As commercial dog racing has come under fire in this country-to date the practice has been banned in 38 states, according to the organization Grey2K USA-the profile of the noble greyhound has increased dramatically and led to nationwide rescue and adoption efforts. Known for their gentleness, greyhounds easily become attached to their adoptive families. If you’re considering adding a greyhound companion to your household, be alert to a variety of autoimmune conditions often found in this breed, including blood, skin and nail diseases.
Autoimmune diseases develop when the immune system becomes confused and attacks its own tissues and organs as if they were unhealthy tissues that need to be destroyed. As with human beings who develop autoimmune diseases, no one knows for sure why greyhounds are susceptible to some immune-system illnesses. Your skilled veterinarian should be able to determine through blood and other tests which illness your greyhound has if it develops autoimmune-like symptoms.
If it’s clear that your greyhound has an autoimmune condition that’s related to the blood, one possibility could be autoimmune hemolytic anemia, which causes a low red blood cell count as the immune system kills red blood cells, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Symptoms can include weakness, loss of appetite and general malaise. Your vet may recommend immune-suppressing drugs, such as steroids, to stop the immune system from killing off red blood cells. With this process medically interrupted, the dog’s body can regenerate the red cells it needs.
In another blood disorder, autoimmune thrombocytopenia, also noted in the Merck Veterinary Manual, the immune system destroys platelets, the element of the blood required for normal clotting. Once again, the reasons this disorder develops are unknown, and symptoms can include bruising, blood in the urine or bleeding from the nose or mouth. Treatment for this disorder also involves immune-suppressing medication to stop the immune system from attacking the platelets.
According to the organization Greyhounds Only Inc., there’s also a group of skin disorders that includes discoid lupus onchodystrophy (DLO), which attacks the toenails; and discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), which causes crusty lesions on the nose and lips. The treatments are different. For DLO, the toenail condition, vets generally recommend large doses of omega-3 fatty acid supplements, and possibly an antibiotic or niacinamide, a form of vitamin B. These are simple, relatively inexpensive treatments. For DLE, the skin condition, vets typically call for topical steroids and avoidance of the sun, which can exacerbate the lesions. Fatty acids are also sometimes used for DLE.
Greyhounds can also succumb to an autoimmune condition called systemic lupus erythematosus, says the Canis Major “Dog Owner’s Guide.” The disease is called systemic because it can affect various parts of the body, including the feet, face, kidneys and joints. When joints are affected, your dog may exhibit gait changes as it tries to shift weight from painful or arthritic joints. When the kidneys are affected, your greyhound may begin drinking and urinating more often. The feet and face show signs of involvement when ulcers appear. Vets administer high doses of immune-suppressing medications for this disease, often for the life of the dog. Sun avoidance is also recommended.
Despite the list of potential health concerns associated with greyhounds, families should not hesitate to adopt one of these loving animals if the breed suits the family’s lifestyle. Despite widespread bans on racing, several states continue the practice and still others are just beginning to shut down race tracks. Thus there are plenty of retiring and rescued greyhounds waiting to be adopted across the country. They make devoted companions, and the potential for diseases-which typically can be managed well by a knowledgeable veterinarian-should not deter your adoption efforts.
“Autoimmune Disease in Greyhounds (and Other Dog Breeds Too),” Greyhounds Only Inc., http://www.greyhoundsonly.com/news%20letter/GOIncWinter2003.pdf
“Dog Owner’s Guide,” http://www.canismajor.com/dog/autoimmn.html#Skin
“Health Concerns in the Retired Racing Greyhound,” Greyhound Companions of New Mexico , http://www.gcnm.org/concernsnews.html
Merck Veterinary Manual, http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/60205.htm
“Veterinarian’s Guide to the Medical Care of the Retired Greyhound,” Retired Greyhounds as Pets, http://rescuedgreyhounds.com/ownerservices/vet_guide.pdf
“Take Action,” Grey2K USA, http://www.grey2kusa.org/action/state.html