Italian Greyhound

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Italian Greyhound

The Italian Greyhound is a sleek and elegant dog that is a miniature version of the larger, athletic (and perhaps better known) Greyhound. They have been bred as lapdogs rather than racing dogs, meaning that while they may have a similar appearance to the Greyhound, their personality and needs are quite different. Loving, affectionate and submissive, these small dogs have historically been a favourite of high society.

Long-limbed, lean and with short, silky fur, the Italian Greyhound is an attractive and well-balanced sighthound. They have piercing brown eyes, a long muzzle and delicate ears, which flop forwards endearingly. Height wise, they are only about half as tall as the Greyhound and are daintier in every way.

About & History

The Italian Greyhound dates back so far that the exact details of its origin are cloudy to say the least. While some experts believe that they come from mainland Europe (perhaps Italy or Turkey), others argue that they come from northern Africa. One should not assume that they hale from Italy due to their name though; they were given this moniker because they were extremely popular within Italy from about the 14th century onward.

These dogs almost certainly came from larger Sighthounds, which were specifically bred together to produce smaller and smaller litters, in the pursuit of a pet that would be easier to care for and house. It is also presumed that these smaller hounds would have been used to hunt small animals and exterminate vermin at one time in their history. Their closest relatives include the Greyhound, Whippet and Saluki.

Italian Greyhounds have a noble appearance and perhaps this is what attracted the likes of Queen Victoria of England and Anne of Denmark to them. This appearance has also served them well in dog shows and they have been firm favourites since the very early days of competitive showing. Interestingly, while Greyhounds and Whippets have both won Best of Show in Crufts, the Italian Greyhound never has.

As happened with a number of other pedigrees, breed numbers dwindled drastically during both World Wars and the breed has never really recovered since, with Italian Greyhounds remaining a rather rare pure breed today. They are recognised by the Kennel Club within their Toy Group though are quite capable of competing in canine activities, such as Flyball and Agility, and have retained a good level of speed despite being shrunken down over the centuries.


Italian Greyhound Large Photo

Breed fanciers admire the Italian Greyhound for its stylish silhouette and chic gait. They have an air of sophistication to them that many find attractive. As part of the breed standard, dogs should be very slender so that they have a visible waist and abdominal tuck-up; any fatty deposits are frowned upon in the show ring. Despite their slender frame, they are well-muscled and have particularly strong back legs that enable them to run at great speed.

The skull of the Italian Greyhound is fragile and they have a flat forehead. Their dark eyes are ‘beady’ and well-spaced, ensuring a serious expression is worn at all times. Their small ears are found right at the top of their skull and should be thrown back and folded. As is typical of sighthounds, they have a long and narrow muzzle, ending in a dark-coloured nose, which may be black or brown. They have a long and narrow neck and a deep yet narrow chest. Their forelimbs are long and straight and made of ‘fine bone’. They should have a ‘hare’ foot with slim toes and a good springiness. Their tail is remarkably slim and should have a slight curl at the end.

The coat of the Italian Greyhound is one of its most stunning attributes and it should be sparse, shiny and like silk to the touch. A wide range of colours are accepted, although both brindle and tan markings are not allowed. The most common colours seen include grey and fawn and white markings are commonly found. An adult Italian Greyhound should stand between 33cm and 38cm at the withers and will weigh from as little as 3kg to 6kg, making them very small indeed.

Character & Temperament

While one may assume the Italian Greyhound is timid and weak, they have survived many centuries and have a robust disposition, which belies their stature and dainty frame. Certainly, a lap dog by nature, this breed bonds strongly with its owner and is happiest when in their company. They relish human companionship and dislike being left to their own devices for too long. They are good-natured and placid, ensuring they get on well with young children in the majority of cases. However, constant supervision is essential as they do not take kindly to any ‘rough and tumble’ play and can be easily injured due to their small size and delicate bone structure.

Despite their love of ‘home comforts’ one must not forget their roots and these sighthounds maintain a healthy prey drive, as well as the ability to run like the wind! This means that they may not be the best choice for households with cats or smaller animals, such as guinea pigs, as they may enjoy chasing them about. Unlike most other Toy breeds, there is a lot more to them than just sitting around and looking pretty. They are more of a ‘dog’s dog’ than one may expect and do have an inherent need to run about and keep active. They can get along well with other dogs but are not ones for very lively or boisterous play, so would ideally live with dogs of a similar mindset.

Some individuals can be shy and reserved so owners should focus on socialising them well when young. There can be a wariness to them when around new people and in new situations they may gravitate towards their owner, seeking reassurance. When in their own home, they generally take on a ‘watch dog’ role and will yap loudly at a new arrival. Despite this, they are not known for being good guard dogs as they are too small and timid to be intimidating.


