The Italian greyhound, also known as the Italian sighthound, was originally bred in the Mediterranean region where it served mostly as a companion dog for the wealthy. Although shy at first, this dog is affectionate and companionable, all traits of an excellent pet for families with children and other pets.
Characteristics of Italian Greyhounds
The Italian greyhound is the smallest of the sighthounds, standing at 13 to 15 inches at the shoulder and weighing anywhere between 7 to 14 pounds. Their heads are long and narrow, with a long fine muzzle and a black or brown nose depending on the color of the dog. They have fairly long bodies with narrow, long, and slender necks that give them an elegant and graceful appearance. The ears of an Italian greyhound are small but folded at right angles, especially when they are alert. Their eyes are medium-sized, round, and usually brown or black.
Italian greyhounds have short silky coats that occur in all shades of cream, red, blue, and black. They do not shed much.
Italian greyhounds are highly affectionate and loving. These dogs may be shy and distant at first, but they show openness instead of aggression or viciousness around strangers. They are athletic, agile, and intelligent. However, these dogs can be very stubborn, which can make it difficult to house train them. Fortunately, you can successfully train your Italian greyhound by incorporating praise, consistency, and rewards into your dog’s training program.
Greyhounds thrive in warm weather. They love to bask and play in the sun. However, on extremely hot days, these dogs are at risk of dehydration and heatstroke. This is because they generally have a short and single coat that does not provide much insulation. Therefore, you may need to provide shade and cool fresh water for your dog when playing outside.
Caring for Italian Greyhounds
Due to their small size, Italian greyhounds are fine boned. You will have to pay attention to how your dog moves and jumps to prevent their legs from getting caught in things that may cause them a painful twist or fracture. Other ways to care for your greyhound include:
Grooming. Greyhounds don’t shed very much, but you should brush them every once in a while to remove loose hair and keep their coat soft, shiny, and healthy. Baths are unnecessary unless your dog is dirty. Long nails put pressure on the pads on their feet, so you’ll need to trim the nails so they sit above the floor when the dog is standing. Fleas and ticks can pose a serious health hazard for your dog. Luckily, your vet can recommend topical or oral flea and tick preventatives.
Exercise. Although Italian greyhounds are an agile and energetic breed of dogs, they don't need lots of exercise. Up to an hour of exercise in a confined area is good for your dog. Playtime and daily walks are other fun ways to keep them happy and in tip-top shape. Have a leash when you’re outdoors in an area with potential prey as your dog will want to run after such.
Training. As with other dogs, use firm and polite verbal and non-verbal cues when training your Italian greyhound. It is possible to successfully house train an Italian greyhound regardless of the dog's age.
Health. Italian greyhounds generally live their lives happy and healthy with a lifespan of up to 15 years. But just like all dog breeds, they are at risk of certain health conditions like cataracts and glaucoma. Visits to your veterinarian, preferably twice a year, will ensure your dog receives all necessary tests and preventative care to help your pet live a long, healthy, and happy life. There are many pet insurance options available if you want to protect your dog from predictable health outcomes.
Nutrition. An Italian greyhound’s diet should be balanced to ensure all nutrient needs are met. Ask your vet about any diet considerations you should make for your dog. Remember to brush their teeth regularly and provide clean and fresh water as it is essential for your dog’s health. Monitor your dog’s calorie intake to prevent unneeded weight gain and overweight. Treats are a wonderful tool when training your dog, however, they should be given moderately to prevent obesity.
Health Problems to Watch for With Italian Greyhounds
Some of the most common health issues in Italian greyhounds include:
Eye problems. Italian greyhounds may be prone to eye deformities including cataracts, glaucoma, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), an inherited degeneration of the retina that leads to blindness. Some eye problems such as cataracts are inherited while others may occur due to injuries and infections, which can be extremely painful and may cause permanent blindness if left untreated.
Bleeding disorders. Von Willebrand’s disease is a blood disorder that affects how your dog’s blood clots, putting them at risk of heavy bleeding. Unfortunately, there’s no treatment for this disease, only management of the symptoms.
