Whippets are small sighthounds (also known as gazehounds) that rely on sight and speed to capture their prey. Although they resemble greyhounds, whippets are a distinct breed known to hunt game in open fields. They require daily exercise and space to run, but they're also happy to spend quiet time at home, acting as loyal companions to their favorite people.
Similar to greyhounds, whippets have lean body shapes and small heads — but they're much smaller. They come in many colors including grey, brown, white, brindle, and even blue. Considered medium-sized dogs, the ideal whippet is 18-22 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs between 25 and 40 pounds. They have an average life expectancy of 12-15 years.
Caring for Whippets
Whippets are house dogs by nature but need plenty of exercise. When they're outdoors, it's important to regulate their temperature as they don't have enough body fat to protect them from the cold and are prone to overheating in the sun. They can live in apartments or small houses, but they prefer to have room to run around.
Whippets should eat high-quality dog food, either commercial or a homemade diet. If you cook for your dog, check with a veterinary nutritionist to make sure your pet’s diet meets their nutritional needs. Choose food that is appropriate for your dog's age and overall health. If you have questions about dog nutrition, ask your vet for suggestions.
Whippets are active dogs who enjoy being outdoors for walks and playtime. They like to have plenty of space to run, so a large yard or access to a dog park is important. They are content to rest and relax in between activities.
Unless you are in a safely enclosed area, you need to keep your whippet on a leash. They have a strong prey drive, so they are liable to take off after a squirrel or other small animal. A leash will prevent them from running off when it's not safe to do so.
Like all dogs, whippets need annual trips to the vet. They should be immunized against vaccine-preventable infections like rabies, distemper, and parvo. Some dogs may also benefit from additional vaccines such as kennel cough or Lyme disease. Your vet can tell you if your pet needs additional shots. Regular vet visits are an opportunity to address any health issues that your pet might develop.
Fleas and ticks are a hazard for any type of dog. Ask your vet about flea and tick risks in your area. They can recommend appropriate medicine to prevent your dog from getting fleas, ticks, or other biting parasites.
Heartworm preventatives are recommended for all dog breeds. Ask your vet what type of heartworm preventative is best for your dog. Your vet can prescribe a monthly chewable or topical version or an injectable form that lasts for 6 to 12 months.
Regular dental care may not seem like a priority, but it's important for dogs. Professional cleanings from your vet will keep your dog's teeth and gums healthy. You can also use at-home products for daily brushing in between full dental cleanings.
Whippets have short, smooth coats that don't shed excessively or require a lot of maintenance. Light brushing and occasional baths will keep them clean and shiny. Their short coats leave them vulnerable to cuts and scrapes, so you should check your dog for injuries after they have been outdoors playing. Talk to your vet about first aid for dogs. Your dog may need regular nail trimming if they don't wear their nails down naturally. You can trim their nails at home, or ask your vet or a professional groomer to do it.
Whippet Health Issues
Whippets have fewer breed-specific health issues than some purebred dogs. Most whippets thrive with basic veterinary care and only suffer health problems related to aging. Whippets are susceptible to a few health conditions, but the large majority of whippets have good overall health.
Corneal dystrophy: Corneal dystrophy is a condition that causes a dog's eye to become cloudy. It's an inherited condition, but it isn't associated with other health problems in dogs. Your dog's vision may remain largely unaffected by the changes to their eyes, though some dogs do develop reduced vision if the clouding is widespread. Some dogs have pain or light sensitivity. Your vet can suggest appropriate management for the condition.
Progressive retinal atrophy: Progressive retinal atrophy is a condition that causes the dog's retina to deteriorate. It's an irreversible condition that progresses over time with most dogs losing their vision entirely within a year of onset. It generally occurs in older dogs. Dogs can have a good quality of life after vision loss with appropriate training and accommodations. Ask your vet how to help a dog who has lost its sight.
Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is a condition where your dog's thyroid does not produce enough metabolic hormones. It can cause low energy, skin and coat dryness, sensitivity to cold, and exercise intolerance. Your vet can prescribe medication to replace the missing hormones and restore your dog's energy and good health.
Congenital deafness: A number of dog breeds with merle or piebald coloring similar to whippets are predisposed to being deaf from birth. Dogs with blue eyes are more likely to be deaf and may be born deaf in one ear or both ears. Deaf dogs can live happy lives with careful training and attention from their owners, but they may not be suitable candidates for breeding. Talk to your vet about how to care for a dog with deafness.
Arthritis and spinal cord problems: As they age, whippets may develop arthritis. This is a condition where the dog's joints become inflamed and painful, affecting their mobility. Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine to help with pain and stiffness. Older whippets may also experience fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE), wherein a segment of cartilage in the spine obstructs blood flow and causes a stroke. It usually happens without warning, often while a dog is being very active. It can result in limb paralysis, though it may be temporary. Dogs usually recover with time and appropriate physical therapy.
Heart murmur: Some whippets have a heart murmur. This can indicate a physical problem with the heart but not always. In many cases, puppies outgrow heart murmurs as their hearts mature. Some dogs have a condition called mitral valve regurgitation, which can progress to significant heart disease or heart failure. If your whippet has a heart murmur, your vet can do tests such as an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of your dog’s heart. This test will help your vet to determine how serious the issue is. Your vet may prescribe medication to protect your dog's heart health if necessary.
Special Considerations for Whippets
The whippet personality is what makes it a lovely pet. They become very attached to their owners and often follow people from room to room to stay close to their favorite people. They enjoy sitting close to people and are known for their affectionate nature. Fortunately, their short coats mean they don't shed excessively, so they can lie on the sofa without too much mess.
They are trainable because they are so eager to please, but they are very smart and might try to get away with mischief if they think they can. Whippets don't typically bark, even when strangers approach the house, so they aren't effective watchdogs.
They get along well with people, including children and other dogs but are not reliable around cats or small pets. Since they're hunting dogs with a strong instinct to prey on smaller animals, they might harm a cat or small pet.
History of Whippets
The exact origin of whippets is unknown. There are images of dogs that look like whippets in art dating back to antiquity. The dog currently known as the whippet emerged in Britain in the 1800s, where the working classes bred small sighthounds as hunting dogs. It's not clear what breeds comprise the original whippet bloodlines. Some people believe that whippet ancestry includes greyhound, the Italian greyhound, and the Bedlington, Manchester, and English White terriers.
The original whippets were prized for the ability to catch small game like rabbits and rats. They were also popular racing dogs, and people enjoyed betting on them. They became known as the "poor man's racehorse." Modern whippets are the fastest dogs of their size and may reach speeds of 35 miles per hour.
British mill workers brought their pet whippets with them when they emigrated to the United States in the early 20th century. Whippets quickly gained popularity as racing dogs and companions in the new world. In current times, they are popular as companions due to their moderate size and friendly nature.
If you're thinking of adding a whippet to your family, talk to your vet about how to best prepare for your new pet.