently – choose a moment when your dog is relaxed (but not asleep) and lift the lips. Stroke the teeth and praise your dog for letting you do it. Gradually work your way up to using a bit of rough plaster wrapped round your finger with toothpaste (I use Dorwest Roast Dinner) and then a toothbrush with medium head or a triple headed dog one. Aim for at least once a week and always reward with a treat. Raw bones are also great for removing plaque (see Feeding section).
If you notice that despite your best efforts, your dog’s dental health is deteriorating e.g thick plaque, bleeding and/or receding gums, bad breath, gaps or holes between the tooth and the gum line, then a trip to the vet for a dental is a must; you may consider it to be cosmetic but if you leave it, it can have a severely detrimental effect on your dog’s health.
Regular trimming of your dog’s claws, including the dewclaws (if present), is a vital part of dog care.
Long toenails are not only unsightly, they are dangerous – a claw catching on something can dislocate or break a toe. They are also uncomfortable as a dog’s weight will be forced onto its “heels”, leading to problems with posture and gait.
On average, most dogs will need to have their nails trimmed every 1-2 months – but some will need doing more frequently than this, especially if they have been allowed to get too long, as the quicks will have grown too long inside the nails and therefore can only be clipped to a certain point without making the nails bleed. In this case the quicks can be encouraged to recede by frequent clipping (every 2 weeks). You can also tell that your dog’s nails need to be trimmed if they are clicking loudly on the floor when your dog walks.
You should be shown a general grooming routine when you adopt your greyhound and I advise you to make this a weekly routine.
It is a valuable way of taking the time to look at your dog properly, from top to bottom (and I mean that literally!) Eyes, ears, paws, genitalia, everything should be checked for any changes. Run your hands over your dog to get to know what’s normal and what isn’t. Look for any lumps and bumps that weren’t there before and chat to your dog while you do it. Until you get to know each other well, take it slowly and gently, watching its body language and don’t push it if you can see it’s not comfortable with a certain part of its body being touched. For the most part, greyhounds are very used to being handled but occasionally a dog has been roughly treated and is wary of receiving more of the same. As with the teeth brushing, get it used to the idea gradually, praise it and reward with a treat at the end. If you’re at all concerned, you can always pop a muzzle on the dog but don’t use this as a shortcut to building up a trusting relationship between the two of you.
Greyhounds will be vaccinated during their racing career so vaccinations may well be up to date when you adopt your dog. If the rescue has records of vaccinations, they should hand these over to you.
Vaccinations for dogs have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Some owners believe that annual vaccinations are both unnecessary and harmful to their pets. There have been cases of pets suffering fatal reactions to vaccinations and the number of owners refusing to vaccinate their pets is now higher than ever before.
As a result, some vets now recommend blood testing (Titre testing) dogs for the level of antibodies present against specific diseases. If the levels are high enough, there is no need for a booster vaccination. If they are low, a booster vaccination is recommended. This helps to eliminate the possibility of over-vaccinating the dog and is more of a compromise between those who say dogs should be vaccinated every year regardless, and those who think vaccinations should be avoided at all costs.
When making the decision whether to vaccinate your dog, you need to look at a number of factors. Some diseases are more prevalent in certain areas than others, so it is worth checking which diseases your dog is likely to come into contact with before you have it vaccinated. However, if you are intending to board your dog at kennels at any point, you are likely to be required to produce evidence of vaccinations before the dog can be accepted. Again, there is a lot of discussion online for and against, so do some research and make an informed and personal choice.
Illness and injury
The greyhound is relatively free of genetic defects but there are things to be aware of that make them different from other breeds.
Cuts and scrapes
The greyhound’s skin is thinner than other dogs’, therefore they can tear themselves more easily. However, stitching a minor wound is not always the answer, as stretching two sides of a wound together where there is skin missing puts more tension on the surrounding tissue and can result in the wound breaking apart either side of the stitches. Suddenly, you find yourself with a bigger problem than the original one.
If it’s not too deep, requiring antibiotics, and you can trust yourself to be diligent, keep it clean using a mild solution of a suitable antiseptic (see First Aid section) and you will watch the wound mend by itself. Watch out for signs that it is not healing – if it no longer looks clean and pink, if it smells or if your dog starts to ‘worry’ at it. If you are at all concerned check with your vet.
There are also biochemical differences, so that often a vet who is unfamiliar with sighthounds may misinterpret the readings from blood tests.
Greyhounds’ readings lie outside the reference intervals for other breeds e.g their thyroid values are lower, their kidney values are higher, their red blood cell count is higher and their platelet and white blood cell count is lower. More information can be accessed online and it’s wise to educate yourself so that, if necessary, you can discuss this further with your vet.
There was a time when, because greyhounds were rarely seen in local vet practices, anaesthetics were being administered which could prove fatal to greyhounds due to their minimal body fat and the way the liver processes the drugs but thankfully we have come a long way since then and most vets are greyhound savvy. It’s always worth checking with them first though, before any procedure involving a general anaesthetic.
Corns are the scourge of the greyhound owner! If your greyhound is uncomfortable walking on hard surfaces but fine on soft and if, when you look at the pads (invariably of a front leg) after wetting them, you can see a hard, slightly discoloured and maybe slightly protruding disc, there is every chance that your dog has developed a corn. Nobody knows exactly why corns should occur but they are not easy to get rid of. However, there is always the possibility that there is a foreign body deep in there, that hard skin has grown over, so no amount of straightforward management of the problem will solve the underlying problem. Greyhound vets are the ones to consult over this, as many vets are not experienced in these matters.
It is beyond the scope of this brief guide to provide detailed advice on first aid. You should be able to call your rescue kennels for advice, but please bear in mind that it can be difficult to assess medical conditions over the phone. If you are concerned about the health of your greyhound, then you should seek the advice of a vet.
Minor conditions that I see regularly that may be suitable for treatment at home:
Minor cuts and scrapes: can be treated as described in the section above. It is relatively straightforward to put pressure bandages onto cut pads, tails and ears to stop bleeding, but these should be checked regularly and not be left in place without changing, for any length of time i.e more than 24 hours.
Lameness: if this is not severe (that is the dog does not seem to be distressed or in significant pain) and there is no obvious cause of lameness (such as a cut, corn or foreign object in the paw) then a couple of days of rest – short walks on the lead only – may be enough to allow recovery. Consult your vet if the lameness persists.
Vomiting / diarrhoea: if this is an isolated event then offering a little bland food for 24 hours may allow the digestive system to settle. If not, or the dog is obviously unwell (e.g lethargic, can’t settle, panting, dehydrated, or there is blood in either vomit or diarrhoea, consult your vet.
If you can access a first-aid class, you will learn a lot that could prove invaluable if faced with an emergency, or even just the skills to make your dog comfortable until you can get to a vet. It is always a good idea to build a medical box of your own, which contains, at least, cohesive bandage (eg Vetwrap), padding bandage (eg Soffban), non-adhesive dressings, Videne or HiBiSCRUB, cotton wool and blunt ended scissors.
I advise you to register with your local vet shortly after you adopt your new dog, so that you have somewhere as close as possible in an emergency.
There are greyhound specialists in the area for something more complex or specifically greyhound related. Your rescue kennels should be able to provide you with contact details of these.