Putting Welfare at the Heart of Greyhound Racing: A Veterinary Director’s Blog
Dr Simon Gower, Veterinary Director of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, explains the steps taken to minimise injury to racing greyhounds and the care taken when injuries are sustained.
Greyhounds are thoroughbreds and the oldest recorded dog breed in history. They make calm, gentle and loveable pets that are excellent with children and are extremely affectionate. Contrary to their outstanding ability to run, they are low-maintenance and do not need a lot of exercise each day.
Indeed, racing greyhounds sleep for almost half the day and are exercised at least twice during their active, waking hours. This is in line with vets’ advice for any other domestic dog breed and more than most pet dogs receive.
It is, however, their outstanding ability to run that makes them such formidable athletes on the racing track. Anyone who knows anything about dogs will tell you that greyhounds love to run and to race. It is in their genes. It is what, for many thousands of years, they have naturally done. Their enjoyment in racing is clear. It is their natural instinct.Greyhound racing is a sport of athleticism and grace involving dogs running at speed and as such, just as in human sports, there remains an inherent risk of injury. Greyhounds are tough, resilient and brave but running at high speed, which is what they do naturally, can result in injury.
This is, however, in no way an excuse for any racing injury. Indeed, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, which regulates the sport, has invested heavily in research into track preparation, staff training and track maintenance, to ensure greyhounds are running on the safest possible surfaces. Every reasonable step is taken to minimise the risk of injury such as by having experienced veterinary surgeons on duty to examine all greyhounds before racing to ensure they are fit to race or trial.
There are occasions when, due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, and despite the best efforts of all involved, a greyhound sustains an injury and these injuries are not just sustained while racing. All dogs are at risk of injury throughout their lives, regardless of the type of activity they participate in. It can happen to domestic pets running in the park, while playing or when participating in other leisure pursuits such as Fly-ball and Agility.
Unlike some domestic dogs who are not properly cared for, any GBGB licensed racing greyhound who sustains an injury is assured of receiving the very best veterinary treatment. Should an injury occur the attending veterinary surgeon will provide rapid treatment, usually within a matter of seconds.
Fortunately, most injuries are minor, such as scrapes, sprains and muscle strains and with appropriate treatment and rest these greyhounds recover quickly and completely.
Occasionally such an injury is serious and the attending veterinary surgeon must make an informed decision as to what exactly the injury is, whether it can be successfully repaired and which treatment option is in the best interests of the greyhound’s welfare and long-term quality of life. Sometimes based on this professional assessment, humane euthanasia is deemed to be in the best welfare interests of the dog.
Before a decision is made to put a dog to sleep it is essential that consultation takes place, wherever possible, with the individual or individuals who have full knowledge of the dog concerned. This may be the owner and/or trainer of that dog. This decision is based on welfare grounds and involves, in part, consideration of the greyhound’s current and potential quality of life, its degree of suffering and likelihood that this can be alleviated without causing further, undue suffering.
While most injuries are treatable, such as non-displaced fractures, with no future risk to form or function, complex open fractures do occur and occasionally when a bone breaks it can shatter. If this can be repaired it may result in deformity or loss of function which threatens theprospect for long term quality of life and a pain-free future. It is in this situation that a veterinary surgeon has to take the difficult decision and recommend euthanasia.
Sometimes the decision to put a dog to sleep is because the veterinary costs involved in treating the injury are simply unaffordable. This is a problem faced by domestic pet owners across the country. The GBGB believes that every racing greyhound that can be rehabilitated and homed should be, and if everyone that benefits financially from the sport met their responsibilities and contributed fairly, then this aspiration could become a reality.
For the owner, trainer and trainer’s staff, the decision to have a dog put to sleep means not only losing an animal they have raised, trained and cared for but also one they have developed a strong bond with, it is not a decision made lightly but as any dog lover who has been through this can understand it is always made with the dog’s best interest at heart. It is always hard to see grown men reduced to tears as they agree to have their dog put to sleep.
The Greyhound Board takes its responsibility for greyhound welfare very seriously and constantly reviews injury data. All injuries and fatalities that occur on the racecourse are recorded by a veterinary surgeon and entered into a central database which is constantly monitored. The data enables the GBGB Welfare Department to assess any situations where injury or fatality levels increase and advise accordingly.
The injury rate in racing will never be zero; any dog – pet or otherwise – will always sustain injuries. GBGB, however, is determined to decrease injury rates so that every greyhound that races at one of our stadiums is at the lowest possible risk and that no injury occurs at a GBGB track that could have sensibly been prevented.