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How Healthy is the Whippet Breed?

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

As a whole, the whippet breed is EXTREMELY healthy and robust. Their general health is one of the main things that initially drew us to the Breed. Many in the general public have the false belief that any purebred dog is less healthy than a standard mixed breed dog. However, that is simply not the case nor is that how genetics work. First off one of the many benefits of owning a well-bred purebred dog is a careful documentation of their ancestry and kennel's history. This means as a Breeder many of us have met your dog's grand-sires on either or both sides of the pedigree and grand-dam along with their great grand-sires and great grand-dams. We've spent a great deal of time planning our pedigrees, meeting relatives and watching our own bloodlines for the emergence of any undesirable traits either in temperament or general health. So overall, there is a lot less unknowns or surprises when you bring home one of our dogs.

That said, it's important to discuss the general health of the breed with your prospective Breeder so you are informed of what may occur and specifically ask them pointedly what health issues they've personally had to deal with in their program. If they tell you "none" then MOVE ON! That's a big red flag!
One of the biggest considerations we feel new families need to be prepared to deal with when considering adding a whippet to their family is their incredible athleticism. Think of it like this, whippets can reach speeds up 50 km/hr in under 2 seconds. That means their body is like a sports car without seat belts or airbags. So if you're following along, the biggest health issues whippets may be prone to is speed related injuries. Things like muscle strains, ligament sprains and soft tissue injuries can happen and require the appropriate rest and time to recuperate. Unlike most dogs, who are more prone to strain their iliopsaos muscle, the vast majority of whippet injuries occur in their feet. Personally, we've dealt with digital collateral ligament partial and complete tears and lacerations (which can occur anywhere on their body when running at speed if they run into a wooded area and have skin exposed). We've also dealt with metatarsal fractures related to jumping from a height (obviously, not something that was supposed to have happened!) along with fractured vertebral processes when one of girls was T-boned at speed and rolled on the field by another dog. In all the above examples, the treatment and management was time to recover and crate rest. We openly share all of this with you, not to air our challenges, but simply so new families understand that injuries can and will happen even with the most diligent of owners. When these things do occur, please don't be afraid to inform your Breeder. Trust me, we want to know and we won't blame you and get angry! Sometimes your general vet, at least in our own personal experience may misdiagnose an injury because they are not used to seeing whippets. It's important to inform your Breeder when things happen so you can move ahead confidently with the management plan and give your whippet the best chance of a full recovery!

Another thing we've had to manage is slab fractures (teeth) in our older whippets from excessive chewing. Don't get us wrong, you want your whippet to chew on safe items listed under "dog friendly chews" as it acts to minimize plague and tartar buildup. We've developed that list based on our own personal experience and where we've felt items weren't safe we've removed them from our home and that list. In the past we offered yak milk "bones" (dehydrated yak milk), but unfortunately that resulted in a slab fracture in one of our whippets. If you notice the pulp is showing on one of your whippet's teeth it's important to remember that dogs more often than not, will not show pain the way we do with a tooth fracture. We recommend going to your vet for evaluation and analgesia as it's extremely painful to have exposed pulp. The fractured tooth also is rooted directly in jaw which means that fracture is an open channel for bacteria to track and lead to a root infection and abscess or seed infection in other teeth. Obviously, we'll leave the treatment to to your vet's advice, but from our personal experience we've always dealt with this by a tooth extraction under general anesthetic. Anecdotally, we've noticed our whippets tend to be much happier afterwards, suggesting that in fact the tooth was bothering them even if they didn't demonstrate difficulty eating!

Lastly and perhaps most importantly the main issues prospective families need to be aware of aside from what we've explored above is mitral valve disease (MVD). Research has reported that somewhere between 10-17% of whippets will develop MVD in their lifetime. This disease causes degeneration of the mitral valve and may progress to left sided heart failure or more commonly known as congestive heart failure (CHF). Now not all whippets will require intervention with medication. In particular, this disease is far more passive in elderly dogs. What we as Breeders are trying to prevent is the myxomatis MVD in young dogs. That disease progresses quickly and is devastating for whippets and their families, although it is still not altogether uncommon it is something we are working diligently to understand and eliminate in our Breed altogether. For more information please see The Whippet Health Foundation. There you can find the relevant publications on the disease.

(Please note, this is NOT the same thing as your vet reporting the presence of a murmur on your whippet. Some studies have reported as many as 7/10 whippets have murmurs. The sighthound anatomy means you have a very deep chested dog with the heart lying in close proximity to the thoracic wall. It's not uncommon to even see the apical beat against the chest wall. Additionally, with so little body fat and the dog's anatomy it's not unusual for the heart sounds on auscultation to be loud. If your whippet is slightly anxious at the vet, their heart rate will increase as will their peripheral vascular resistance leading to an increase in blood pressure. This increased blood flow across the mitral valve can precipitate a stress physiologic murmur. Remember a murmur isn't a diagnosis, it is simply a sign your vet observes when listening to turbulent flow across a valve. The grade of the murmur is far more relevant than the presence of one. (Grade III or more are generally of more significance). It's also extremely common for whippets to have a physiological murmur from an athlete's heart even in the absence of a stress response.)

Other issues that can occur in whippets are cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). Autoimmune diseases have also been reported such as steroid responsive inflammatory arthritis and hemolytic anemia. Cancers may occur in any dog and have been reported in whippets as well. Remember we have discussed speed related injuries occurring above? Well one issue that can occur in whippets as well, is cranial-cruciate ligament (CCL) parital tear or complete rupture. Often this is resulted from shear forces that have occurred at speed and is different from CCL tears in heavy breeds and obese dogs. If this does occur it is important to reach out to your Breeder so they can refer you to an excellent vet with good outcomes in TPLO and explore if your dog will be a surgical candidate. If left untreated the joint will deteriorate and the limb may become a constant source of pain. This is also one of the reasons we as Breeders discourage pediatric spay and neuter because it is so important for whippets to be given the opportunity to develop the appropriate muscle they'll need later in life!

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