Why all the chatter about breed standard?

A few days ago I wrote an article about what it means to adopt a Greyhound.  Overall this article was well received.  However, some comments I found thought provoking.  I also reviewed other posts throughout social media and there continued to be a theme:  what is the standard for a greyhound and why that matters to you as an owner.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) judges each breed of dog based on a written standard.  You can review the AKC written standard for greyhounds below.

Head –  Long and narrow, fairly wide between the ears, scarcely perceptible stop, little or no development of nasal sinuses, good length of muzzle, which should be powerful without coarseness. Teeth very strong and even in front.
Ears ­ – Small and fine in texture, thrown back and folded, except when excited, when they are semi-pricked.
Eyes ­ – Dark, bright, intelligent, indicating spirit.
Neck – ­ Long, muscular, without throatiness, slightly arched, and widening gradually into the shoulder.
Shoulders – ­ Placed as obliquely as possible, muscular without being loaded.
Forelegs ­ – Perfectly straight, set well into the shoulder, neither turned in or out, pasterns strong.
Chest ­ -Deep, and as wide as is consistent with speed, Fairly well sprung ribs.
Back ­ – Muscular and broad.
Loins ­ – Good depth of muscle, well-arched, well cut up in the flanks.
Hindquarters ­ – Long, very muscular and powerful, wide and well let down, well-bent stifles.  Hocks well bent and rather close to the ground, wide but straight fore and aft.
Feet ­ – Hard and close, rather more hare than cat feet, well knuckled up with good strong claws.
Tail ­ – Long, fine and tapering with a slight upward curve.
Coat ­ – Short, smooth and firm in texture.
Color ­ – Immaterial
Weight ­ – Dogs, 65 to 70 pounds: Bitches, 60 to 65 pounds

If you are like me when you read this, it sounds very similar to what you see in a National Greyhound Association (NGA) greyhound.  First, what is the difference between the AKC and NGA?  Both are registering bodies; however, the NGA is special as they only register greyhounds.  All American racing greyhounds are registered with the NGA.  The NGA doesn’t have a written breed standard so to speak; rather, NGA greyhounds are bred to a performance standard, meaning they are judged on their ability to excel in running sports.  When we look at the AKC written standard for the breed, the NGA greyhound fits the description in that standard.  So why do we find ourselves disagreeing on the breed standard again and again?  The answer is rather complicated.   I think that show breeders thought that breeding a greyhound with exaggerated structural features was sexy and the dog would be able to compete in the group and best in show ring at dog shows.   They succeeded.  There is no functional purpose or advantage for the exaggerated changes we see in most greyhounds that compete in the show ring.

Actually, dogs that are exaggerated are not good for our breed and here is why.  These dogs are not functional in that they are deficient in athletic ability.  They are able to participate in running sports but unable to compete on the same level with coursing-bred greyhounds or racing greyhounds.  If you read into the written standard above you will understand all these qualities are desirable because they improve the greyhound’s speediness and athleticism.  By exaggerating the structural features called for in the written standard we are taking the functionality and the most important part of the greyhound away.

I have listened and read comments about show greyhounds and see things such as “isn’t she beautiful” or “she’s living art”.  I appreciate these opinions but I want to know if they have ever seen a greyhound running after a lure or quarry.  Have they ever seen true poetry in motion?

I am not sure that I will ever feel that a hound standing in a ring is more lovely than a hound doing what they were bred to do for centuries.  I will never see how loping in a ring can be more beautiful than raw power on the coursing field or sand being flung all over the track by a hound that can scoot.

I understand that dog shows are a lot of fun to a lot of people.  I wish we would see more functional dogs at these shows.  I proudly support the breeders that are promoting functional hounds and I hope that in the future at Greyhound specialties you will not see a dog win breed in the ring that is not able to compete in the field but instead a Greyhound that can win in the ring and on the lure coursing field.

As stewards of our breed we must advocate for functionality.   Our focus should not be on what can win the group and best in show ring but what can make a hare turn and break track records.  We simply must focus on the raw power of our breed; after all, it’s why they are still with us.

Official Standard of the Greyhound. c/o The American Kennel Club.  Retrieved December 1st, 2016 from http://images.akc.org/pdf/breeds/standards/Greyhound.pdf_ga=1.268297802.576806201.1479637347

Greyhound Nails

One of the best parts of greyhound ownership is the lack of grooming they require.  Greyhounds are wash and wear dogs.  They do not need a lot of brushing, trimming, or bathing.  However, their nails do need some attention.

First things first, what is a nail?  The nail is protective covering of the bones and vessels under the tip of the foot.  Nails are made up of a strong fibrous protein called keratin.  This protein is also found in skin and hair.  Nails protect the tip of the foot from damage and help with gripping while running.  

 

 

So what happens if your greyhound’s nails are too long?  Well, multiple issues can occur.  The most concerning issues are the changes to the gait associated with long nails.  When the nail is touching the ground this puts pressure on the bones of the foot.

Remember the old saying about greyhounds? “A greyhound should be headed like a snake and necked like a drake, backed like a beam, sided like a bream, footed like a cat and tailed like a rat”.  This poem should be taken to heart when thinking about the greyhound foot.  When the nails of the hound are too long it creates an uneven balance of pressure in the foot.  This pressure lengthens the ligaments in the foot causing the toes to appear longer and the dog to not walk properly.  This can also be painful.

