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