Raising greyhound health awareness

The Greyhound Health Initiative helps educate the veterinary community on the breed’s unique health issues

Veterinary oncologist Guillermo Couto, DVM, founded the Greyhound Health Initiative in 2014 to build awareness in the veterinary community about the breed’s unique health issues. Since then, the organization has worked to educate veterinarians and help greyhound owners.

When veterinary oncologist Guillermo Couto, DVM, first noticed the medical idiosyncrasies of greyhounds, he was serving as a professor at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

During his tenure, he observed a large number of retired racing greyhounds that developed osteosarcoma. Couto also realized this ancient breed had unusual physiological, hematological, and cardiovascular characteristics, which were likely an adaptation to chasing prey.

In response, Dr. Couto created the Greyhound Health and Wellness Program at the university, which focused on research into the breed’s unique issues. He also established a financial assistance program to help adopters of retired racing greyhounds with veterinary bills and provide free chemotherapy for those undergoing treatment for osteosarcoma. But when Couto left the university in June 2013, the program started to fade.

Although he was retired, Couto wanted to continue his work helping greyhounds and their owners. In January 2014, he founded the Greyhound Health Initiative (GHI) in Dublin, Ohio, with the goal of building awareness in the veterinary community about the breed’s unique health issues. Since then, the nonprofit organization has worked to educate veterinarians about conditions seen in greyhounds, while also helping greyhound owners of both retired and active racers.

Unique greyhound issues

Simply put, greyhounds are unlike any other dog breed. This truth, as mentioned, was the driving force behind Couto’s desire to create GHI.

According to Couto, from a hematologic standpoint, these athletic dogs have higher packed cell volume (PCV) and hematocrit (HCT), hemoglobin concentration, red blood cell count, and whole blood viscosity than other breeds. A healthy greyhound has a HCT of 50 to 63 percent, something that in a dog of any other breed would result in a presumptive diagnosis of polycythemia or erythrocytosis (a term used to describe a high red blood cell mass).

“Because greyhound-specific issues are still mostly unknown among many veterinarians, GHI is building awareness within both the veterinary and adoption communities,” said Greyhound Health Initiative executive director Brian Collins.

Further, the white blood cell (WBC), neutrophil, and platelet counts are lower in greyhounds than in other breeds. Most normal greyhounds have WBC of 3-5X109/L, with neutrophil counts as low as 1.8X109/L; a typical platelet count in a healthy greyhound is 80-120 X109/L. Although we do not know the mechanism for this, species of mice with very high HCT have similar hematologic features.

In addition, greyhound eosinophils lack the characteristic orange granules seen in all other breeds; the granules do not stain, thus resulting in the appearance of cytoplasmic vacuoles. These “vacuolated PMNs with bilobed nuclei” can frequently be confused with toxic bands.

And that’s not all. According to Couto, the serum biochemical profiles in greyhounds also have values that are typically outside the reference range for dogs. Mainly, the serum creatinine concentrations are high (1-2.2 mg/dL), and the total serum protein (5-6 gm/dL) and globulin (1.8-2.5 gm/dL) concentrations are lower than in other dogs; low serum acute phase protein concentrations account for the lower globulin concentration. Depending on the instrument used, other values may also be outside the reference range for dogs. Serum calcium (both total and ionized) and magnesium are lower than in nongreyhounds. The results of venous or arterial blood gas analysis and cooximetry in greyhounds also yields results outside the reference range for dogs.

Greyhounds do not metabolize drugs like other dogs do, Couto noted. Their concentration of hepatic cytochrome P-450 enzymes (CYP) is significantly lower than in other breeds, thus accounting for erratic metabolism of some drugs when polypharmacy is used.

The term relative risk (RR) describes how much more likely a breed is to develop a disease, in comparison with a group of mixed breed dogs. If the RR is 2, the breed is twice as likely to develop that disease. The RR for osteosarcoma in greyhounds is 17. This is likely due to several gene mutations recently described.

Programs that help hounds

In order to spread the message to veterinarians about these and other unusual physiological aspects of the breed, and to help greyhound owners struggling with their dogs’ health issues, Couto developed a number of programs.

The free medication program assists greyhound owners whose dogs have been diagnosed with illnesses that require pharmacological treatment. Carboplatin for dogs with osteosarcoma and aminocaproic acid for postoperative bleeding are two of the medications covered by the GHI medication assistance program. Once contacted by one of their members who will need the benefits of this program, a representative from GHI contacts the member’s vet to arrange payment so there is no out of pocket expense.

Veterinarian and owner education is also an important goal of GHI.