Pressure sores or decubitus ulcers can also occur with overgrown nails.  The overgrown nails come in contact with the thin skin of the foot and can cause breakdown.  This can lead to infection and can be very painful to the dog.  Pressure sores are difficult to heal.  The offending agent or pressure has to be removed so that the wound can heal properly. 

You can see why nail care is important but what do you need to trim nails?  I recommend plier-style clippers with a safety stop.  I find that guillotine clippers are difficult to use.  Guillotine clippers do not give you the control of the scissor clipper.  It is also more difficult to see what you are doing while trimming the nails.  You should also buy septic powder.  This is good to have on hand in case you do nick the nail quick.  Remember to hold pressure to stop the bleeding as best as you can then apply this.  Septic powder works best on dry surfaces.  Grinding tools are also useful tools to have in your nail bag.  They can file the nail down and if you are worried about the quick there is no clipping involved.  I would recommend grinding nails outside and with a mask on and eye protection.  Also move the tool over the nail as it will heat up.  Continued pressure in one spot will heat the nail and can be painful to the greyhound. 

So you have your tools but how do you successful clip greyhound nail?  I understand that nail clipping can be scary.  We know all too well that there is a sensitive quick in the nail and clipping it can cause bleeding and pain for the dog.  Well friends, I have news for you.  If you look at your hound’s foot you can easily spot the quick even on black nails.  

Once you know where the quick is you make you first cut at about 45-60 degrees.  I recommend then making two additional cuts to the side of the nail to make sure you have removed all the overgrowth.  Once this is completed you can file the nail with an emery board or grinding tool.  A rule of thumb for nail length is that you should be able to slide a credit card under the dogs nail while standing   

Most retired racers are well accustomed to nail clipping as this was a regular part of their routine.  However, if your hound is not so cool with the idea of clippers coming close to their toes some positive reinforcement could help.  I find that using a plastic toy stuffed with food will keep a hound busy while clipping.  The clicker could also be used for this.  Creating a positive association with the clipper can be helpful with a lot of dogs.  Remember to channel your inner leader while nail clipping, dog can sense if you are not confident in your skills.  Getting you and your hound accustom to nail clipping can take some time but well worth the effort!

I hope that this has been helpful to you and you now ready to clip you hound’s nails with confidence!

What it means to adopt a greyhound

Every American Thanksgiving the American Kennel Club has its national dog show.  The Best in Show (BIS) dog gets tons of advertising and often times many people throughout the country are exposed to a dog that is “beautiful”.  This advertising causes an increase in desire for the BIS dog breed.  This year the BIS went to Gia the greyhound.  Gia is an AKC greyhound that has never competed in amateur running sports a day in her life as she was bred for the ring only.  She is not the typical body type of the NGA greyhound or retired racer.  She is an exaggerated form of the AKC breed standard for Greyhounds. Nonetheless, she is advertising for the greyhound breed and her handler gave serious prompts to the greyhound as a great living companion or pet.
 
Since Gia won BIS there have been several articles published talking about why to add a greyhound to your household, and I have taken issue with some of this; they encouraged me to write this post!  None of these articles captured what adding a greyhound to your home truly means.
 
Many articles spoke about the traits of greyhounds and what the greyhound can and cannot do.  These articles also suggested what is needed to provide one of the fastest land mammals a perfect home (I am not sure there is a perfect home).
 
I disagree with most of this.
 
These writers have completed some research or googling of the greyhound but are missing one important piece of the puzzle:  they have never owned a greyhound.
 
While I was pondering the characteristics of a retired racing greyhound and what I would tell a potential adopter about the breed, I asked my husband, a non-dog-person but a greyhound aficionado that I would trust any greyhound decision to, what makes a retired racer special? Without a moment’s pause, he said “heart.”
 
Retired racers are raised to have “heart”.  By “heart” I mean passion.  They are raised to chase with all their “heart”, hang-out with their kennel mates with all their “heart”, and love their people/trainers with all their “heart”. Everything a greyhound does is with all their “heart”.  Greyhounds are independent dogs that do not need human affirmation like many other dogs.  Greyhounds choose their humans and they do it with all their “heart”.
 

After Gia’s win if you decide to adopt a greyhound, make sure that you know you are not just getting a thin skinned dog that doesn’t bark, but a dog that has “heart”. You’re getting a dog that has been loved by trainers, a dog that loves to chase, a dog that loves to live and lives her life to the fullest, and a dog that inspires you to be a better human.  My friends, greyhounds are more than any dog, more special than anything in the world, and able to give more than their all, as they give their “heart” in all they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Greyhound Teeth and Gums

 A few weeks ago I wrote an article on greyhound digestion.  We learned that greyhounds rely on the crushing power of their molars to break down food, as they lack the enzymes needed to begin carbohydrate break down in their mouths. 

Due to this, dogs’ teeth are important to their overall health.  Greyhounds are known for their bad teeth.  Today, I want to discuss the greyhound’s teeth and gums, how gingivitis occurs, and then how to get your greyhounds mouth into tip-top-shape!

If you have even been around a greyhound puppy, you know why they are called “land-sharks.  They have super fine sharp teeth that will cut through skin and bring you to your knees.  Thankfully at about six months these 28 extremely sharp weapons fall out and replaced by 42 permanent adult teeth.  Dogs have four types of teeth: canines, incisors, premolars, and molars.  The canines are responsible for ripping or tearing flesh and the molars are responsible for crushing.  These adult teeth lack in sharpness but are efficient at bringing down quarry and enable the greyhound to tear through bone and muscle. 

