As a veterinary technician working in large or small animal clinical practice, you are likely to eventually encounter a retired racing animal as a patient. Former racing Thoroughbreds and greyhounds are often adopted by owners who enjoy these breeds and want to help out by providing a home for a retired working animal.
While there are many benefits to adopting a retired racing animal, these pets can also be associated with unique behavioral and medical concerns. As a vet tech, it’s important to be familiar with these concerns, so that you can help clients provide the best possible care for these unique pets.
Retired Racing Greyhounds
Although greyhound racing is experiencing a rapid decline and will be illegal in 42 states by 2021, it does still occur in some locations. Additionally, retired racing greyhounds are still present in the pet population. Therefore, it’s important for small animal vet techs to be familiar with these dogs and their unique needs.
Racing greyhounds are often raised and raced under abhorrent conditions. According to Florida records, one dog dies at a racetrack within the state every three days.1 Racing greyhounds are often kenneled up to 23 hours per day, with minimal physical activity except when they are let out for brief outdoor play sessions or to race. In addition to suboptimal housing, greyhounds are typically fed raw meat that has been deemed unfit for human consumption, coming from dead, diseased, down, or dying animals (also known as 4-D meat).1 The racing career of a typical greyhound is only a few years; after that time, the dogs are typically euthanized, unless they can be placed in homes through a greyhound rescue organization.
Greyhounds have been bred to instinctively chase small prey. Unfortunately, this can be problematic in a home environment. While greyhounds are typically “lazy” dogs while inside and may even become great friends with a cat or small dog under calm indoor situations, they may chase and attack that same cat or small dog if it takes off running across the yard while both are outdoors together. This chasing instinct can also lead to issues at dog parks, if a greyhound begins to chase a smaller dog. It’s important for greyhound owners to be aware of these tendencies. Greyhounds should never be left unattended with small pets and may do best in a home without small animals. Additionally, greyhound owners should expect to keep their dog leashed at all times outdoors, because an off-leash greyhound will be prone to chase any small animal that crosses its line of sight.
In addition to these behavioral characteristics, greyhounds are also predisposed to a number of medical conditions.
Common medical conditions in greyhounds include:
- Dental disease
- Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD)
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Von Willebrand’s disease
While any of these conditions may arise in a greyhound, the most common and universal is dental disease. Greyhound owners should be prepared for a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment (under general anesthesia) once to twice yearly, even with daily toothbrushing at home. Additionally, dental extractions are likely to be needed at some point during the dog’s life.
Retired Racing Thoroughbreds
Retired racehorses, or Off the Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) are common equine pets. Although Thoroughbreds can live 25-30 years, most horses finish their racing career by four years old. This results in a large number of horses that are available for adoption.
Like greyhounds, OTTBs may have behavioral tendencies that can be explained by their breeding and early life. During their training and racing career, racehorses are often confined to a small stall and removed from that stall only for training. This means that when these horses are removed from their stall, they become excitable, even running in circles around their handler. Clearly, this is undesirable in many settings and may require additional training. Additionally, OTTBs may exhibit behavioral vices that are a result of prolonged confinement, such as pacing and cribbing. In a 2019 study of retired racing Thoroughbreds, nearly 40% of owners reported the presence of one or more behavioral issues.2 While many retired racehorses are pleasant horses with no behavioral issues, it’s helpful for owners to be aware of common issues so that they are prepared to handle these situations if they arise.
Due to their strenuous racing career, OTTBs are prone to a number of medical issues, often related to their bones and joints. Some of these disorders may be apparent at the time of adoption, while others may not be apparent until the horse reaches a more advanced age.
Common medical issues in OTTBs include:
- Bog spavin
- Bone spavin
- Condylar fracture
- Osteochondrosis dissecans
- Gastric ulcers
- Sesamoid fracture
- Suspensory desmitis
- Thin soles
While OTTBs can make excellent pets, it’s important for both owners and members of the veterinary team to be familiar with behavioral and medical issues that can be associated with these animals. Additionally, prospective racehorse adopters should be encouraged to pursue a thorough pre-purchase examination; the 2019 retired racehorse study indicates that this was only performed in approximately 30% of cases.2 A thorough pre-purchase exam and client education can help decrease the likelihood of undetected and untreated medical problems.
Set Realistic Expectations
Adopting a retired racing pet can be an excellent way for experienced pet owners to contribute to animal welfare and make a positive difference in the life of an animal. It’s important for people to know what they’re getting into, though, so they can make an educated decision and ensure that they are equipped to provide the best possible home for their retired racing pet.
- Greyhound Racing FAQ. The Humane Society of the United States.
- Reed SK, Vander Ley, BB, Bell RP, et al. 2019. Survey on Thoroughbred use, health and owner satisfaction following retirement from racing. Equine Veterinary Education.