Saluki

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Saluki

Considered a gift from Allah by the nomadic tribes of the Middle East, the Saluki has been man’s hunting companion in the region for thousands of years. It has the speed and strength to take down a gazelle in full flight, but is also the most graceful and elegant-looking dog imaginable. Like many other sight hounds, it is quietly affectionate, and appreciates mature, calm companionship. Its sensitive nature means it is easily upset, whether through criticism or exposure to stress within the home. This, combined with its thin skin and lack of protective fat, means it is not the best choice of companion for young children. Nor does it appreciate being kept with more boisterous breeds, but it will live harmoniously with other like-minded sight hounds. Its hunting instinct remains strong, and it can never be trusted be smaller animals.

For the same reason, the Saluki cannot be allowed off-lead in open public spaces, but it does need the opportunity to stretch its legs and to break into a gallop. Its ideal home has a very large, enclosed area in which it can run in a straight line for several hundred metres, reaching speeds of up to 40-miles per hour. The breed can have one of two sleek coat types, but neither require a lot of work to maintain, and both shed very little. It is likely for this reason, along with the fact that it does not have a strong doggy odour, that the Saluki is the only breed of dog the Bedouin will allow to share their tents. This healthy breed has a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years.

About & History

The Saluki, or at least a dog very similar to the modern breed, has been in existence for at least 4000 years, as evidenced by its appearance in the writings and art of the Middle East. Indeed, its history may stretch back much further, with many believing the slender, mummified dogs of Pharaonic Egypt were the earliest examples of the breed. It is the fastest of all dogs over long distances, having been clocked at well over 40 mph at full speed, and it was its ability to sustain such high speeds that meant it remained an invaluable aid to hunting gazelles, hares, and foxes in the region throughout its history.

Although it is thought that Salukis probably first made an appearance in the United Kingdom in medieval times, accompanying returning crusaders, the breed did not gain a firm foothold until the early twentieth century, and the small gene pool from which most Western Salukis originate has given it a relatively standard appearance. This is not the case in many Arab nations, where regional differences in the terrain and prey species mean that Salukis can vary in their size and shape. However, what they all share is the breed’s grace and hunting skill, as well as a unique ability to efficiently digest starches, believed to be an adaptation to the grain-rich diet of the Middle East’s so-called Fertile Crescent.

Appearance

Saluki Large Photo

This is an extremely slender, elegant breed that is nonetheless strong and athletic. It is of noble bearing, and its posture generally conveys its aloof outlook on the world. The long, narrow head is very refined in its features, with a barely perceptible stop and evenly tapering lines. Its large eyes are oval-shaped and dark, and gentle and faithful in their expression. The long ears are set high on the skull, and are adorned with long silky hair, which falls flat to the side of the face. The Saluki’s neck and back are long and lithe, well-muscled but not broad. Its power in the chase comes from the rear, and it has a markedly arched, strong loin.

The chest is rather narrow when viewed from the front, but it is also deep and long, giving the lungs plenty of room to expand. The belly is tightly tucked, emphasising the almost complete lack of fat on the dog. Its tail is long and thin, with silky fringes, and is carried in a graceful curve. The long limbs are perfect in their form and movement, with ample muscling and strong, sinewy lower extremities. They propel the dog with a fluid, effortless gait, and even at a gallop, the Saluki is cushioned by its thick pads and limber joints.

Its coat is smooth and silky, and most individuals have marked feathering on the legs and at the rear of the thighs; however, there is also a smooth-coated variety, which lacks such adornments. Males are usually around 65–71 cm tall at the top of the withers, with females ranging between 58 and 65 cm. Their weight varies between 20 and 27 kg, with females tending towards the lower end of this range.

Character & Temperament

Though devoted to its owners, the Saluki is not one for public displays of affection. Rather than doting on its humans, the breed prefers quiet companionship, and loves to lounge about in their presence, without needing physical contact or constant reassurance. Most will bond most strongly with one particular family member, and will discreetly shadow this person as they go about their business, and they are not dogs that enjoy meeting new people. Salukis are never aggressive, but are aloof and distant around strangers, and will shy away from attention coming from unfamiliar quarters.

This trait needs to be handled from puppyhood through socialisation, lest the pup grow into a nervous adult. Their gentle nature means they are very unlikely to ever inflict a bite, but young children often play too rough for a breed with such thin skin and bony prominences, and so the Saluki cannot be considered a suitable pet for young families. It enjoys mannerly canine company, preferably in the form of other Salukis, but its strong hunting instinct is triggered by the sight of any smaller animal running, so it should not be homed with cats or any small pets.

Trainability

Photo of Saluki puppy

Training this independent-minded dog is difficult, as it is for many sight hounds. Salukis are easily bored, and are rarely interested in performing on command, even to satisfy their favourite person. Unfortunately, they are also largely uninterested in food rewards, meaning they can be difficult to motivate.

Health

Thousands of years in a desert environment has weeded out most genetic diseases in the breed, although there are several to which it remains predisposed:

  • Anaesthesia sensitivity – Many of the drugs used in veterinary anaesthesia rely on their diffusion into fatty tissues to prevent overdose, and the Saluki, like the Greyhound, does not have such fatty reserves. For this reason, complications can arise from general anaesthesia, particularly if the attending veterinary surgeon is less familiar with the particular requirements of this unique family of dogs.
  • Cutaneous haemangioma – This is a generally benign, but problematic, skin tumour that is common in the breed. It usually arises in the skin of the lower limbs, and although it rarely spreads beyond the primary site, it is invasive, can grow to a large size, and can bleed heavily if traumatised. In most cases, complete removal is not possible without amputation, and so the growth is often managed by repeated surgical “debulking” procedures.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy – Seen in older dogs, this progressive weakening of the heart muscles causes the organ to dilate and lose function. This cardiac failure may manifest as fluid accumulations in the chest or abdomen, causing coughing or bloating, or as episodes of weakness or fainting. Can often be managed medically for quite some time, but at considerable expense.
  • Haemolytic anaemia – An autoimmune disease, usually seen in young adult dogs, in which the white blood cells of the immune system inappropriately target the oxygen-carrying red blood cells for destruction. The resulting anaemia can be severe, and aggressive immunosuppressive treatment is needed for months to years to bring the condition under control.

Exercise and Activity Levels

While it is a true athlete and peerless in its speed and power, the Saluki is not a hyperactive or high-energy dog. It is happy to spend most of its day at rest, and appreciates having a comfortable bed on which to rest its bony joints. It should be given between 30 and 60 minutes of walking each day, but should also be provided with a secure outdoor space where it can gallop at full speed whenever it is so inclined.

Grooming

The silky coat sheds very little, and is relatively easy to care for. It should be brushed or combed twice a week, followed by a wipe with a clean, damp cloth to remove dust. With such care, it will rarely need washing. The Saluki may be prone to dental tartar build-up, especially if fed a wet diet, and daily tooth brushing is extremely beneficial. This should be started in puppyhood, for although periodontal disease and tooth loss occur later in life, an adult dog is less likely to accept a newly introduced brushing routine.

Famous Salukis

Sidi, a Saluki cross, was brought home by Orlando Bloom from Morocco, where he had been filming Kingdom of Heaven, in 2004, and regularly appeared with the actor in public.

Cross-Breeds

The Saluki is used in few cross-breeds, although a Saluki–Greyhound hybrid is sometimes encountered, especially in the United States.

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