Just as the adult teeth need to be strong to function, they also depend on strong gums for support.  Gums are tissues in the mouth that are covered with oral mucosa.  Gums help keep the teeth aligned and supported.  If the gums are not healthy the teeth cannot be healthy either. 

So why do greyhounds have such “bad” teeth?  There are several hypotheses but no clear answer at this time.  The national greyhound adoption program (NGAP) blames this on a raw diet fed at the kennels; however, I disagree.  A raw diet with meaty bones should promote good dental care.  Some feel that there is a lack of concern about teeth in the greyhound industry and point out that there is only a half page on tooth care in the greyhound bible AKA Care of the Racing Greyhound: A Guide for Trainers, Breeders, and Veterinarians.   I am not sure that this is that accurate either, as tooth brushing is not difficult and could be covered quickly.  The cause of bad teeth could be debated all day and a clear answer may not surface.  Let move on to how tooth decay and gingivitis occur and how to prevent this.

Dogs have bacteria in their mouths, and certain bacteria are part of their normal flora (friendly bacteria).  They also get bacteria in their mouths from eating, licking, chewing, and doing dog things.  These bacteria stick to the teeth.  If these bacteria are not removed from the teeth they cause irritation to the gums.  This is called gingivitis.  Most likely your hounds have gingivitis if their gums bleed with brushing.  This is commonly seen early in an oral care program.  Regular teeth brushing and chewing can reverse this.  If these bacteria are not removed they will continue to build up on the teeth.  This build-up of bacteria (tarter) will weaken the enamel of the teeth causing decay.  This build-up of tarter can also affect the bone under the gum supporting the tooth if not removed.  Once the bones supporting the teeth are affected the dog has periodontitis.  This is not reversible and can cause tooth loss if not stopped.  

The importance of the teeth and gums are paramount.  Teeth not only support our nutritional needs, but if they are diseased, they create an entryway for bacterial to enter into the blood stream and potentially cause life-threatening infections.  

How do we prevent this from happening to our best friends?  Number one most important thing is brush their teeth.  I admit that I am not the best at daily brushing, but after writing about the horrors of periodontitis I can promise you there will be daily brushing in our house!  The second thing is to feed raw bones.  Raw bones are irritants to built-up tarter on the teeth.  The grinding of the bone helps to remove the tarter on the molars as you can see in the photo above.  Please, do not feed cooked bones, as they can be extremely harmful to dogs.  The cooking of bone denatures the proteins and causes splintering of the bone when chewing.  Finally, encourage chewing!  I love planet dog toys.  The Orbee-Tuff line holds up to my aggressive chewers and the toys have a nice peppermint scent to help with bad breath.  

I hope that this article is helpful to you and your hound.  Below is a video of how we brush teeth.  Promoting clean teeth and gums is one of the best things you can do for your greyhound!

 




 

Liver and Thyroid functions.

Today I am going to discuss liver function in greyhounds as well as thyroid function.

Let’s start with the liver.  The liver is an important organ in metabolism of food and drugs.  There are two main blood markers that we check for liver damage:  alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST).  ALT is found in the liver and elevated levels are directly correlated with liver damage.  AST is found throughout the body in various cells.  AST can be elevated in hepatic injury but also for other reasons not related to the liver.

Greyhounds have elevated ALT without associated liver damage.  I was puzzled by this and could not find any data about why this would occur.   A genetic change is the most reasonable explanation of the greyhounds’ LTF abnormalities.  Again, selective breeding most likely caused this, and unlike the RBC changes that improve the greyhound’s athletic ability, this is just a side effect.

So if the greyhound has elevated ALT, is that why they cannot process drugs as quickly as non-greyhound dogs?  This is not the case.  In the livers of both humans and dogs there are enzymes called cytochrome P450 (CYP), and these are the liver’s metabolizers of drugs.  There are hundreds of these enzymes, all with different numbers.  Most if the information regarding this came from humans and has been used in dogs.  This area of study is booming and these researchers have found differences in this system between dogs and humans as well as between breeds.

Structure of the POR protein. Based on PyMOL rendering of PDB 1amo. Credit: Emw is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0

In particular the greyhounds CYP system is atypical from other dogs.  I am sure that you know greyhounds have issues with anesthesia and the anesthesia they receive should be different than other non-greyhound dogs.  This was originally thought to be from the lack of body fat in greyhounds.  This was found to be less likely after a series of studies looked at drug metabolism.  These studies found that if greyhounds were given a CYP inducer like phenobarbital, they could clear anesthesia agents more quickly; conversely, if a CYP inhibitor (chloramphenicol) was given prior to anesthesia, it would take longer for the drug to be cleared.  This points directly to the CYP system as the cause of delayed drug clearance and not the lack of body fat in the hound.

To sum it up, the changes in the liver enzymes seen in greyhounds does not cause the issues with drug metabolism in the greyhound.  However, the CPY system within the greyhound’s liver is unique and creates the changes in drug metabolism.

Now we have a better understanding of the liver function abnormalities seen in greyhounds, let’s talk about the thyroid valves.

