The Racing Greyhound's Diet

by Rebecca Bragg
    Racing greyhounds should not be fed raw meat, critics of the practice say.

    Racing greyhounds should not be fed raw meat, critics of the practice say.

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    A greyhound running at full tilt is poetry in motion. But to keep energy levels as high as they need to be in order to win races, these canine athletes require diets high in protein and fat. For peak performance, the Greyhound Racing Association of America recommends feeding dogs a combination of raw meat, carbohydrates and nutritional supplements. However, critics contend that uncooked animal protein puts dogs at risk of sickness or death from deadly food-borne pathogens.

    According to the Texas Greyhound Association, dogs who aren't racing on any given day are usually fed in late morning. The standard greyhound diet is high in protein from raw meat, which has greater nutrient value than cooked meat, the TGA maintains. In Texas, diets also include commercial kibble, pasta, vitamins and minerals. Before races, competitors get a light-protein meal and their full meal only after they've cooled down. On race days, the GRAA suggests administering "a hit of glucose" an hour before starting time. Carbohydrates, including wheat, brown rice and oats, are another component of the racing greyhound diet. Carbs are transformed into glucose by their bodies, but though the resulting elevation in blood sugar promotes speed, it doesn't last long, says the GRAA.

    In a 1998 study on feeding greyhounds for optimal athletic performance, Australian veterinarian and animal nutritionist John Kohnke writes that traditional diets consist of 50 to 70 percent raw meat. However, since only about 20 percent of raw meat is solid, water contributes most of the bulk, he says. In general, efforts to replace raw meat, either partly or completely, with energy-dense, nutritionally complete dry foods have not been well-received in greyhound kennels, partly because of the apparent higher cost, he noted. Kohnke's paper is published on the website of the Society of Greyhound Veterinarians of the U.K.

    "Meat is not a balanced food and is deficient in essential vitamins and minerals," wrote Richard C. Hill of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In his survey of peer-reviewed literature on the nutritional needs of canine athletes, published in The Journal of Nutrition in 1998, Hill observed that the lack of information about the special nutritional needs of racing greyhounds has encouraged most trainers to come up with their own recipes, which are heavily based on raw meat. Many of the food-borne pathogens that cause food poisoning in people who eat undercooked meat or unpasteurized food can also poison or kill dogs, including salmonella, shigella, E. coli, campylobacter, listeria, clostridium perfringens, mycobacterium bovis and staphylococcus, Hill wrote.

    "Racing greyhounds simply do not perform as well on a commercial diet as on one partially composed of raw meat," the GRAA maintains. Cooking might kill E. coli, but it also diminishes the nutritional value of the meat. When correctly handled, "raw meat has proven safe and effective," and racing greyhounds seldom die from food-borne diseases. Raw beef, lamb, mutton or chicken are the primary ingredients in racing greyhounds' diets, which may also include raw eggs and milk. Together, these protein sources provide the dogs with the amino acids, vitamins and minerals necessary for health and peak racing performance. Within the United States, "there are as many variations in feeding methods as there are trainers," notes the GRAA. Feeding preferences also differ widely between the U.S. and other countries that have greyhound racing, the association says.

    In addition to the dietary protein and fats yielded by raw meat, racing greyhounds require water, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Recommended quantities will vary depending upon the size, metabolic rate and physical condition of individual animals but according to the GRAA, grain foods must be "well cooked, well soaked and fed soft" to be effectively utilized by the dogs' bodies. Achieving the optimum balance of vitamins and minerals is a complex and delicate process, since administering too much can lead to hypervitaminosis, or overdose, which is just as debilitating to dogs' health and performance on the racetrack as vitamin deficiency. In addition to the various vitamins, minerals and trace elements contained in food, supplements may be given orally or in some cases, especially those involving the B vitamin group, injected by a vet.

    In August 2012, the American Veterinary Medical Association's House of Delegates approved its current policy on raw or undercooked animal protein in dog and cat diets. The position it takes, shared by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists, is that dogs should not be fed any animal proteins, including eggs and milk that haven't first been cooked or pasteurized, to reduce the risk of transmitting food-borne pathogens. To support its contention that raw meat exposes dogs to unacceptable levels of risk, the AVMA cites numerous studies published in peer-reviewed journals. Two such studies were also cited by the FDA in a 2004 "Guidance for Industry" paper. One found 45 percent of raw meat samples intended for racing greyhounds' diets to be contaminated with salmonella, along with 80 percent of raw chicken samples.

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    About the Author

    Rebecca Bragg has been a writer since 1979. From 1988 to 2000, she was a reporter for Canada's largest newspaper, the "Toronto Star," specializing in travel. She holds a Master of Arts in English literature and creative writing and has lived in India and Nepal, volunteering in animal rescue organizations in both countries.

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