Medical Idiosyncrasies in Deerhounds Essay Mar-9-11

Forewarned is forearmed, anyone truly considering ownership of a Scottish Deerhound would do well to have a good understanding of issues that may affect the health of their future dog. Making inquiries about the genetic testing and the incidence of Health issues in the pedigree of a breeders dogs should be made a high priority when choosing a breeder and particular Kennel.

Thank you to Allyn Babitch for sharing the following Essay with us.

Scottish Deerhounds as a breed have some medical idiosyncrasies that owners and their vets should be aware of. These are not necessarily meant to indicate pathology (though some are serious conditions), but to be mostly precautionary and illuminating. Further information is available on the Scottish Deerhound Club of America website ( greyhound/sighthound information is available on

The most important issue is the sighthound’s sensitivity to Barbiturate anesthetics.  Many sighthounds have died after the use of these; probably because it is taken up in fat, and with the sighthound’s lower percentage of fat, this leaves more to go to the brain and other organs.  Most vets no longer use barbiturates for anesthesia, but double checking anesthetic protocol with the vet before any procedure is OK’d is recommended;  and a “NO BARBITURATES” alert should be on the dog’s medical record.

Deerhounds also tend to go down and wake up “hard” from many anesthetics, and should be carefully monitored until fully conscious.  They are sensitive to anesthetics in general, and using just the amount needed to attain adequate unconsciousness is recommended.  For many minor procedures a light sedative and local anesthetic are sometimes sufficient;  and this option should be explored with your vet.

Deerhounds can also be highly Sensitive to sulfa antibiotics, especially with prolonged or repeat dosings of it.  Many will develop an autoimmune thrombocytopenia (decreased platelets) or leukopenia (decreased white blood cells) from it;  In a few cases this has proved fatal, though cessation of the drug usually reverses the symptoms;  the giving of steroids  for their immunosuppressive action has sometimes been necessary.  Sulfa antibiotics are useful for a number of conditions, and most dogs handle them OK, but not many Deerhounds.  They are marketed under a variety of brand names, so always check that you are not being prescribed a sulfa;  and “NO SULFAS” should also be on the dogs’s medical record.

Rimadyl has caused sometimes fatal liver reactions in Deerhounds– adverse  reactions have also been reported with Tagamet, phenylbutazone, and  chloramphenicol.  Cephalexin type antibiotics can sometimes cause inappetence in Deerhounds, and there have been several cases of Deerhounds bleeding unusually, and one of a dog sloughing its skin seriously, after prolonged use;  also a case of anaphylactic type reaction immediately after giving the drug, has been reported.. Other better tolerated drugs might be chosen whenever possible .  Amoxicillins and Baytril are often well tolerated and provide broad spectrum protection;  though Baytril should not be given to young developing large breed dogs such as Deerhounds, before the age of eighteen months, due to published possible joint and cartilage damage ; and is not recommended for seizure prone dogs .  Owners should be aware of any reactions their dogs have to any drugs, and report this to their veterinarian, as individual responses to a variety of drugs are always possible.  Most drug’s possible side effects can usually be researched online.

Deerhound females have passed away after spays and other abdominal surgeries, due to bleeding out, more than is average for dogs in general.  Factor VII bleeding disorder has been identified in the breed,  There is a genetic test for this disorder, and many breeders are breeding so as not to produce affected puppies.  Even normal Factor VII females have died, however, after these surgeries, so this is not the full answer to the problem.  It is recommended when spaying that a long abdominal incision be made, so that there is full surgical access to the area, and ligation of severed structures can be completely and adequately done.

Deerhounds will sometimes pine while in hospital, and may not eat.  Some vets prefer to keep an animal in hospital until they start to eat;  but this may not be the best choice for sensitive Deerhounds, and sending them home to see if they start eating there sometimes works out better.