There are four common thyroid tests completed when checking for disease in the thyroid.  They are total T4, free T4, T3, and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).  TSH is controlled by the pituitary gland in the brain; it controls the thyroid gland’s production of T3 and T4.  Thus, when TSH is elevated it means that there is not enough T4 or T3, and when the TSH is low it means that there is too much T4 or T3.  TSH and T3 play a large role in the diagnosis of hypothyroidism.  T3 is often more important in hyperthyroidism, as there is less of it made in the thyroid and oftentimes takes longer to become abnormal.

Greyhound’s T4 is oftentimes abnormally low; this has been well documented.  It is important to note that current racers or right-off-the-track retired racers have even lower T4 then non-racing greyhounds.

This posed the question about hypothyroidism in these dogs.  There was a study that gave greyhounds with low T4 synthetic thyroid stimulating hormone.  In a mammal with true hypothyroidism this should have elevated the T4, but this did not occur.

This furthered the idea that greyhounds have baseline low thyroid levels and prompted an additional study.  In this study a radioactive tracer was used to evaluate the thyroid function in greyhounds suspected of hypothyroidism.  The uptake of the tracer was within normal limits compared against dogs with normal thyroid function.  This indicated that hypothyroidism is extremely unlikely in greyhounds.

Greyhounds are different from other dogs for various reasons.  These variations in their lab values should be evaluated by someone who has experience with greyhounds.

I hope this series was helpful and you are more informed about why greyhounds’ lab valves are different from non-greyhound dogs.

 

Court, M. H. (2013). Canine cytochrome P450 (CYP) pharmacogenetics. The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Small Animal Practice43(5), 1027–1038. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cvsm.2013.05.001
Zaldívar-López, S., Marín, L. M., Iazbik, M. C., Westendorf-Stingle, N., Hensley, S., & Couto, C. G. (2011). Clinical pathology of Greyhounds and other sighthounds. Veterinary Clinical Pathology / American Society for Veterinary Clinical Pathology40(4), 10.1111/j.1939–165X.2011.00360.x. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-165X.2011.00360.x

WBCs and platelets in greyhounds

We discussed the differences in greyhound RBCs and non-greyhound RBCs.  There are two other types of blood cells that are different in greyhounds vs. non-greyhound dogs, the White Blood Cell (WBC) and the platelet. 

RBCs, WBCs, and platelets are made in the bone marrow.  After they are mature they are sent into the blood stream.  As discussed previously, the RBC carries oxygen to the tissues.  The WBC’s job is more complex; lets look at it first. 

WBCs are immune cells.  They fight off viral, bacterial, parasitic, and fungal infections.  This is an important job, and there are multiple cells types and they each specialize on a certain intruder. 

I am going to break down WBCs cells lines as simply as possible.  I want this to be easy to understand for everyone!  If there are any questions please comment or email and I will be happy to address this further. 

There are five main types of WBCs.  Some of them are granulated and have a nucleus or control center (RBCs do not have this).  These granulations are particularly important.  The granules are enzymes within the cell that improve cellular function—i.e. they are the marinade on the foreign evader the WBC is going to destroy.  These are the types of WBCs found in the body:

1.     Neutrophils: most numerous WBC.  Nucleated and have granules.  Responsible for ridding the body of bacterial and fungal infections.

2.     Eosinophils: nucleated with granules.  Responsible for ridding the body of parasites.  Assist in allergic reactions.  Help destroy cancer cells. 

3.     Basophils: nucleated with granules.  Basophils control the histamine response in inflammation.

4.     Lymphocytes: Multiple subsets (T and B cells) of the lymphocyte—complex cell with very important functions.  Some subsets have granules others do not.  All have nuclei.  Help the body rid itself of viral and bacterial invaders and also create memory cells so that when the same infection enters the body again, it will be prepared. 

5.     Monocytes: nucleated without granules.  They have longer lives than the other WBCs.  When mature they migrate to the tissues and organs and hang out there to take care of any potential bacterial evaders. 

With all of this complexity it is hard to believe the immune system does not go haywire more often!

Now lets look at the differences in greyhound labs values vs. non-greyhound dogs. Lower WBC counts are often seen in greyhounds.  This has been well defined and is currently not a point of concern, as it is considered a breed trait.  The eosinophil of the greyhound has been widely studied.  Beginning in the 1960s the greyhound was discovered to have a vacuolated eosinophil, meaning that the granules within the cell would not stain for microscopic examination (FYI staining is a method of putting a dye into cells allowing them to be better evaluated by microscope).  This was odd, as non-greyhound dogs’ eosinophils will stain orange with a quick stain method.  The lack of the staining was concerning, as it appeared to be a toxic cell.  The concern for abnormalities prompted large work-ups looking for a source of the inflammation.  Fortunately, these changes were not pathologic.  This prompted more studies.  In 2005, there was a study published in Veterinarian Clinical Pathology.  This study looked a 49 greyhound blood smears and compared them to 200 non-greyhound dog blood smears.  A more advanced staining method was used than in the 1960’s study.  This study showed that structurally and chemically, the greyhound’s eosinophil was the same as the non-greyhound dogs.  This suggests that there were different staining properties in the greyhound eosinophil but overall it was the same cell seen in non-greyhound dogs.  The cell was deemed not pathologic.

In addition to the changes in the WBC there are also changes in the platelet counts of greyhounds.  First things first, what is a platelet? Platelets are tiny blood cells that are made in the bone marrow with RBCs and WBCs.  They are responsible for blood clotting.  

