There are a range of adverse weather conditions that can impact on a greyhound’s health and wellbeing. In most cases we think of hot weather over summer that can lead to heat stress or even heat stroke. However, cold weather during the winter months also requires attention to prevent a loss of condition and poor health. Other weather events can also impact on greyhounds at any time of the year. Fire, storms and floods are all events that can happen quickly and it is important to have a plan to respond to these.
Greyhounds and cold weather
Greyhounds have relatively thin skin and when in racing condition, very little body fat. This is great for helping them cool down after a run, but it also means that they are susceptible to cold weather. The need to maintain their vital organs at a fairly constant temperature means that the body has to work harder during the winter to keep warm. This can affect diet and potentially cause injury when exercising and racing.
If the greyhound’s core temperature drops, its body automatically tries to keep the important organs warm by restricting the blood flow to the skin and extremities. You will have experienced cold fingers and hands on a very brisk morning, along with the exposed skin that’s cool to the touch and which turns bluish. This same process happens in greyhounds to try to conserve heat when the outside temperature is low.
If this is not enough to maintain the core temperature, the body will try to generate heat by shivering, which is an involuntary muscle activity. Shivering is an indicator of significant temperature change within the body, and it uses up quite a bit of energy to create the muscle contractions.
Past this point the dog enters into hypothermia (hypo– meaning ‘below’, –thermia meaning ‘temperature’). Hypothermia can lead to unconsciousness, coma and death as the vital organs become too cold to operate properly. Long periods of restricted circulation to the extremities can also lead to tissue death – just think of mountain climbers who lose fingers or toes, and even the tip of their nose from the effects of prolonged cold.
For the greyhound, being cold is not only uncomfortable, but it can mean that they lose condition due to the change in their energy requirements. Now they not only have to fuel their normal activity, but also have to use energy to create warmth just to function normally on the inside. This may mean they need more calories in their daily diet.
Cold muscles are also more susceptible to injuries, ranging from minor tears, to more serious ones. The importance of a proper warm-up and cool-down is even more critical than at other times of the year. Add to this the risks associated with wet and slippery ground, and you have a recipe for disaster.
If your greyhound is already injured or is recovering from an injury, then the healing process may take longer in the colder months due to the reduced circulation to the injured areas. All injury sites require a good blood supply to aid repair and strengthen injured tissue. In fact, many of the treatments used for injuries are designed to increase blood supply to assist the healing process.
What can you do?
Make sure that your greyhounds are kept warm when the weather is cold.
This may mean ensuring they have warm bedding in their kennels, a bed that is well off the cold ground, and making sure that your kennel building is not leaking or subject to draughts. If you decide to use heating, make sure that the heater is safe, can’t be accidentally tipped over, and that any power cords cannot be reached by the greyhounds.
Make sure that each dog has a clean and dry kennel to sleep in. Winter weather does not make it easy to keep things clean and dry, but wet dogs, wet bedding, and wet kennels can lead to very cold greyhounds.
You might need to put a warm coat or jacket on the dogs, especially in the evenings and overnight. Make sure that coats are regularly inspected for damage, and are not tied on so tight that they are uncomfortable when the greyhound curls up, nor so loose that the dogs are constantly getting tangled in them. All coats and jackets should be regularly cleaned too – male dogs are notorious for peeing on the edges of their coats!
If you are travelling, make sure that your trailer does not leak when it rains. Some trailers require the vents under the spinners to be closed to stop rain getting in. If a leak is detected, have it seen to straight away. It is easy to forget about it until the next time it rains, and then it is too late. Leaky floats lead to wet dogs, wet bedding, and a huge loss of body heat as the normal trailer ventilation leads to an air current that causes evaporative cooling.
Watch the condition of your dogs
It may be that your greyhounds will need increased rations to maintain their condition in the winter time. Monitoring skin and coat condition, levels of body fat and body weight will quickly tell you if something isn’t right – then you can make appropriate ration adjustments. Keeping them warm may not completely stop changes in condition, but it will help, and keeping an eye on condition will give you an early warning.
Warm-ups and Cool-downs
Before any dog exercises, there should be a warm-up period where the dog is prepared for the exertion of running at full speed. Warm-ups increase the blood flow to the muscles, and also help prepare the body for increased demand. Warming a dog up might start with a brisk walk, followed by some trotting. When you start feeling warm yourself, your dog will be nearly ready to run.
After a race, if you choose to hose your dog off, you will need to make sure that it is fully dried off before heading home. Walking it around until it’s no longer puffing, then following this with some gentle stretches, before putting a coat on the dog before travelling is a good way to make sure the dog does not get chilled, and will help minimize injury and muscle stiffness.
Be aware of surface conditions
Many trainers these days use free-galloping exercise to keep their greyhounds fit. The greyhounds tear up and down the long runs and chase the dogs in adjacent runs. Unfortunately, if the footing is not good, they can slip and slide, and possibly injure themselves.
If you have runs that turn muddy due to rain, or are slippery when wet or frosty, you may need to find alternate places to exercise your dogs, or change the time of day that they are let out. You may also need to improve the drainage to the runs, or change or repair the surface. If you have a number of runs, rotate their use so that grass has a chance to recover.
By paying attention to your greyhounds needs during winter, you will save yourself time and money and avoid injuries that might mean weeks or months away from racing.