A "Poor Man's Greyhound"
The whippet, with its sleek physique and lightening-fast speed, is often mistaken for an Italian greyhound.
In fact, the whippet, sometimes called a “poor man’s greyhound” has many characteristics in common with other sight hounds such as the greyhound or saluki.
Whippet owners are quick to point out two of the best qualities in their pets that have little to do with their trademark speed: their affectionate, sweet nature and ever-present big “smile.”
While numerous mentions of small, greyhound-like dogs date back to early Egyptian times and the Roman Empire, the first concrete evidence of whippets is documented in two late-1600s era paintings of King Louis XV’s dogs, “Misse” and “Turlu.”
Whippets, initially considered luxury dogs, were bred to hunt by sight. Their fast speed gave them an advantage out in the field, where they were able to cross wide open spaces in a short amount of time.
As the greyhound gained in popularity amongst the English noble class, the whippet became known as the “poor man’s greyhound” with the working class, who continued to breed the dog and utilize its skills as a sight hound in the hunting field.
By the late 19th century, whippet racing was a popular national sport in England – more so than soccer matches.
In 1888, the whippet was recognized by the American Kennel Society.
The outdoors may be a whippet’s playground, but indoors is where these dogs prefer to kick back and take it easy.
Generally quiet dogs, whippets like to spend most of their day resting – preferably next to or on the laps of their owners. Perhaps due to their short coats, whippets tend to be nesters – curled up under a blanket or tucked into a dog bed.
While their smaller size makes them ideal for apartment living, whippets still require daily exercise. As one would imagine, this dog breed enjoys running in open spaces, such as a dog park or a spacious stretch of grass.
Scientists in a 2007 study believe a myostatin mutation specific to whippets may be connected to the breed’s athletic speed. Superior running dogs, whippets excel in track racing, flyball, agility and hunting small game.
Whippets are considered to be a medium-sized dog, averaging 15 to 30 pounds and standing 18 to 22 inches tall with a long, whip-like tail.
A whippet’s fur coat can be one of following solid colors: black, white, red, fawn, blue or cream. Non-solid patterns include brindle (an even mixture of darker stripes on a lighter background), spotted or appear as patches or blazes (a white stripe that runs down the center of the dog’s face, usually between the eyes).
It’s important to keep in mind that a whippet’s short coat does not provide the necessary insulation to live a life as an outdoor pet.
Whippets have few genetic conditions and are generally considered healthy dogs. While some of the conditions listed below are common, your whippet will not necessarily develop them and choosing a reputable breeder from which to purchase your pet will help minimize the risk.
- Barbiturate intolerance is common in sight hounds, including the whippet, who are unable to metabolize barbiturate-based anesthetics perhaps due in part to their low concentration of body fat. Discuss with your veterinarian prior to any surgical procedure, including dental cleanings.
- Cardiac issues such as heart murmurs, heart valve problems, cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure are known to be the second most common cause of death in whippets.
- Eye disorders such as cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) can occur in whippets, so a complete eye exam by your veterinarian is strongly recommended.
- Hypothyroidism is a decrease in production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid glands. Lack of this hormone causes weight gain, lethargy, poor hair coat, infertility and susceptibility to chronic infections. Thyroid hormone levels should be checked annually in adult dogs or if the dog appears to have any of the symptoms listed.
It’s important to keep in mind that a whippet’s low body fat does not provide the necessary insulation to live a life as an outdoor pet or be exposed to extended periods of time outdoors in cold climates.