Greyhounds are known to have low platelet levels.  This is considered to be a breed trait as long as the count is not below 100,000/μL.  Again, I ask why is the greyhound’s platelet different from non-greyhound dogs?  Well there are multiple theories about this.  The first came about in 1994 by PS Sullivan.  This theory has been supported multiple times since and focuses on stem cell competition.  Do you remember the RBCs we talked about a few days ago?  Well, Sullivan posited that when the bone marrow begins creating the building blocks of blood, there is a competition between the cells destined to be platelets and the cells destined to be RBCs.  Due to the need for more RBCs in the greyhound, the poor platelets lose this fight—leading to lower platelet counts.  Another theory focuses on the mature RBCs—due to the amount of oxygen molecules on the RBC, there is a mild loss of oxygen overall when the RBCs release the oxygen into the tissues, and this mild hypoxemia causes an increase in the production of RBCs, thus causing a decreased production of platelets—remember these cells are in competition.  Both of these studies show that the competition between the RBC and the platelet either in the blood or the bone marrow is most likely why greyhounds have lower platelet counts. 

Naturally one would think that greyhounds would be “easy bleeders” due to their low platelet counts.  Well, they are “easy bleeders” but it is not due to the lack of platelets.  Actually, the time it takes for a greyhound to create a platelet plug or the “closing time” is very similar to non-greyhound dogs.  This suggests that greyhounds’ platelets are more active than non-greyhound dogs.  These researchers also looked at the risk for bleeding disorders in greyhounds, but this was very rare and not related to their “easy bleeding” tendencies.  However, the clot strength in the greyhound was weaker than non-greyhound dogs—this most likely is the cause of the “easy bleeding” in greyhounds.  

So why would the greyhound be able to clot quickly with a low platelet count but then create a substandard clot? Aging that points back to the high level of RBCs in the blood.  Due to the high RBC mass in the blood, the plasma (fluid in the bloodstream after removal of RBCs, WBCs, and Platelets) has less Fibrinogen (a protein that aids in clotting).  This is the confusing part; there is actually no difference in the fibrinogen levels in greyhounds vs. non-greyhounds.  The mass of the RBCs within the blood is to blame for the pseudo hypofibrinogenemia.  Additionally, it is thought that greyhounds have enhanced fibrinolysis (the ability to break down clots).  This would keep the greyhound from clotting, as they are at risk due to the increased viscosity of blood during exercise. 

Photo Credit: Cindy Frezon

 To sum up the bleeding tendency of the greyhound goes something like this: greyhounds have low platelet numbers but active platelets and these platelets create clots quickly but the clots lack stability due to low levels of fibrinogen due to elevated RBCs in the blood.  Furthermore, is has been theorized that greyhounds have active fibrinolysis and can break up clots quicker than non-greyhound dogs. 

Whew! Now we have looked at the RBCs, WBCs, Platelets, and hemostasis in the greyhound.  It has been great for be to learn more about this.  I now have an understanding of why these levels are different from non-greyhound dogs and I think this adds to the undeniable coolness of the greyhound! The last series on labs will be next week and it will focus on liver and thyroid functions.  Hope you check it out!  

Iazbik MC, Couto CG. Morphologic characterization of specific granules in Greyhound eosinophils. Vet Clin Pathol. 2005; 34:140–143.
Feature image credit: Cindy Frezon
Sullivan PS, Evans HL, McDonald TP. Platelet concentration and hemoglobin function in greyhounds. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1994; 205:838–841. [PubMed: 7829376]
Zaldívar-López, S., Marín, L. M., Iazbik, M. C., Westendorf-Stingle, N., Hensley, S., & Couto, C. G. (2011). Clinical pathology of Greyhounds and other sighthounds. Veterinary Clinical Pathology / American Society for Veterinary Clinical Pathology40(4), 10.1111/j.1939–165X.2011.00360.x. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-165X.2011.00360.x

What is up with lab values and Greyhounds?

Like I have said previously, I am a nurse and a researcher.  I like to figure out why things do what they do.  When I got Jethro I was amazed by the difference in laboratory (lab) valves in greyhounds and non-greyhound dogs. 

I searched the Internet looking for studies to show why the difference existed.  I recently found a literature review that does a good job with this but it is very science driven and not accessible to most greyhound owners.

Due to the numerous differences in the greyhound and non-greyhound labs, I am going to do a lab series on the blog looking into the different abnormalities. 

Today I am going to dive into the red blood cell values of the greyhound.

First, let’s talk about the red blood cell (RBC) or erythrocyte.  The RCB is the most common cell in the body.  It is disc-like cell that looks like a jelly doughnut with the jelly squeezed out.  RBCs are important because they house hemoglobin (Hgb), which carries oxygen to the body.  Hemoglobin is a protein within the RBC.  The hemoglobin molecule accepts oxygen from the lungs and carries it throughout the body, bringing nutrient rich blood to our organs.  The hematocrit (Hct) is a measurement of the volume of RBCs in the body—this value is needed to get an accurate hemoglobin measurement.  There are two additional RBC values that are different in non-greyhounds and greyhounds.  They are the Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) and the Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH).  The MCV measures the size of the RBC and the MCH measures the color of the cell. 

