There’s an old adage that is attributed to the English. It says, “A lean dog runs a long race.” Today, the phrase is considered to be metaphorical, a suggestion that someone with fewer advantages in life has greater resilience and thus, persists and endures over the long run. The interpretation is in line with many English phrases related to dogs, a trope that uses canine characteristics to illustrate human behaviors – but if its origins are to be found in the dog world, how exactly did it come about?
Some sources suggest that the allegory had to have originated with someone experienced with Greyhounds, and specifically, racing Greyhounds. This person – or perhaps a group of people – knew that less body fat put less strain on a Greyhound’s frame, and especially its joints. Any fat dog is hard on the eyes of the person who knows how unhealthy it is for the dog, but a fat Greyhound is especially abhorrent.
But wait, aren’t Greyhounds naturally lean?
Broadly speaking, this tall, deep chested, well-muscled breed body with an overall lightweight build does tend to be naturally lean. Greyhounds have larger muscle mass than most breeds, their low body fat percentage approximately 17% as compared to approximately 35% for other breeds (which also means that a normal dose of anesthesia for most dogs can be lethal for this breed). In adult Greyhounds, the proportion of muscle is significantly greater in an “athletic” Greyhound, but even “detrained” adult Greyhounds have less fat than other dogs, and while their proportion of muscle decreases once off a track, it’s not significant.
Greyhounds have significantly lower thyroid hormone (T4) levels than other breeds, problematic if the dog needs a vet who is unfamiliar with the breed and prescribes thyroid hormone supplements believing that the dog has hypothyroidism. The relationship between thyroid hormone levels and calorie burning in Greyhounds is not as straightforward as in other breeds in which low thyroid levels can affect metabolism and lead to weight gain, but the impact on calorie burning in Greyhounds in unique and still being studied.
Greyhounds also have fewer fat cells than other breeds, any extra fat cells found at the back of the neck and base of the tail. In her book on the breed, author Cynthia A. Branigan writes that fat cells lie dormant until they are needed at which point they swell; more cells develop as the dog matures.
On old Scottish wives tale says that, “Ya canna fatten Grewhewnd,” but that’s not true. Though Greyhounds are naturally lean, weight gain can become insidious in a retired racing hound because lighter fat tissue replaces the heavier muscles. This is a naturally active breed, but it requires regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight; limited physical activity or confined spaces decreases their energy expenditure, and the dog will gain weight. Certain medical conditions can also lead to weight gain.
Read about how the Greyhound is special in another way:
Image: Julie Brunn from JulieBrunnArt appears with the kind consent of the artist