Deerhounds tend to have low normal temperatures at rest, so even what would be considered just a moderate fever in another breed might signal a more significant fever in a Deerhound.   An owner could take a dog’s temperature at home, at rest, several times to establish a baseline, to know better if the temperature is elevated.

Deerhounds and other sighthounds tend to have large hearts compared to other breeds.  These have sometimes been mistakenly identified as pathologically enlarged.  Their heartrate is typically low at rest.  If there is a question about a Deerhound’s heart condition, consultation with a veterinary cardiologist familiar with sighthound heart characteristics is recommended.

Deerhounds have marked sinus Arrhythmia, which means that their heart speeds up when they breathe in, and slows down when they’re breathing out.  This change in heart rate sometimes alarms owners.  If it is “regularly irregular” that is normal- it is the irregularly irregular heartbeat that signals a problem.  All dogs have sinus arrhythmia, but in the dogs with slower heart rates it’s more obvious.

Deerhounds tend to have low normal thyroid levels;  and without symptoms of hypothyroidism treatment with thyroid supplementation is usually not indicated.

Additionally, Deerhounds tend to have high normal to somewhat high red blood cell counts.  High RBCs in dogs in general can indicate dehydration;  symptoms, or lack of them, have to be considered when interpreting RBC levels.

Cystinuria is a genetic condition that male Deerhounds can get, (so far we haven’t found females with it, though they may be the ones to pass on the genes).  In this the dogs do not metabolize cystine properly and it is shed into the urine; occasionally causing stones which can eventually plug the urinary passageways;  though many cystinuric dogs never develop stones.   Diet has not been found to be useful as treatment for cystinuric stone prevention- corrective surgery, including cystotomy, perineal urethrostomy and often neutering, and ongoing careful monitoring of urinary output, are the current methods of management of this condition.  There is an online cystinuria list that owners of cystinuric dogs, and other interested people, can join to stay abreast of developments, including the hoped for genetic test being worked on for Mastiffs, which may wind up being useful for Deerhounds as well.  Urine testing for cystinuria is taking place at UPenn- be aware that a negative finding is not always reliable, as the shedding of cystine into the urine can be intermittent.

Vets and Deerhound owners should discuss Bloat symptoms and emergency bloat protocol, and owners should know what to do after regular vet hours with a suspected bloat;  as it often happens at night, and requires immediate veterinary, and usually surgical, intervention for the outcome to be a good one. . There are elective preventive surgeries, known as gastropexies or “stomach tacking”- at some surgical clinics these are offered laparoscopically, and this could be considered by puppy buyers..

Persistent or worsening lamenesses in middle aged and older Deerhounds, whose families have instances of bone cancer, should have bone cancer included as a possible cause when diagnosing.  Other athletic injuries Deerhounds are prone to are broken toes, cruciate ligament injuries, and sore (sometimes very persistently sore) necks, grumblingly referred to as “Deerhound neck”.

Splenic torsion, Addison’s disease, liver shunts,  “genetic’ ”  immunodeficiency respiratory illness, and Factor VII clotting deficiency happen in Deerhounds in somewhat higher percentage than the average dog population, and should be considered where appropriate.   Epileptic seizures have occasionally been reported, and may have an inheritable base.  Other conditions happen in about the same proportion as in other dogs.  Hip dysplasia and inheritable eye and ear disorders are very rare in Deerhounds, though everted nictitating membranes in eyes have been rarely reported.

Again, there is information on most of these considerations on the Scottish Deerhound Club of America website ( .