Adult blood smear by scooterdmu

That is very basic RBC science.  Let’s now talk about the abnormalities in the greyhound’s valves and what they could mean.  Greyhounds have higher RBC counts.  The higher RBC cases an increase in Hgb concentrations and Hct.  These higher values allow for oxygen to reached stressed muscle cells quicker.  Initially selective breeding, training, and racing were deemed the cause of these changes; however, there are additional studies looking at other possible causes.

An argument against training and racing as a cause for these changes was completed looking at Hemoglobin and Hematocrit values in 5-6 month greyhounds and 9-10 month greyhounds.  This study showed that at 5-6 month the greyhound Hbg and Hct were not much different from non-greyhound dogs and much lower than the greyhounds in the 9-10 months group.  They then looked at the 9-10 month group vs. 12-13 month greyhounds. The differences in Hgb and Hct at 9-10 months vs. 12-13 months were statically insignificant, suggesting that at 9-10 months greyhounds have adult lab valves.

Sashi at 6 months by Cindy Frezon

On the other hand, there are studies to suggest that selective breeding is the cause for these changes.  The hemoglobin molecule in the greyhound has a higher affinity for binding to oxygen.  These studies also found unique amino acids mutations on the Hgb to allow for enhanced oxygen-binding capacity. 

You may be asking, how would breeders know this and know which greyhounds to breed?  Most likely the early dogmen breed greyhounds to be hearty, fast, and recovery quickly to hunt again whenever new quarry was seen.  This need for fast recovery influenced breeding practices, meaning that these hounds that were able to recover quickly again had higher RBC counts and more efficient hemoglobin.  These factors are still considered in breeding programs today – talk to any dogman or woman and they will tell you that test-mating or selecting a breeding pair is a time-consuming task with lots of consideration.  

Darla at the Christmas Cup 2015 by Cindy Frezon

Another interesting fact about greyhound RBC valves is the lives of their RBCs.  In non-greyhound dogs, the life of the RBC is around 100 days.  In Greyhounds the life of the RBC is about 50 days.  There are multiple theories about why this is.  Some believe that greyhounds trap their RBCs in their spleen; however, there is no proof to this theory.  Another theory is that the greyhound’s immune system selectively rids its self of older cells, but again this needs to be studied further for more clarity. 

Greyhound’s blood counts also show elevated MCV or large RBCs.  This was thought to be related to elevated reticulocytes (immature RBCs) in the blood but that is not the case. The increased size is breed specific and most likely due to the higher hemoglobin content within the RBC.  This would allow for more oxygen to reach the muscles and allow for continued activity. 

I hope that after this review you have a better understand of the RBC and why it is different in the greyhound.  As I had said before greyhounds are special dogs that do special things.  I think it is fitting that their labs are special too!  Check in later this week for differences in WBCs and Platelets in greyhounds.

 
Feature Photo Credit: Cindy Frezon
Zaldívar-López, S., Marín, L. M., Iazbik, M. C., Westendorf-Stingle, N., Hensley, S., & Couto, C. G. (2011). Clinical pathology of Greyhounds and other sighthounds. Veterinary Clinical Pathology / American Society for Veterinary Clinical Pathology40(4), 10.1111/j.1939–165X.2011.00360.x. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-165X.2011.00360.x

Greyhound Behavior: Decoded!

Have you ever seen your greyhound act odd or refuse a command you know they understand?   If you are like me, you want to find a cause for what they are doing or not doing.  Today I am going to discuss how I analyze my dog’s behavior. 
 
First, greyhounds are not aggressive dogs.  Oftentimes new greyhound owners mistake play for aggression.  Greyhounds are mouthy, they like to feel different textures in their mouths and they also like to use their mouths in play.  
 


 
 
 
You can see based on these photos how someone might mistake greyhound play for aggression; however, it is completely innocent.  The nature of greyhound play can lead to issues, think big teeth and thin skin.  This is why a lot of owners turn out their greyhounds with muzzles on.  This is the safest why to turn out multiple greyhounds.
 
Aggression towards other dogs or humans is rather uncommon in greyhounds, although some tend to have very strong prey drives.  Jethro had some serious issues when he came to our home.  He thought that anything that was small and fluffy was a lure.  We needed serious help with this dog, as I was not accustomed to 65lbs of solid muscle pulling on the leash.  I went to our local obedience class first.  The environment there was overwhelming for Jethro and increased his fear.  I decided that his reconditioning was going to have to be completed at home and gradually introduced in public.
 
 
I am a researcher; I immediately researched the best books and set out on a mission to help Jethro.  These books were extremely useful to us, and I recommend them to other owners who are dealing with very drivey dogs:  On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas, The Other End of the Leash: Why We do What We do Around Dogs by Patricia McConnell, and Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior by Temple Grandin.  After reading these books I started implementing their suggestions.  I changed my behavior to help Jethro feel safe.  One of my Greyhound friends told me to act like a “calm fearless leader,” and this became my mantra with Jethro.  I also kept a toy with me anytime I had Jethro out, as Jethro is not food driven but loves to tug.  I was also focused on his body language to give me cues, allowing me to disrupt his unwanted behavior before it happened.
 
Overall this was very successful for us, but we did have setbacks.  Right after Darla was adopted I was struggling with watching Jethro and her on our walks.  Jethro did mess up and for about four months Jethro and Darla had to be walked separately so that I could keep my eyes on him and try my best to see the world through his eyes.  We have to remember that dogs are dogs.  They are not humans and we cannot expect them to act like us.  We have to look at life through their eyes and then train them to be successful in our world. 
 
