What to Know About Borzois

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on May 12, 2022
6 min read

Borzois are large, elegant dogs with silky coats. Originally bred to hunt wolves, they often appear in art and advertising because of their unique appearance. The Borzoi temperament is gentle and calm, and they make good pets for owners who can meet their needs. 

Borzoi were once known as Russian wolfhounds. In the 1920s and 1930s, there was a controversy about whether to change the name to borzoi, the Russian word for "fast." In 1936, the American Kennel Club (AKC) voted to accept the borzoi name. Most fanciers of the breed use "borzoi" for both the singular and plural, but "borzois" is an acceptable pluralization, too.

The borzoi is a giant breed. The American Kennel Club (AKC) states that proper borzoi size is at least 28 inches at the withers for males. A male's weight should be between 75 and 105 pounds. Females are around two inches shorter and somewhat lighter. 

Borzoi are sighthounds, bred to follow game with their eyes instead of following scent. This requires speed, strength, and stamina. They have the body shape of a greyhound, with a long narrow head, a strong neck, and a deep but narrow chest. Their hindquarters are sleek but powerful.  Other borzoi traits include dark eyes, small ears, and a large black nose.

The AKC has no restrictions on color or markings for borzoi. They can be white, black, or any color in between. Borzoi can be spotted or brindled. They can have contrasting masks, socks, or bellies. Their coat can be flat, wavy, or curly. 

One distinctive feature of the borzoi coat is a thick, somewhat curly neck frill. This thick fur served to protect the dog's neck from attack.

Despite their athleticism, borzoi are calm dogs well-suited for spending some time indoors. Of course, they will need a space where they can run and play as well. A typical borzoi lifespan is 9 to 14 years. 

The biggest challenge with borzoi is making sure they get enough exercise. Ideally, they need a place to run, such as a large fenced area. They were bred to chase, so you shouldn't let them off their leash in open areas. They may spot a small animal and chase it. 

If they don't have a place to run, they will need long walks.

The second challenge is caring for their coats. Like all dogs with long coats, borzoi shed and need regular brushing. Around once a year, they will lose a lot of hair and will need extra grooming. Because their coats are silky, combing removes a lot of dirt and debris. Still, they will also need occasional baths. 

To groom your borzoi, use a spray bottle to dampen the coat. You can put a little detangler in the bottle. Use a pin brush and brush the coat in sections. If you find matted areas, loosen them with your fingers and then use a comb. A wire slicker brush may damage the coat, so stick to a pin brush and comb. One good thing about borzoi is that they don't need clipping, so you can skip the professional groomer if you choose.

Borzoi have a thick undercoat, and though they shed much of their undercoat in the summer, they were bred for Russian weather, so they aren't a great choice for tropical climates.

When grooming your borzoi, don't forget to care for their paws and trim the hair between the footpads. Since borzoi love to run, they can easily get debris caught in this area, which could lead to injury. Special clippers make foot care relatively easy. Trimming their nails is a necessity.

Because borzoi have long, narrow muzzles, they sometimes have dental problems. Some teeth may be missing or undersized. They should have 42 teeth. Borzoi should have their teeth brushed daily. 

Although borzoi are a giant breed, they aren't heavy eaters. They simply need high-quality food.  You shouldn't allow them to run right before or right after they eat because they can get a condition called bloat.

Borzoi are generally healthy dogs. Like many giant breeds with deep chests, they are susceptible to bloat, which can be life-threatening. Owners should know the symptoms of bloat and what to do if their pet shows the symptoms. 

Bloat is a condition that precedes gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV). Gas builds up in the dog's stomach, which, in the case of GDV, rotates or flips, further trapping the gas. As the stomach continues to swell, it cuts off the blood supply. Without treatment, the dog will die. 

Symptoms of bloat include:

  • Retching but not bringing anything up
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Labored breathing
  • Inability to get up

Bloat is an emergency that requires surgery. To prevent GDV, some veterinarians recommend gastropexy, which anchors the stomach and keeps it from twisting. Some veterinarians will perform gastropexy in combination with spaying or neutering

If you are thinking about getting a borzoi, you should know about some other borzoi health problems. Breeders can prevent some with genetic testing. These conditions include:

  • Elbow and hip dysplasia, joint problems common in large dogs
  • Degenerative myelopathy, a disease of the spinal cord that can strike older dogs
  • Eye problems that can lead to blindness

Borzoi, like other sighthounds, are also very sensitive to anesthesia, so veterinarians must use extra care when doing a procedure on a borzoi.  

Check with your veterinarian for advice about:

Is a borzoi a good match for you? These points may help you decide.

Are borzoi good pets for children? Borzoi are affectionate with family members, including children. They don't like to roughhouse, however. Children must learn to respect their boundaries. Because of their size, they could hurt very young children without meaning to.

Do they get along with other pets? Borzoi mesh best with other large dogs. That's because they were bred to chase prey, including small animals. They may see cats or smaller dogs as prey.

Do they bark a lot? Borzoi are one of the quieter and calmer breeds, so barking shouldn't be a problem. 

Are they easy to train? Borzoi can be stubborn and tricky to train. It's best to start the process when they are puppies. Patience with your dog is a must.

Do they trigger allergies? Borzoi shed a lot, so they aren't the best choice for owners with allergies.

Do they drool a lot? Borzoi drool very little. 

Russian nobles were borzoi lovers as early as the 1500s. Many aristocrats owned huge kennels of the dogs, which starred in hunts that were staged with much pageantry. The prey could be boar or smaller game, but wolves were the most prized. 

To capture a wolf, several borzoi would chase it down and surround it. They would seize the wolf by the ear or neck and hold it until their masters arrived. The hunters would kill the wolf with a dagger or sometimes take it alive. 

Unfortunately, the huge kennels of borzoi were expensive to maintain. When the feudal system collapsed in Russia, the noblemen no longer had the cheap labor they needed to care for their dogs. The number of borzoi in Russia dwindled. A few noblemen maintained an interest in the breed, though, and continued to raise fine animals. 

The breed suffered a second setback during the Russian Revolution when many nobles were killed. Many of their dogs died along with them.

Before the revolution, however, a few Americans had taken an interest in the breed. One of them, Joseph Thomas Jr., had bought some of Russia's finest dogs and established the breed in the United States. During the 1920s, Art Deco painters and sculptors often added the elegant dogs to their creations. Later American breeders eventually sent dogs to Russia to re-establish the breed in its native land.