Obesity. Almost 56% of dogs in the United States are obese. Unfortunately, Italian greyhounds are included. They may suffer serious health effects like joint problems, back pain, and heart disease by being overweight. Obesity can be avoided by strictly monitoring your dog’s daily calorie intake.
Joint problems. Young Italian greyhounds may be at risk of Legg-Calve-Perthes, a disease that affects the hip. It occurs when the hip joint does not get enough blood, causing it to die. Although its cause is not known, Legg-Calve-Perthes can be reversed through surgery.
While hip dysplasia — a condition that causes loosening of the hip joint — is common in large dogs, it can affect smaller breeds as well. Another common joint issue for small dogs, luxating patella, occurs when your dog’s kneecap moves out of its normal location. The Italian Greyhound Club of America identifies this as a common occurrence in the breed, although no recent studies or surveys exist to prove how common it is. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals includes screenings for hip dysplasia and patellar luxation in its list of recommended genetic tests for breeders.
Liver shunts. Italian greyhounds can be affected by liver shunts, a condition in which blood supply in the liver is interrupted. Instead of going to the liver, blood goes around it and this affects the liver’s function of removing toxins in the blood before it circulates to the rest of the body. If your dog has this condition you may notice symptoms like:
- Stunted growth
- Loss of appetite
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Loss of weight
Dogs diagnosed with liver shunt can live a happy and healthy life once the condition is treated through surgery and medication.
Dental problems. Most dental problems start with tartar buildup that progresses to tooth decay, and gum disease, among other periodontal diseases. If left untreated, dental disease can cause mouth odor, oral infections/abscesses, mouth pain, difficulty eating, weight loss, and possibly, the loss of your dog’s teeth. Take your dog for oral exams and cleanings at least once a year to prevent dental problems in the future.
Deafness. Italian greyhounds are also susceptible to deafness. This condition can either be inherited or caused by wax buildup, injuries to the ear canal, or medication. Temporary loss of hearing can be cured by treatment of the underlying cause of the infection. Permanently deaf dogs can easily be trained to respond to visual commands rather than verbal ones.
Parasites. Aside from the external parasites of fleas and ticks, Italian greyhounds may be affected by internal parasites including hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and heartworms. Heartworm prevention involves year-round administration of heartworm preventive drugs in compliance with your vet's recommendations, using mosquito repellants, and controlling mosquito breeding areas. Your vet can also recommend the best flea and tick prevention option for your Italian greyhound. Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms and protozoa can also make your dog sick. Your veterinarian may administer preventive medication to avoid infestation.
Special Considerations for Italian Greyhounds
A well-trained and socialized Italian greyhound will make a wonderful addition to a home with children and other pets. These dogs love to seek attention and if they feel ignored or lonely, may express their sadness through destructive chewing.
As with all breeds, it is important to teach your children how to handle and interact with your Italian greyhound. Supervise their interactions and teach them the language to use with the dog. Italian greyhounds tend to be shy so using polite body language and commands is crucial during training.
Italian greyhounds are bred with a high prey drive and have an inborn desire to chase and hunt. They tend to bark when they sense danger making them a great protector for their owners. These dogs rarely drool.
History of Italian Greyhounds
The Italian greyhound is one of the oldest purebred dog breeds. Their origin dates back over 2000 years when they were used as companions to royal families, aristocrats, and generals in the Mediterranean countries now known as Greece and Turkey.
In addition, Italian greyhounds were used in small game hunting. According to ancient history, greyhounds were so important that they were mummified and buried with their owners. Archaeological digs also revealed miniature greyhounds found in paintings and other decorative art.
Italian greyhounds were popular among other breeds in Italy, thus their name. In the 20th century, breeders tried to crossbreed greyhounds, attempting to make them smaller than they were but with no success.
As a result, the greyhound breed almost disappeared but breeders came together once again to successfully bring the breed back to normal. Since then Italian greyhounds have been distributed all over the world. The American Kennel Club recognized their first Italian greyhound in 1886.