Now, Jethro is doing great.  We can take him alone or with the rest of our pack anywhere.  I did not take away his prey drive (just asked our backyard squirrels) but I did enable him with the tools to be a great dog in a world of cats and poodles. 
 


 
 
Not all greyhounds have such high prey drives. The most common characteristic that greyhounds are known for include: even-tempered, gentle, affectionate, quiet, and athletic.  Oftentimes it takes a hound some time to blossom after adoption.   Even after the hound is well established in the pack, they may refuse a command or act odd.  That is when I really investigate what is happening and intervene if needed. 
 
The other day I was trying to get a photo of all three of my dogs laying on a blue quilt in the nice fall weather.  I had Sashi on one end and Jethro on the other.  All I needed was for Darla to lay down in-between the boys.  Darla is my most loyal hound: she comes when she is called, she sits on command, and she is pure awesomeness in a small brindle package.  She would not lie down between the boys, would not do it no matter what I fed her or gave her.  I took a step back, letting go of my photo idea, and got in Darla’s head and thought about these four things: 1. Darla is obedient, so what is the issue with this situation? 2. Darla knows how to lie down, is something bothering her about the position? 3. Jethro is the alpha of the pack, is she insecure about lying this close to him? 4. Is she uncomfortable being in the middle of the boys and would like to be on the end?
 
After thinking about these facts I realized that Darla did not want her space encroached on – it was not OK at that point in their doggy relationship.
 



 
When my dogs refused a command I first think, is something hurting them.  Often times the refusal can be linked to the flooring or to the situation above.  My dogs are not perfect and sometimes they will simply refuse to do something, but I always rule out other factors first.
 
If you look at all these photos, Darla does not have issues being close to other dogs but needs to be one the end.  The photo would have worked if I would have put her on the end and the boys together, oh well! I called off the photo shoot and everyone went back to his or her normal behavior. 
 
The point of this is that most of the time obedient dogs are not trying to ignore us.  There maybe something wrong with the situation in their minds.  It is not our job to make them do uncomfortable things but figure out that is the issue and try to find a fix to allow them to flourish.  
 
Being a dog owner and training my dogs is the hardest job I have.  I always need to be on and be a leader for the pack.  By analyzing your dog’s actions and getting into his head you will create a better environment for you and your hound. 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog digestion and feeding

Dog GI system

After writing my myths BUSTED post, I began thinking about how often I am asked about what I feed my greys. I felt that this topic is worth spending more time discussing.

 First let’s discuss the gut of a dog. All mammal digestion begins in the mouth. This is where we begin to break down the particles in our food to extract the important elements needed for sustained life. Most mammals produce amylase, an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates, in their saliva. Amylase is not produced in a dog’s saliva.

We must remember that our sweet cuddly greyhounds are natural born predators that are more than able to crush through bone and muscle meat with ease. Carbs were not often on the menu.  Open up her mouth and check out those huge teeth!

After reading this about amylase I was confused as to how dogs break down kibble. Let’s dive into the dog’s GI tract to learn how this happens.

After your hound ravenously devours her food, she swallows it. The esophagus allows the passage of food from the mouth to the stomach. The esophagus is just a connection, nothing exciting happens here.

Then the food enters the stomach. Dogs have single chamber stomachs like humans. The stomach pH of a dog is about 2, which is the same acidity as lemon juice.  The strong gastric acid combined with the muscle strength of the stomach begins to break down food into absorbable molecules- but minimal absorption actually occurs in the stomach.

© Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.
© Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.

 

Once the food has been broken down by the gastric acid, the food enters the small intestine. Mammals have three parts that make up their small intestine: the duodenum, jejunum, and the ileum. The small intestine is a large organ and can be about two and half times the dogs total body length!

© Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.

The duodenum is the smallest part of the small intestine but the most important. The duodenum connects the small intestine to the stomach. While food is in this section it is combined with enzymes from the gallbladder, pancreas, and liver. The duodenum is where amylase, lipase, and proteinase begin to break down carbohydrates, fats, and protein, creating the building block for life.  In the duodenum, kibble is broken down.

After the food is further broken down, it enters the jejunum. The jejunum is the longest section of the small intestine. The jejunum has a large surface area to allow for absorption of nutrients.

After the jejunum successfully absorbs all important nutrients from the food, the remaining intestinal contents are released into the ileum. The ileum connects the small intestine to the large intestine.

Once the intestinal contents reach the large intestine most nutrients have been absorbed and broken down. The job of the large intestine is to absorb water and create feces. The large intestine is critically important in the hydration status of the dog. Once most water is absorbed, the feces enters the anus and then rectum. Once in the rectum the dog will be able to expel its waste.

© Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.

Dogs have quick digestive systems and depending on your fed, digestion can take them 6-12 hours per meal.

Feeding

 Now we have a basic understanding of how a dog’s gut works. Let’s talk about what to feed your greyhound.

 

When I first read that dogs do not have amylase in their mouth I felt that raw food was the only way to feed a dog.  Since learning more about dog digestion and monitoring my dogs on raw my opinion has somewhat changed.

I have three greyhounds. They were fed raw for about three years. I have followed both the BARF (bones and raw food) method and whole prey.  I feel that whole prey worked better for my dogs and aligned with my concerns regarding no amylase in dog saliva. I used multiple protein sources and felt very good about the diet they were receiving.





