What to Know About Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 21, 2022
7 min read

Rhodesian ridgebacks are known as an all-purpose “Renaissance hound.” They have a defined ridge or strip of hair that grows on their backs. Rhodesian ridgebacks gained notoriety in Africa for their ability to track and bay lions without killing them. 

Since then, they’ve become beloved family dogs with a strong sense of independence and a high prey drive.

Rhodesian ridgebacks are fast and powerful dogs. Their coloration ranges all of the colors of a wheat field, meaning they can be anything from pale flaxen to burnished red. They have two nose colors: black and the rarer brown.

Rhodesian ridgeback size. Rhodesian ridgebacks are strong, muscular hounds. Males are slightly bigger than females. Males can grow between 25 and 27 inches, and females can grow between 24 and 26 inches. Males can weigh up to 85 pounds, and females are a little smaller, weighing in at 70 pounds.

Rhodesian ridgeback temperament. Rhodesian ridgebacks are dedicated, powerful, and courageous dogs. They have an ancient heritage and a serious nature.

They have an even, dignified temperament. They’re loving and affectionate to their owners but reserved with strangers. 

They can also be strong-willed, independent, and occasionally domineering dogs. This will depend on their environment, training, and level of socialization, though.

Rhodesian ridgeback lifespan. A healthy Rhodesian ridgeback can live between 10 and 12 years old. They're a generally healthy, energetic breed. 

Rhodesian ridgebacks have short coats that require minimal grooming. They do shed, though, and need weekly brushing. Regular brushing helps remove loose hair and keeps their coat shiny. 

They need their nails trimmed regularly if they’re not naturally worn down. If their nails become too long, it can be painful for them to walk and run. You might have more luck with a nail grinder, though, because most Rhodesian ridgebacks don’t like clippers. 

Daily teeth brushing is another important part of their routine. Your vet can help you find the right toothbrush. You should also groom for ticks and fleas and provide heartworm prevention treatment. Dogs should be on this medication all year long. 

In addition, your Rhodesian ridgeback will need annual vaccines. Core vaccinations will help prevent your dog from catching contagious illnesses. 

Rhodesian ridgebacks are an active breed and need moderate physical exercise. They can adapt to different living situations but love running and going on long walks. They also like exercising their mind with activities like tracking, agility, and other activities you can do together. 

Rhodesian ridgebacks need a structured diet appropriate for their age and weight. Consequently, you have to watch your own food around them. They're notorious food thieves and will eat anything. If you are not attentive, this can cause weight issues that need to be addressed sooner than later. 

Rhodesian ridgebacks are generally healthy dogs. Rhodesian ridgebacks can live long, happy lives with routine vet checkups and regular teeth and ear cleanings. There are some tests responsible breeders should run on their dogs before breeding them, though: 

  • Hip evaluation
  • Elbow evaluation

There are also some conditions your Rhodesian ridgeback may be predisposed to that you yourself should look out for. 

Rhodesian ridgeback inherited arrhythmia. This inherited condition causes abnormalities in your dog's cardiac electrical system. This can cause abnormal heartbeats and, in extreme cases, cause sudden death. This condition typically appears between six months and three years old. 

Most Rhodesian ridgebacks will outgrow the condition, though, and genetic testing will help know if your dog has this DNA mutation. 

Bloat. This condition can occur in dogs with deep, narrow chests. When a dog bloats, their stomach fills with gas and may twist. This twist is called gastric dilatation and volvulus. This condition cuts off blood supply to their stomach and can be deadly if not treated quickly. Signs of bloat include: 

  • Heaving with nothing coming out of their mouths
  • Acting restless
  • An enlarged abdomen
  • Lying with their front feet down and their back end up

Hip and elbow dysplasia. Stiffness in your Rhodesian ridgeback's elbows and hips may be the first sign of dysplasia. This condition can develop as they get older, resulting in arthritis. Your dog will then have difficulties getting up after lying down for extended periods. 

Hypothyroidism. Rhodesian ridgebacks are prone to thyroid problems. Hypothyroidism occurs when the body doesn't make enough thyroid hormones. Annual blood screening tests are done to screen for the condition and hopefully catch it early. 

