by Dennis McKeon
One of the most hotly debated and poorly understood topics in greyhound circles, among adopters, concerns their greyhound’s weight. To the greyhound novice and to the general public, greyhounds might appear to be abnormally elongated and painfully thin dogs, on the verge of starvation — when in fact, they are more like powerful and agile gymnasts with extremely long limbs. For the new adoptive owner, they can often be finicky eaters, unfamiliar with and often unreceptive to the commonly used kibble concoctions, both of the popular, commercial brands and the absurdly expensive, “designer” variety.
Greyhounds are used to a diet rich in raw beef, and supplemented with kibble, vegetables, bones, some fats, whole-grain, unprocessed carbohydrates, and often, pro-biotics, like yogurt and buttermilk. This type of diet not only provides them with the nutrition necessary to sustain a racing career, but also keeps them almost completely free from digestive and intestinal catharses, and chronic complications of the sort.
Any radical change in diet, as in the case of most newly re-homed greyhounds, can lead to an upset digestive system and sometimes a significant weight loss. There seem to be a disproportionate number of complaints on the various social media greyhound networks, concerning dogs who have developed chronic diarrhea soon after being adopted, and for whom it seems there are few or no panaceas to be found, among the plethora of kibbled foodstuffs that are readily available.
During my time as a trainer, I can’t recall ever having trained a greyhound who had chronic digestive issues, nor was I aware of any who were handled by my peers. Greyhound trainers spend a lot of time assessing the shape, color and volume of a greyhound’s digested output, as that can often be an indicator of when something is amiss with a dog, internally. Most often, it can indicate a worm/parasite infestation, and appropriate steps must be taken to rid the dog of that particular affliction. We begin that process by providing our vet with a stool sample, for examination under a microscope. In the event that worm eggs are found, he/she will prescribe the correct worm medicine to kill the parasites.
It is to our advantage to read about and understand the life cycles of the various, common, intestinal parasites that can infest our canines, and how to break that lifecycle, so the chances of re-infestation can be minimized, as much as is possible. There are volumes of information on that subject, via the internet and in books and manuals, written by veterinarians and/or research and development types, which are easily accessible and understandable.
Once your greyhound is parasite-free, it is possible to accurately assess the effects of any new diet upon their digestive apparatus. Most people whose greyhounds experience digestive upset with a strange, new diet, use the trial and error method of finding a preparation that finally agrees with the dog. There seems to be an innumerable amount of choices in kibbled products.
Whole buttermilk is a superb pro-biotic that can be a great help in regulating their systems, and most greyhounds relish it. Meanwhile, “raw” diets (like the BARF diet – “bones and raw food”) are already quite popular with some adopted greyhound owners, and with the owners of other breeds as well. These are roughly variations upon the standard fare that greyhounds are fed all through their lives, as racers-in-development and then as professional athletes. Retired greyhounds should and usually do thrive on such a diet.
In any event, once the greyhound’s system is regulated, and we have found a diet that he likes and which likes him back, then we can begin to assess what his proper weight should be.
There is a lot of well meaning, but not necessarily universally applicable advice, offered to greyhound novices, concerning the subject of “correct” weight, available on greyhound-related social media and discussion forums.
It usually begins with “they should be no more than 5 pounds heavier than their racing weight”. While that may be the case for some retirees, this “rule” presumes that their set racing weight was ideal in the first place, and that all trainers are infallible when it comes to setting a greyhound’s ideal weight. I don’t think I ever received a greyhound into my care who didn’t gain at least a few pounds. Most of the time, their consistency and performance improved. Their looks certainly did.
One of the common mistakes made by inexperienced greyhound trainers, is to set a young greyhound’s racing weight as an 18 month old, aspiring athlete, and then proceed as if that weight were etched in stone. As if the greyhound would not naturally fill out and mature over the next 24-30 months or so, and as if they would not require and benefit from a bit more useful weight as they are maturing. A 48 month old, actively racing greyhound, should weigh at least a couple of pounds more than he/she did as a raw, still-developing sapling, unless they were significantly overweight at the outset, as very few are.
Another questionable, commonly offered recommendation, goes like this: “You should be able to see the last 3 ribs and the tips of the pinbones (pelvic bones).”
Never in my life, have I ever counted bones on a greyhound to gauge his weight. Since there are a variety of prevailing phenotypes among racing greyhounds, and since there can be vast differences between the musculature, skeleton and physical appearance of a pure sprinter and a natural marathoner, and all those in-between, bone counting can be misleading.
For example, a wide-bodied, thickly muscled, shorter-limbed sprinter, in top condition, will generally “muscle up”, if fed adequately, so that the muscles surrounding the hip area, might very well entirely eclipse the pelvic bone tips. So it is not a good idea to assume that such a greyhound is overweight, when it may well be that no such thing is the case.