“Because greyhound-specific issues are still mostly unknown among many veterinarians, GHI is building awareness within both the veterinary and adoption communities through seminars, lectures, handouts, and digital media,” explained GHI executive director, Brian Collins. “For instance, we are in the process of planning a seminar on greyhound health in Ireland in 2018 that has drawn the interest of veterinarians from as far away as Australia. We also promote collaboration through the use of remote consultations with Dr. Couto, and a Yahoo listserv for veterinarians who care for sighthounds. (Veterinarians can sign up by emailing GreytVets-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.)

The GHI website (greyhoundhealthinitiative.org) offers links to papers on sighthound-specific research, and the organization is always looking for more. GHI is also building a list of greyhound-savvy veterinarians on the website as a resource to help adopters find veterinarians close to them.

Greyhounds are helpings dogs of all breeds, too, through the Greyhound Health Initiative Blood Bank. GHI manages the bank, which is primarily supplied by greyhound donors. It provides blood to veterinarians around the country. (See “Doing good for greys.”)

GHI has received a great deal of feedback from adopters thanking them for the information that’s been shared on aminocaproic acid use (available on their website) and the greyhound bleeding disorder, because in many cases, the adopters’ veterinarians had never heard of either, said Collins.

“Since January of 2016, our free chemotherapy program has helped 40 greyhounds battling osteosarcoma, while our educational seminars, lectures, and handouts have reached dozens of veterinarians directly, not to mention hundreds of adopters, who have in turn taken that knowledge to their vets,” Collins said.

“There is also the less tangible benefit of being able to calm the nerves of adopters who have recently received a diagnosis of osteosarcoma in their greyhound just by listening to them, answering their questions, and offering insights from our own experiences with the disease,” Collins said of GHI’s work.

The ongoing mission of GHI is to improve the health and wellness of sighthounds on a global scale through education, research, and accessibility.

“We recognize this goal may prove unachievable because we will never be done learning about these beautiful, frustratingly different hounds,” said Collins, “and we will never be done educating others about their uniqueness.”

Greyhounds are in a unique position to donate blood to other dogs because of their high RBC, large carotid arteries, high universal donor status, and easygoing nature. To take advantage of this, in June 2016, the Greyhound Health Initiative (GHI) started a blood bank in Dublin, Ohio, in an office above the Riverside Animal Care Center. The purpose: To help give dogs of all breeds a place to go for canine blood, serum, and plasma.

“The blood bank provides a much needed service for veterinarians nationwide who need blood products to perform lifesaving procedures,” said Brian Collins, GHI executive director. “We mainly recruit greyhounds as donors not just because of their many favorable qualities, but also because we bank samples of their blood, serum, and plasma to give us a head start on future research. We have also donated plasma to veterinarians who do charitable work within the greyhound community.”

The GHI blood donation process is similar to a human blood donation in that donors are not kept in a kennel and are pets living in homes mostly around central Ohio—though some donors are driven several hours to get to the center.

“When donors come in for their appointment, they are examined, a small spot on their neck is shaved where the needle will be inserted, and then our techs begin the donation process,” said Collins. “We always have two techs with them during the process to ensure the dog is safe, comfortable, and spoiled rotten at all times. Dogs have been known to fall asleep to the classical music we have playing in the background.”

Wendy, a donor for the Greyhound Health Initiative’s blood bank in Dublin, Ohio.

After donating, dogs are fed and either returned to their waiting owners or provided beds to lie on in the office until their owners pick them up.

“On any scheduled donation day, we may see up to 10 dogs, and all of that blood is processed into packed RBC or plasma, and either refrigerated or frozen immediately,” said Collins.

Donor dogs can give blood up to six times per year and receive perks from the GHI, including a physical exam with every visit, free annual blood work, free heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives, a free annual membership to GHI, free vaccines, and free blood products for life.

According to Collins, the blood bank has produced well over 100 bags of plasma and other blood products in its first year.

“Each one has helped a dog in crisis,” he said.

The organization makes no profit from the blood products it sells and, in many months, it won’t even break even due to the high costs associated with processing the blood, according to Collins.

“We rely on another kind of donor to help us cover our expenses so we can keep the cost of the product low for the veterinarians and, by extension, the patients in need,” he said. “We have also donated plasma to veterinarians who do charitable work within the greyhound community or discount their work for shelters.”


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12 thoughts on “Raising greyhound health awareness

  1. A few things of interest, at least to me:
    Nearly 50% of all dogs over age 10 die of cancer
    Cancer is the leading cause of non-accidental death in dogs
    A large percentage of old dogs die of cancer within the ten-year-old age range and decreasing in frequency with much older dogs
    It is my reading that Greyhounds GENERALLY do not succumb to such diseases as respiratory or cardiac distress. Nor do there seem to be many, if any, fatal diseases that are believed to be hereditary in nature that target Greyhounds. (I believe this is to be correct based only on my not hearing of many such deaths.)