Written by:  Allyn Babitch, Sindar Scottish Deerhounds and SkyHorse Curly Horses, San Jose, California


Genetic Health Risks

Part 2  of A Cautionary Essay

(thanks to Allyn Babitch author- used with permission)

The second most important attribute in a prospective Deerhound owner is awareness and acceptance of the possible health problems that giant dogs in general, and then Deerhounds in particular, can have.  The “big three” of giant breeds are:

1) Bloat and torsion (medically known as gastric dilatation/volvulus, or GDV), a rapidly developing, potentially fatal emergency condition where the stomach fills with lots of gas (the ‘dilatation”), and the dog loses its abilities to expel that gas.  The stomach may then twist on itself (the “volvulus”)- this causes major stress on the other internal organs, including the heart, cutting off the blood supply to them, and can in a matter of hours kill a dog.  Why this happens is still not known, but there does seem to be a hereditary component to it, as it seems to follow certain bloodlines more than others.  There is elective surgery that can be done to prevent this, including at some surgical practices a laparoscopic gastropexy, which can be done on puppies; and a dog found in early stages of bloat can usually be saved with emergency surgery and appropriate drugs.  It often happens at night, so having the dog sleep reasonably close to the owner so they (the owner) can be aware if it is starting, is a good idea; and knowing the where-abouts of a good emergency clinic is a must.  Owners should know symptoms of impending bloat, and discuss all of this with their veterinarian. Deerhounds seem to have about a 10% incidence of GDV in the breed- this is lower than many other bloat prone breeds (and there are many, including some of the more popular big dogs), but is still a significant consideration.

2) Cardiomyopathy, or heart disease.  Again there seems to be heredity involved , though the specific genetics are not known, and there may be other considerations such as diet.  There is nothing to prevent its happening, though most breeders try to select against it as much as possible. Regular checkups and consultation with a cardiologist if it does seem to be developing would be recommended.

3) Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer.  Again a strong heredity component , again the genetics not yet known, though studies are underway.  This usually affects older dogs, but occasionally there is early onset, which is truly heartbreaking.

Other health considerations include:

Cystinuria, which is a genetic amino acid disorder where cystine is not metabolized properly and can be shed in the urine (hence “cystinuria”).  In a few dogs where this happens cystine stones develop which can eventually plug the dog’s urinary passageways, usually requiring immediate surgery to correct.  This only seems to happen in males in Deerhounds, though we think it may be the females who pass on the genes for it.  There is no genetic test for it so far, and the urinary test results are not always reliable- there can be false negatives in the males, and the females have always tested negative, so it’s impossible to screen which females might be carrying the gene.  This is currently one of the most frustrating challenges to breeders, and an eventual genetic test is dearly hoped for.

Factor VII clotting deficiency (for which there is a genetic test), splenic torsion, liver shunts, respiratory illness, Addison’s disease, and various kinds of cancers occasionally crop up, as do injuries such as broken toes, cruciate ligament strains, and sore (sometimes very persistently sore) necks.  Epileptic seizures have occasionally been reported, and may have an inheritable base.  Other health conditions may happen in proportions about similar to the dog population in general. There are many serious conditions which Deerhounds don’t get, happily- hip dysplasia and inheritable eye and ear disorders are very uncommon in Deerhounds, though everted nictitating membranes in eyes have been rarely reported. They are considered a relatively healthy breed for a giant, and relatively long lived as well- we hope for 8-10 years, and sometimes get 11-14, with the females having a slightly longer average life span (same as in most breeds and species.) Still, they won’t generally live as long as the smaller breeds, and a prospective owner does have to take this into consideration.

There are also some possible drug considerations with Deerhounds-  See the “Medical idiosyncracies in Scottish Deerhounds” essay for more detailed information. Talking to a breeder about what genetic risks any particular puppies might have is always a good idea.  It is virtually impossible for a breeder to avoid everything bad in a breeding, and still breed dogs with quality and great temperament- it is a true balancing act, and we can’t know everything genetic that any given dog carries, nor do we have crystal balls.  Breeders should be honest about what there might be genetically in a litter, and be willing to answer questions forthrightly.  Deerhound breeders are usually pretty good with being open about what’s happening in the breed and their own bloodlines;  it is up to a prospective puppy buyer to ask questions and make decisions based on as much information as they can get.

And again, for more information, go to the Scottish Deerhound Club of America website (  for more details about this most wonderful of dogs.

