If you've never heard of the Azawakh dog breed, you're not alone. These African sighthounds are uncommon in the United States, but they have been valued companions in their home regions for centuries. The people of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger kept them as hunters, guard dogs, and pets.
Today, Azwahks are loyal pets that make excellent companions, but they are not ideal dogs for every family. Learn more about the Azawakh before you decide to bring one into your life.
Characteristics of Azawakhs
Physical: Azawakhs are sighthounds and have the slim, tall figure common for that type of dog. The typical Azawakh height is 23 to 29 inches at the shoulder. The average Azawakh weight is about 35 to 50 lbs. They resemble greyhounds, with long legs and a deep chest. Azawakh colors are widely varied and include red, fawn, brindled, parti-color, blue, black, and brown. Some have masklike markings on their faces. They were bred to chase prey across the Sahara, so they are strong, fast runners. The Azawakh lifespan is 10 to 15 years or more with appropriate care.
Personality: The breed was originally valued for its hunting skills as well as its use as a guard dog for nomadic tribes. Today, the Azawakh temperament retains the loyal nature that made these dogs good partners to families in Saharan Africa. They tend to be withdrawn around strangers, though not aggressive. They are smart and affectionate to their owners, but these are not dogs that enjoy learning tricks. They like periods of exercise each day, and then they are content to relax at home.
Caring for Azwakhs
All dogs require routine care. No matter what type of pet you bring home, you will need to provide feeding, grooming, and vet care. Like all dogs, Azawakhs need checkups, appropriate food, and plenty of exercise.
Coat care: Azawakhs have short, sleek coats that don't require a lot of upkeep. They don't shed too much, and you can maintain their fur with weekly brushing. You may want to bathe them periodically to keep them clean, especially if they get dirty outdoors. Despite their short coat, these dogs are not hypoallergenic.
Feeding: You can give your pet high-quality commercial dog food, and that should satisfy their nutritional needs. If you prefer to make your own dog food, talk to your vet or an animal nutritionist to make sure you feed your dog a balanced diet.
Exercise/activity requirements: Azawakhs require daily exercise. They like long walks, and some are happy to become jogging partners to their humans. They have a strong prey drive and will chase smaller animals, so they need to be leashed during walks. They can go out in the yard, but they should be enclosed by a sturdy fence so they won't run after potential prey. They're not overly playful, preferring walks to games of fetch or romping in the yard. Letting them outdoors alone won't give them enough exercise — they won't be active if they don't have a human or another dog to interact with.
Flea, tick, and worm care: Common parasites like ticks, fleas, or worms are a risk for any pet. Dogs are likely to encounter fleas and ticks if they spend any time outdoors. Your vet can tell you about options for flea and tick prevention, including liquids, powders, oral medications, and collars. Ticks and fleas can carry diseases that they might transmit to your dog, so prevention will help keep your pet healthy.
Dogs are also at risk for contracting parasites like heartworm. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes, so the risk is highest during mosquito season. Experts recommend giving your pet year-round heartworm preventatives, which your vet can prescribe for your dog. Some varieties are monthly doses that you feed to your dog. There are longer-acting injections that prevent heartworm as well.
Tooth care and nail care: Keep an eye on your dog's nails and trim them if they get too long. You can get nail clippers that work for dogs and trim their nails yourself. You can also take your dog to the vet's office or a groomer for nail care if that's better for them. Letting nails get overgrown can lead to injuries or gait problems.
Experts suggest brushing your dog's teeth daily. You can buy toothpaste formulated for dogs and use a soft brush or fingertip brush to clean their teeth. Toothpaste for humans is not recommended for dogs since it contains ingredients that should not be swallowed. Chew toys and dental treats can also help keep your dog's teeth clean and free of debris. Your vet should examine your dog's teeth at checkups. They will recommend professional cleaning periodically. This requires a special appointment and anesthesia for your dog.
Climate preferences and outdoor time: Azawakhs are lean dogs with short coats, so they don't enjoy cold weather. They should live indoors, where they can stay comfortable no matter the temperature outside. They enjoy outdoor time, but any yard they play in should have a fence. You should supervise your dog whenever they're outside because Azawakhs are likely to chase squirrels, rabbits, or other prey animals. If they get loose, they could run off and be injured.
Vet visits: All dogs should visit the vet for an annual exam. Your dog will need vaccines to prevent certain illnesses, like canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis), and rabies virus. In some places, the rabies vaccine is mandated by law. Depending on where you live, your dog may need vaccines for illnesses common to your region. These may include Leptospira species, Lyme disease, canine parainfluenza virus, Bordetella or kennel cough, and canine influenza.
Health Problems to Watch for With Azwakhs
Azwakhs do not have many breed-specific health issues. They don't have the orthopedic problems some purebred dogs face. They do have a propensity for issues with their thyroid glands, and they have a risk of bloat that is common for dogs with this body type.
Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is any condition where a dog's thyroid gland slows down and doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. This can slow the dog's metabolism. The dog may gain weight and become low-energy or lethargic. Their coat may look dull and dry. There is no cure for hypothyroidism, but you can manage the condition with medication. Your vet can prescribe thyroid hormone replacement, which your dog will take for the rest of their life.
Von Willebrand disease: Von Willebrand disease is a congenital bleeding disorder caused by the lack of a specific protein in your dog's blood. The condition varies in severity. Some dogs only carry the trait and don't have any symptoms. Other dogs are prone to excessive bleeding after injuries or spontaneous bleeding from the nose or mouth. There is no cure. You can manage bleeding in symptomatic dogs with proper wound care and try to prevent injuries as much as possible. If your dog needs surgery, your vet may refer them to a doctor with experience treating animals with bleeding disorders.
Bloat: Bloat, which is also called gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a medical emergency. The dog's stomach fills with air and swells, which interrupts blood flow to their hind end. It can also cause the stomach to twist and cut off blow flow to the pancreas and spleen. Symptoms include a distended abdomen, pain if you touch the dog's belly, retching, salivating, and restlessness. Dogs require immediate medical attention to prevent shock and death. A qualified veterinarian will need to do surgery on your dog to reverse any organ twisting. They will also do a procedure called a gastroplexy to stabilize the stomach, so the dog doesn't have future episodes of bloat. The procedure can also be done to prevent bloat in dogs at risk for the condition.
Special Considerations for Azwakhs
Think carefully before bringing an Azawakh into a home with other pets. They will get along with other dogs their own size, but smaller animals like cats may trigger their hunting instincts. It may be best not to try and pair these dogs with too many other animals at home.
Azwakhs bond with people and do best if they join a household as puppies. Older dogs may not transfer their loyalties to a new family. They do not adapt easily to being re-homed as adults, so anyone choosing an Azawakh should be prepared to keep the dog for life.
These are not common dogs in the United States, and there are very few breeders. Finding an Azawakh puppy can take time. You may need to join waiting lists with breeders and wait until they have a puppy available.
History of Azawakhs
It's not clear when the Azawakh breed was first developed. Experts know it originated in the Sahel region of Africa, which includes an area called Azawakh Valley. The Tuareg nomads called them "idii n' illeli," which means "sighthound of the free people".
The nomadic tribes of the region used the dogs for both hunting and protection. The Azawakhs' incredible speed meant they were capable of chasing and killing game like antelope and wild boar, which made them valuable for providing food to their family. They were also loyal and protective, so they acted as guard dogs as well.
Azwakhs didn't come to the United States until 1980. They remain rare in North America, with only a few breeders offering puppies for sale.