    Some of the causal reasons for various fatal conditions are discussed at the cited link – specifically for Greyhounds and also for cancer and other dire conditions in general.

    It is my conclusion that Greyhounds that are allowed to live to a natural old age of approximately 8-10 years do statistically make it in part because of a lack of hereditary and inherent conditions and diseases that many other breeds suffer from – specifically cardiac, respiratory and endocrine disease. Once they reach that age, they succumb in large numbers, like all other breeds, to cancer.

    Addressing Cancer in older dogs and why Osteosarcoma in Greyhounds – as opposed to the much more common Mammary cancer in older bitches is a subject that I find of huge interest and would like to provide some non-medical background information.

    Mammary tumors in dogs are most frequent in unspayed females. They are extremely rare in male dogs. Spaying before the first heat reduces the risk of mammary tumors to 0.05% of the risk in unspayed females. Spaying after one heat reduces the risk to 8% of that in unspayed females. Females spayed after the second heat have a risk of 26% and have generally been considered to have the same risk as unspayed adult females. It is believed that the elimination or reduction of certain hormonal factors causes the lowering of incidence of the disease in dogs that have been spayed. These factors are most likely estrogen, progesterone, a similar hormone or possibly a combination of two or more of these.

    Many veterinary sources suggest that likely this propensity for mammary tumors has a hereditary component, a dietary component (high fat), a breed predisposition, and likely hormone changes during heat have a role.

    One of the crosses that we AKC Conformation exhibitors and breeders must bear is that of not spaying our females until after their show career is over which puts them at much greater risk of developing mammary tumors later in life. As an aside, some AKC exhibitors do administer Testosterone to their females to prevent their coming into heat. Most breeders, and in my opinion all responsible breeders do not do this because of potential side effects.

    It is my understanding that Greyhound females that are actively racing are dosed with Testosterone to prevent their coming into heat and thus not being able to race. This hormone dosage will continue over the female’s racing career. In the case of Greyhounds that are fortunate enough to go to adoption/rescue groups, they are spayed essentially immediately. My point is that my female, for example, has likely never come into heat – or if she did as a youngster, it was likely one time only and she would be in the lower risk group. This view is mine, however I do not see it to be in conflict with the veterinary body of literature.

  2. Very interesting article and I would certainly like to get more involved in the health side of my greyhounds as I am aware of the high cancer risk. I live in the UK so my hounds ant donate blood and I would doubt that many of the Health Initiative benefits of membership would apply. I am interested in knowing f any dietary factors can help reduce the cancer risks and basically what we can do to best protect our hounds from this dreadful illness.

    1. Malcolm did you say your greyhounds don’t donate blood as it says ant. You can donate blood in the UK with your greyhound if you check it out at your vets or google you will be able to find out where if you were interested

    2. I’m also.in the UK and can only answer one of the points above.

      I have two ex-racers that give or bavew given blood. The Pet Blood Bank has regular donation sessions around the country and mine are held at the veterinary practice l use normally. Look.into.it, l’m sure you’ll find the Pbb active near you

  3. My greyhound Cracker Jack is one of the many grey that has been helped by Mr. Collins, Dr. Couto, and the rest of the GHI team. I won’t go into detail as the story can be read in this quarters GHI newsletter. I can honestly say without a doubt if GHI did not exist my Grey would not have survived osteosarcoma. When his leg was amputated we were told aminocaproic acid was not necessary. It turns out, like at least 28% of retired greyhounds he had the blood disorder and spent about 3 weeks in the hospital because of it. The Vets and surgeons there (all 10 of them) did not know how to treat the blood disorder or even what is was. After a consultation with Dr. Couto, the vet, Dr. Couto, and myself began to correspond back and forth and Cracker Jack very slowly began to improve. If not for GHI Cracker Jack would not be here today. We are just 2 weeks shy of one-year post amputation and I am glad to say Cracker Jack is Still 100% cancer free and living life to its fullest. This organization is by far one of the best non-profit organizations you will ever find. The people who run it are also some of the kindest most caring people that truly just want to help sighthounds around the world. I fully support them and I hope you will as well.

  4. In conversations at my vet’s office I have asked them when reviewing blood test results of my ghs why the lab does not list typical values for greyhounds. The results list the breed, but does not make adjustments under the listing of typical ranges. I was told they don’t do that to avoid liability. This makes no sense to me, as there are many references for typical greyhound results. It seems that they could avoid someone that is not knowedgeable of this to make errors in treatment.

  5. Curious if greys are more likely to clot or have aneurysms. My grey/lab mix recently died very suddenly. He was extremely fit and healthy. He’d been raised as a sled dog… tremendous athlete. I got him at age 6. I have a human friend w low nutraphils and she has tremendous clotting issues. Perhaps these conditions are unrelated.