Written by:  Allyn Babitch, Sindar Scottish Deerhounds & SkyHorse Curly Horses, San Jose, CA 2/11

Bloat a Critical Emergency

There are few things I dread more than something being wrong with my deerhound Cailean.  It is as bad as the fear I had when my children were babies and they can’t tell you what is wrong, you try from the clues they are giving you by their behaviour and reactions to intuit what might be the problem.  I have had an occasion or two already (she is 2) where my heart has been in my mouth and dread has left me shaken at the depth of my feelings for my girl.

Realistically we know that we can’t protect our dog any more than our children from things over which we have no control. Informing ourselves as much as possible & being prepared for emergency is the best we can do. When we become owners of deerhounds we know their life expectancy & we know the risk factors that may take them from us early; somehow we just don’t believe our beloved dog will be one of the unlucky ones. If you happen to be faced with the unthinkable – a dog with Bloat or torsion understanding the condition will be important for you and your deerhound.

Bloat – A Critical Emergency

There are many conditions and injuries that represent life-threatening emergencies. There is only one condition that overshadows all others in terms of rapid onset of consequences and effort in emergency treatment. This is gastric dilatation and volvulus GDV -bloat.

The dog may have an obviously distended stomach, especially near the ribs, but this is not always evident depending on the dog’s body configuration. The biggest clue is the vomiting: the pet appears highly nauseated and is retching but little is coming up.
If this is seen, rush your dog to the veterinarian IMMEDIATELY.

If you suspect your dog has bloat, immediately call your veterinarian or emergency service. Do not attempt home treatment. The initial diagnosis may include x-rays, an ECG, and blood tests, but treatment will probably be started before the test results are in.

The first step is to treat shock with IV fluids and steroids. Antibiotics and anti-arrythmics may also be started now. Then the veterinarian will attempt to decompress the stomach by passing a stomach tube. If this is successful, a gastric levage may be instituted to wash out accumulated food, gastric juices, or other stomach contents. In some cases, decompression is accomplished by placing large-bore needles or a trochar through the skin and muscle and directly into the stomach.


All bloated dogs, once stable, should have surgery. Without surgery, the damage done inside cannot be assessed or repaired plus bloat may recur at any point, even within the next few hours and the above adventure must be repeated. Surgery, called gastropexy, allows the stomach to be tacked into normal position so that it may never again twist. Without gastropexy, the recurrence rate of bloat may be as high as 75%!


A number of surgeons to begin to offer a “prophylactic” gastropexy in those animals considered to be at a significant risk for GDV. The age, sex, breed, temperament, and in particular, the identification of a first-degree relative with at least one episode of GDV, all contribute to the decision to perform a prophylactic gastropexy. Many vets recommend a prophylactic gastropexy in dogs that have been diagnosed with a chronic or partial torsion form of GDV as well.

