Taking the Chill Off: Looking after Greyhounds in Cold Weather
Year-round, it is vital that the greyhounds in our sport are safe, happy and healthy. In periods of cold weather, trainers and tracks follow the GBGB Cold Weather Policy to ensure their athletes are comfortable both at their kennels and during their visits to the track. In our latest blog, GBGB Veterinary Director Dr Simon Gower offers some practical tips for owners of both racing and retired greyhounds.
“During the winter months, racecourses and trainers up and down the country turn to GBGB’s Cold Weather Policy, which provides guidelines to ensure the comfort and safety of greyhounds during colder weather. Much of what is contained within the Policy is second nature to trainers and owners but given the current cold snap, I wanted to take this opportunity to cover some practical tips for keeping greyhounds safe and comfortable using my own retiree as an example.
Blacksmith Paudy ran his final race at Swindon in August 2014 and moved onto my sofa two months later. Now 11 years old, Pugly (as he is now called) is definitely stiffer in his joints – and this becomes worse when the weather is cold and damp.
As a greyhound’s metabolism needs to work much harder to maintain their core temperature in colder weather, it is important to consider adjusting their feed during the winter to help assist thermoregulation. With Pugly, to make sure he doesn’t start losing weight, I increase his meal portions and give him porridge for breakfast every morning which he certainly doesn’t complain about.
To keep greyhounds warm at their residential kennels and during their time at the track, as well as additional bedding, kennel coats are used. These are a good method of providing an extra layer of insulation, especially when out walking. You could also consider pyjamas too – Pugly has a Christmas set which he is fond of. When it is really cold, I put a headband on him too. It may look a bit silly but it’s important to keep greyhounds’ ears warm so that their ear tips don’t get dry or sore. I occasionally see this happen to dogs at the track and in these cases I usually apply some Vaseline to their ear tips. To avoid this entirely, you don’t need any specialist kit – a simple snood will protect your greyhound’s ears or even a hoop of woolly tights.
The Cold Weather Policy also covers transportation to and from the track and we ask that when extreme weather is forecast, Racing Offices make the decision to cancel a race meeting well-before trainers have to set out on their journey. When greyhounds are transported, the internal vehicle temperature must be maintained at 10°C and above, as per the GBGB Rules of Racing. This reflects the thermoneutral zone for greyhounds of 10-26c, their “comfort zone”.
One morning when it was frosty recently, Pugly slipped jumping into the car. For his safety, I have taken to lifting him in and out of the car which is something to consider at the track too. A recent study showed that pet dogs that jump down from car boots repeatedly cause long-term damage to their joints from all the jarring. This could be a precursor to early arthritic changes – so lifting your greyhound is a worthwhile extra precaution at all times but especially when it is icy or slippery.
We also ask our trainers to show extra vigilance when they are walking on roads that have been gritted. I give Pugly’s paws a wash after a road walk as the grit or rock salt that is put down by the council is a nasty caustic material that can burn their feet and also isn’t safe if they lick their paws afterwards. If it is really frosty then dogs shouldn’t walk on icy paths for longer than 15 minutes without boots as they can get frostbite too. It is important to always remember that the anti-freeze we put in our vehicles is toxic to dogs and they find the taste quite appealing, so store it safely where your dogs aren’t able to reach it.
I hope you and your greyhounds are all keeping safe, well and warm. I don’t want you to think that Puggers is spoiled rotten, but as I am writing this he has moved from the sofa to a comfy bed in front of the fire – the life of a retired greyhound!”
GBGB’s Cold Weather Policy is available online here.