Signs of this condition include: 

  • Loss or thinning of fur
  • Excessive shedding
  • Weight gain
  • Lethargy
  • Cold intolerance

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. This form of epilepsy occurs due to a gene passed down from parent to child. Lifelong medication and periodic testing are required to monitor your dog's health and see if their seizures are under control.

Cancer. Common cancers found in Rhodesian ridgebacks include osteosarcoma, malignant melanoma, and mast cell tumors.

Dermoid sinus. This is an inherited condition mostly associated with ridgebacks. It's related to the formation of a ridge on their back. The dermoid sinus can be felt like a fine thread from their skin surface down to their vertebrae. This can be a painful condition and, if left untreated, can cause the area to abscess.  

Rhodesian ridgebacks have a high prey drive. Early socialization and obedience training are therefore crucial to keep them from acting on their predatory instincts.

A Rhodesian ridgeback should be kept in a safely enclosed area when they are not on a leash. They prefer living indoors with their family and can't be trusted outside alone. They're strong-willed and domineering dogs, so it's important to start obedience training young. 

Most dogs need at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. Rhodesian ridgebacks are a particularly athletic breed and love to run. They’re speedy and were once used for tracking lions. They’re fast enough to keep pace with some of the fastest dog breeds. 

They're also great guard dogs. While hunting in the wild, they were also bred to protect farms and families in a natural environment. Their presence will make any intruder reconsider messing with their family. 

Rhodesian ridgebacks can become domineering dogs, so consistent and patient training is crucial. They're very intelligent and strong-willed dogs, meaning they can make their own decisions.

Rhodesian ridgebacks are not big barkers. They’re actually a pretty quiet breed. They only use their bark to alert their owners of a problem. If you hear yours bark, you might want to see what’s going on. 

This breed makes devoted companions. They're deeply attached to their families. This includes children who they're good with. Rhodesian ridgebacks are people dogs and love to be around their owners all the time. They love their owners and give them dedication and loyalty. 

If they're not properly socialized as puppies, they can be aggressive and fearful. Adding a Rhodesian ridgeback to your family is a big commitment. Knowing what they need and how much activity they require, though, will help you prepare your home. 

Adding a Rhodesian ridgeback to your family is a big commitment, but with the proper preparation, they will bring a lot of joy to your home. As long as you're prepared for how much activity these dogs need, then you can prepare for how to keep them entertained.

These dogs fit well with an active family. Family activities may include hiking, jogging, obedience, or other dog sports. They need companionship their whole life.

Rhodesian ridgebacks can experience separation anxiety. They form strong bonds with their owners and want to always be with their companions. If they're left alone for too long, they can act out by barking and chewing on things. 

They're a strong bonding breed and will start loving you from day one. Keeping consistent rules and training backed by positive reinforcement will help make these dogs wonderful protectors for your whole family. 

A well-behaved Rhodesian ridgeback is a well-taken-care-of dog with plenty of activity to keep their mind and body occupied. 

Socialized Rhodesian ridgebacks can be great around older children. However, they might get stressed out around smaller children and may be too rowdy with them. 

They can also get along with other dogs, but they have a high prey drive, so they might not be great around smaller pets. Always supervise your Rhodesian ridgeback when they're around other animals. 

Rhodesian ridgebacks originated in southern Africa. They’re a cross between the native ridged Khoikhoi dog and European breeds like Greyhounds and various terriers. They were bred with the intelligence to navigate the African environment and outsmart deadly predators.

By the 19th century, Rhodesian ridgebacks were being used to confront lions and give their hunters time to aim and fire. The Rhodesian ridgeback was also good at fending off other dangerous animals like leopards and baboons.

Early on, Rhodesian ridgebacks were also known as: 

  • Van Rooyen’s lion dog
  • African lion hound
  • African lion dog

In 1922, they became an officially recognized breed. When big-game hunting started to decrease in South Africa, Rhodesian ridgebacks became great family dogs on par with Great Danes and Dalmatians.