NEW Purdue Bloat Study

Recent studies are shedding more light on gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), otherwise known as bloat. GDVis the second leading cause of death in large-breed (50 =96 99 pounds) and giant-breed (100 pounds and over) dogs. Approximately one in four large-breed dogs and one in five giant-breed dogs may develop GDV during their lifetime, with some breeds at even higher lifetime risk. GDV strikes suddenly and has a mortality rate as high as 30 percent. In GDV there is a rapid accumulation of air in the stomach, causing distention and often rotation of the stomach, cutting off blood supply at both ends and causing the dog to go into shock. GDV is an acute emergency and rushing the dog to immediate veterinary care is essential. The risk of a dog developing GDV increases with age. Other factors that increase a dog=92s risk are having a first-generation relative with a history of GDV, having a deep and narrow chest or abdomen, being thin, experiencing a major health problem before age 1, and having a fearful or nervous temperament Research primarily at Purdue University by Dr. Larry Glickman, VMD, Ph.D, (an AKC Excellence in Canine Research Award winner), and Dr. Malathi Raghavan, DVM, Ph.D. has identified a number of feeding management and dietary factors that increase the risk of GDV. These include eating only one meal a day, feeding only dry dog food, feeding food with only small particles, and feeding a large volume of food per meal. Other feeding factors found to increase the risk of GDV were eating rapidly, increased physical activity before and eating, restricting a dog’s water intake before and after eating, moistening dry food before feeding, and eating from a raised feeding bowl. Thus, some of the recommendations commonly made to prevent GDV were shown by the research to actually increase the risk of GDV. In the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 17, No. 10, Glickman wrote, In addition, in univariate analysises, many of the recommendations commonly made to prevent GDV, such as raising the food bowl, moistening dry food prior to feeding, and restricting water intake before and after feeding, were associated with a significantly increased risk of GDV. Recent research, not yet published, has shown an increased risk of GDV in dogs who consumed dry foods containing fat among the first four ingredients, and an increased risk in dogs who consumed dry foods listing citric acid as a preservative with this risk rising when foods with citric acid were moistened. Although not statistically significant, researchers found that a modest increase in risk of GDV was seen with the consumption of dry foods that listed more than one corn ingredient among the first four label ingredients, while in contrast, a pattern was observed of decreased GDV risk with an increasing number of protein ingredients of animal origin, including beef, poultry, lamb, and fish among the first four ingredients..


  • Feed two or more meals a day
  • Feed no more than one cup per 33 pounds of body weight per meal when feeding two meals a day
  • Feed an energy-dense diet, to reduce volume, but avoid a diet where a high amount of calories are from fats.
  • Feed a variety of different food types regularly. The inclusion of human foods in a primarily dry dog food diet was associated with a 59 percent decreased risk of GDV while inclusion of canned pet foods was associated with a 28 percent decreased risk.
  • When feeding dry food, also include foods with sufficient amounts of meats and meat meals, for example: beef, lamb, poultry, and fish.
  • Feed a food with larger particles, and include larger pieces of meat to the diet.
  • Avoid moistening dry foods
  • If your dog eats rapidly, find ways to try to reduce his speed of eating
  • Avoid raising the food bowl place it at ground level
  • Try to minimize stress for your dog. Stressful events have been reported to be precipitating factors in GDV occurrence.
  • Restrict vigorous exercise one hour before and two hours after meals.
  • When you are not in close proximity to your dog, use a baby monitor to alert you if your dog is in distress.
  • Learn to recognize signs of GDV, which include pacing and restlessness, head turning to look at the abdomen, distention of the abdomen, rapid shallow breathing, nonproductive attempts at vomiting, and salivation. These symptoms can progress rapidly to shock and death. Get to your veterinarian or emergency hospital the moment you suspect GDV
excerpt of a letter from Larry Glickman Author of Purdue Bloat Study
The overall bloat fatality rate approaches 30% for dogs with a dilated, rotated stomach.Veterinarians over the past 2 decades have reduced dramatically the postoperative fatality rate from gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) from >50% to <20% by using improved therapy for shock, safer anesthetic agents, and better surgical techniques.
If you suspect your dog has bloat, but the veterinarian dismisses it as a minor problem, inquire about radiographs (Xrays) to rule out GDV. If dilatation with or without volvulus is diagnosed and the stomach is decompressed, either by passing a stomach tube or by piercing the stomach with a large needle (trochar) passed through the body wall, the dog
should be considered as a candidate for immediate surgery, unless its condition is too unstable to tolerate anesthesia. If the veterinarian recommends that surgery be delayed for any other reason, seek a second opinion immediately. Delay in surgery will increase the chance of the stomach rotating if it hasnít already, or will decrease the chance of the dog surviving if rotation has occurred.
Be prepared — Teamwork between you and your veterinarian is your dogís best hope when it comes to bloat. For more information on the early signs of bloat, talk with your veterinarian. Ask what treatment he/she recommends for bloat, and if their hospital has a 24-hour emergency service. –Larry Glickman, VMD, DrPh