Likewise, a greyhound who is raised or who has raced in a northern exposure, where the weather is cold for six or seven months or longer each year, if fed properly, will usually have much a thicker skin and coat than one who was raised and raced in Florida.
Simply counting ribs, which are overlayed by the latissimus dorsi, sartorious and external oblique muscles, can lead to an erroneous conclusion about weight, particularly if the dog is in prime racing condition and “on the muscle”. Longer-boned, narrower-bodied greyhounds may not show much rib at all, as they are often not as well sprung in the ribcage as are the more closely coupled, wide-bodied types. In any event, your greyhound, once properly fleshed out, and depending upon how much exercise you allow him, may indeed show just a suggestion of his last 3 ribs, and the very tip of his pelvic bones, but arriving at that should not be an end unto itself.
The first step in properly assessing a greyhound’s weight and condition, is to determine if he is properly hydrated. The easiest way to do this, is to grasp a fistful of his hide, at the widest part of his back (as you look down upon him), which is directly above the waist tuck. It should be easy to grasp a handful of hide, and you should be easily able to pull it upwards, to the point where it can no longer stretch. This will not hurt the dog, provided you don’t overstretch or yank it.
At that point, where the hide will no longer stretch, you then release it. If the dog is properly hydrated, it will snap right back into form. If his hide gradually sags back into shape, or if it is very difficult to grasp, you very well may have a greyhound who is under-hydrated — and more often than not, somewhat underweight. An overweight dog can also be under-hydrated, but that is much less often the case.
One of the big differences between racing greyhounds and many show greyhounds, are the muscles that comprise their “core”. In a fit racing greyhound, carrying enough flesh, these should be quite well developed.
As previously noted, when looking directly down upon the greyhound, the widest part of their back should be right above the waist tuck. The longissimus and abdominal oblique muscles should be especially well defined and convex. The lower abdomen should be supple and comfortably drawn up, but not so severely that it is hard or extremely tight or tender to the touch, or so that the dog appears to be “wasp-waisted” when viewed in profile.
This is the area of the greyhound by which the transfer of power from rear to fore, and vice-versa, is enabled. An underweight greyhound, whose diet has not allowed for maximum development and maintenance of all these muscles, and who lacks excellent core strength, is at a distinct competitive disadvantage.
A healthy greyhound, in reasonably good condition, carrying the right amount of flesh, and who is properly hydrated, should not appear to be frail or fragile. There should be no sharp edges or discernibly protruding bones, and the overall suggestion should be one of muscular rather than skeletal definition. In that sense, they are not unlike human sprinters, who more closely resemble linebackers in football than they do bird-framed marathon runners.
An overweight and poorly conditioned greyhound shows little sense of muscle tone, and the excess subcutaneous fat that is characteristic of obesity and a sedentary existence, gives them the appearance of being overly smooth and soft, without much or any deep muscle definition, more like a porpoise than a greyhound. Seriously overweight greyhounds are at higher risk for many health problems and other complications. Over-indulging them with treats and snacks, and under-indulging them in exercise and activity, can be a recipe for shortened lifespan.
While it is a relatively simple process to reduce a greyhound’s weight by feeding them less and exercising them more, adding useful weight to a greyhound can be a bit more challenging, particularly with greyhounds who are not especially enthusiastic eaters.
Increasing the moisture and caloric density of the feed, by adding judicious amounts of fat sources, like tripe, kidney suet or beef trimmings, and water, can be of great help, as long as the fat is not overdone. Increasing the intensity and the duration of your greyhound’s exercise sessions can also be an appetite stimulant, as well as a muscle builder. For greyhounds who are noticeably underweight, two or more smaller feedings a day might yield better results than one large feeding.
As greyhounds age and with a subsequent and normal decrease in their activity levels, they naturally tend to lose muscle mass. Gravity eventually defeats us all, even the most gravity-defying of greyhounds. So, a mild and gradual loss of weight and body mass in an older greyhound, is not necessarily cause for concern, particularly if the dog is vetted routinely, and there are no symptoms of distress or dysfunction.
Once you have rid the greyhound of parasites, determined that he/she is properly hydrated, and settled on a diet that appeals to and doesn’t upset the greyhound, kept adequately exercised and reasonably fit, many of them tend to self-regulate. Clear eyes, well formed stools, uncomplicated urinary habits, clean teeth, a shiny coat, a hide that snaps back into form as you stretch and release it, rippling, supple muscles, a wide and well developed back, core strength and demonstrable vitality, are all indications that your greyhound is feeling like a million bucks, and that his weight is close to ideal. Leave the bone counting to the bone counters.