"Adopt a greyhound and make a fast friend," proclaims the slogan for greyhound adoption programs. Adopting a retired racing greyhound is one way to acquire a purebred dog as a companion animal, and those who do so are also saving a life, because life on the track can be tough.
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Like virtually all purebred dogs, greyhounds have their share of genetic and hereditary problems. At least three known hereditary issues are orthopedic in nature. Osteochondritis dissecans, or OCD, is one such disease. It causes an inflammation of the cartilage that can lead to arthritis. OCD attacks the joints of the elbow, knee, shoulder, or hock, with the shoulder being the most common. Osteochondrosis is another orthopedic disease found in greyhounds, one that affects bone formation. This disease puts the dog at risk for osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Greyhounds are also at risk for short-spine disease, in which the spinal cord is too short for the dog's length.
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Besides genetics, other factors put greyhounds at a higher risk for developing one or all of these diseases. One is nutrition. Racing greyhounds are fed a diet pretty much of meat, meat and more meat. This means they don't get the right nutrition to grow strong bones and joints. Most large-breed puppies are fed a commercially prepared dog kibble made for growing puppies, but greyhounds begin their raw diet after being weaned. Trauma, both chronic and acute, is also responsible for contributing to these diseases. Racing greyhounds are frequently injured during the course of a race or during training. They suffer from broken bones and sprains, just like human athletes. Anyone adopting a retired racing greyhound should ask to see the dog's racing record to learn if any old injuries may flare up and cause trouble when the dog gets older.
Veterinarians are well aware of the special problems of the retired racing greyhound. Old injuries from fractured bones, broken toes and head trauma should be carefully watched in the event there is a "flareup." Greys' feet are the most susceptible to breaking, and fractures of the metatarsals and metacarpals (toes and fingers in people) are common. If the dog begins to limp, or shows signs of pain or lameness, you should notify your vet right away, as you would with any dog. The difference is that your vet will be looking for injuries not seen in non-racing dogs. Greyhounds do not do well under anesthesia, so it's important they be kept as healthy as possible, as surgery is risky in this breed.
Your retired racing greyhound should be introduced to your vet as soon as possible so she can be thoroughly checked out for dental and orthopedic issues. Her skin is also susceptible to problems. Most of these issues are brought on by bad diet. Once you get your dog on a high-quality diet, you will see her blossom and become much healthier and happier. Greyhounds are sprinters, not endurance runners, so you should never expect them to run alongside a bicycle, for example, or run long distances. These 45mph couch potatoes make great companions and the experience of adopting and caring for one is rewarding.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.