However, Jethro never thrived on raw. His coat was dull, thinning, and he was very skinny (even for a greyhound). I tried to increase his rations but he began to refuse to eat. After about 10-14 days of him barely touching his food I knew something had to change.

 


I started him back on a very high quality kibble. Seriously, his eyes about popped out of his head when he saw a bowl full of kibble. I realized that raw was not for him. He did not do well on it.

 

I do still give him raw bones to help with tarter build up.


 

After my experience with Jethro I wanted to learn why greyhound trainers would feed kibble and raw together. After all, this goes completely against everything I had learned about the horrors of feeding raw and kibble at the same time.

 

I researched this more, reading accounts on what Henry VIII fed his hunting greyhounds, what open field coursing greyhounds are fed, and what top US racing greyhounds eat.  A theory for feeding carbohydrates continued to surface throughout my research; it stated that greyhounds need a lot of ready-to-use energy for sprinting. The carbohydrates in kibble, pasta, and rice that trainers often feed help with this. The balance between the raw protein source and the kibble create a balanced diet for quick acceleration from an energy standpoint.

I encourage greyhound owners to try different diets and see what their hound thrives on. There are easy options for raw and kibble. The most important thing to remember when choosing a food it how you dog looks, feels, and preforms on that diet.  After all a dog’s diet is not a bragging point between humans but an elemental point of existence for your hound.

The illustrations in this post are reprinted with permission by the copyright owner, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, from the Atlas of Veterinary Clinical Anatomy. These illustrations should not be downloaded, printed or copied except for personal, non-commercial use.

Six Greyhound myths BUSTED!

It seems that every time my husband or I take the greyhounds for a walk we get a ton of questions.  We get a lot of questions about the quality of life at the track, if greyhounds really do love to run, if they need a lot of exercise, if they eat a lot, if they will chase small animals, if they bark, and most frequently if they can sit.

Today I am going to do my best to debunk these six myths about greyhounds. 
 

1.)  Greyhound tracks are terrible places.  Tracks and kennels get a bad rap due to lack of knowledge about the racing industry.  There are state regulations as well as individual track regulations for greyhound racing.  These regulations are in place to ensure the integrity of racing and the welfare of the dog.

I think of the racing kennels and tracks as a military school; the dog goes there to learn a trade and is supported throughout its career by a team of people who have dedicated their lives to the breed.  As the dog ages it inevitably slows down, cue the adoption kennels. 

 After a dog is hurt or has graded off she is sent to an adoption group.  While in the adoption group she has a health check, is spaded or neutered, and is placed.  In the US greyhound adoption is skyrocketing.  There are some locations in the country that have waiting list for greyhounds.  This excitement about adoption is attributable to the effortless work of kennels and adoption groups. 
 
2.) You must have to exercise that dog all the time!  Yes, greyhounds love to run.  Please come and look at my grassless back yard and you will see that greyhounds LOVE to run and nothing can stop that love. 
 
Their love of running doesn’t equate to a need for intense exercise.  Greyhounds are sprinters.  They accelerate quickly but this is not sustained for long periods.  Greyhounds are perfectly happy with a nice daily walk and do not need a lot more exercise. 
 
 
 
If you want to participate in any dog sports with your greyhound, I would recommend additional exercise.  You will have to gradually work the dog up to longer periods of exercise, as they are not used to long endurance intervals. 
 
3.) I bet those greyhounds eat you out of house and home.  Depending on your feed it can vary greatly.  At the track greyhounds are fed a mixture of raw and usually a good quality kibble.  Once these dogs enter the adoption kennel they are switched to a kibble and most continue on kibble.  As with all mammals, greys have some GI issues and certain feeds can exacerbate this for certain hounds.  Probiotics are important to maintain a healthy system.  I can’t average the cost of feeding a grey; it depends on the size and sex of the hound and the type of feed they are getting.  The most important thing to remember is to keep the hound within 3-5lbs of their racing weight or at their racing weight.  Greyhounds are skinny we should not be trying to fatten them up!
 
 
 
4.) I bet those dogs can’t live with a cat or small dog.  It’s true, greyhounds love to chase things.  Honestly all dogs love to chase but there is something special about watching a greyhound chase.  Sometimes greyhounds mistake small fuzzy animals for a lure.  This can be an issue when a grey has a strong prey drive.  The good news is that most adoption groups test the dogs with smaller dogs and cats prior to adoption so that the adopter understands how the new dog will fit it their home.  There are plenty of greyhounds that co-habitate with small dogs and cats without issue, but please check with your adoption group before bringing your greyhound home.  Supervision between these interactions is needed until stable relationships are formed in the home. 
 
 
  

 

5.) Greyhounds don’t bark.  Overall greyhounds are rather calm quite dogs but yes, they do bark and sometimes they will even sing.  Most greyhound owners find this trait charming and even encourage it, I know we do at our house.  

 
 
6.) Greyhounds can’t sit. Of course my greyhounds can sit.  Sitting is not the most comfortable position for most greyhounds and sometimes they appear a little odd while sitting but most can sit.  Some hounds are natural sitters and seem to enjoy the position while others are not.  Sitting is a great command for your grey to learn and is easily taught.
 
 
Myths busted!  Greyhounds are truly dogs and enjoy doing dog things.  The important thing to remember is that there is something special about this breed, something much better than any other breed can offer!
Feature photo credit: Trent Rees