Photo of Italian Greyhound puppy

As is true for most breeds, the Italian Greyhound responds best to positive reinforcement. They can be sensitive, so punishing them can lead to an unhappy and confused dog who no longer wishes to participate in training sessions. Instead, when they cooperate or behave well, owners should reinforce this behaviour by praising them and offering a treat.

One of the most notoriously tricky areas of training when it comes to the Italian Greyhound is toilet training. This is likely due to a combination of their dislike of the outdoors in cold or wet weather, as well as their small bladder size. Patience is key, as is offering amply opportunity for them to toilet outside.


Most Italian Greyhounds will enjoy good health and will live into their early teens. There are, of course, a number of health issues, which we should be on the lookout for. Whether a dog is a pedigree or a cross-breed, there will always be certain health conditions to which they are more prone; either down to their conformation or genetics.

Patellar Luxation

Kneecap issues are more prevalent in small dogs. While either knee can be affected, many will experience issues in both knees at some stage. In some cases, knee cap issues can lead to further problems, such as cruciate ligament disease. There are four grades of patellar luxation, so dogs are affected to varying degrees.

Those with mild cases can typically be managed with exercise programmes and by avoiding excess weight gain. Those with moderate disease often need some form of pain relief or anti-inflammatory medicine, particularly during a flare-up. Finally, those with severe disease will usually benefit from orthopaedic surgery, which should provide a good level of relief.


The thyroid hormone is responsible for keeping the metabolism in check and those with thyroid disorders can become sluggish and over-weight. Hypothyroid dogs are also more prone to infections, most notably skin and ear infections. A dog with an underactive thyroid will have low T4 levels detectable when a blood test is run.

However, dogs who are not hypothyroid may also have low T4 levels when unwell, so one should always look at the patient, as well as the results, when making a diagnosis. If hypothyroidism is suspected, the hormone can be replaced in tablet form daily. We should see a demeanour improvement within a few days and any fur/skin issues will improve over the course of several weeks.

Periodontal Disease

As with the Greyhound, the Italian Greyhound is notorious for having dental issues. This can largely be prevented through a combination of tooth brushing, the use of canine ‘mouthwash’ and feeding a dental diet. Many will require a dental treatment or two (at least!) under anesthetic during their lifetime. During the procedure, all teeth will be cleaned and thoroughly examined. X-rays may be taken to better assess tooth viability and tooth roots.

Cold Sensitivity

Due to their low body fat reserves, thin skin and sparse coat, the Italian Greyhound will quickly become cold and start to shiver in cold weather. Due to this, they need to have warm beds and coats to go outside in. While hypothermia is unlikely to occur, they are more prone to it than most other breeds.

Anaesthesia Sensitivity

Vets are aware that many sighthounds will have slightly different anaesthetic needs when compared to the average dog due to their low body fat reserves. They will be able to deal with this by altering the anaesthetic protocol used, so this should not be seen as a reason to avoid anaesthetic when it is medically required.

Retained Testicles

It can be normal for testicles to descend during the first weeks and month of life if they have not done so before birth but, for some, their testicles will remain undescended. They may be classified as abdominal or inguinal, depending on where they reach.

Any retained testicle should be removed as it has the potential to become cancerous due to the increased local temperature. Similarly, as retained testicles can be a genetic trait, it is not advised that affected males are bred from, so castration prevents unwanted litters.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Italian Greyhounds are a little bit of a conundrum as they are a toy/lap dog but they are also a sighthound. This means that that are active and agile and thoroughly enjoy going for a good run. Despite this, they can be calm and well-behaved in the home, usually finding a nice, comfortable spot to curl up in and relax. For most, a couple of 30-45 minute walks each day will be all they need.

Off-lead walking should be done with caution as this is a dog with a very high prey drive who may not necessarily have the best recall when there is a tempting scent nearby. As they are so fast, an owner is unlikely to be able to catch up to them and they will be so focused on their prey that they could put themselves into dangerous situations. Ideally, off-lead exercise should be undertaken in a fenced-in area, such as a garden or dog park.

The Italian Greyhound makes the perfect candidate for a number of canine activities, including agility and rally. Not only do they possess impressive speed, they have a quick turn of foot and get great enjoyment out of keeping active.

Owners should be aware that, while exercise forms an important part of a dog’s day to day life, mental stimulation is also key and the Italian Greyhound enjoys the opportunity to find scents and to solve puzzles. Owners can help keep them entertained at home by feeding them from food puzzles, such as Kongs and Lickimats and by playing with interactive dog toys, as well as the standard balls and Frisbees that they love.


The luxuriously soft coat of the Italian Greyhound consists of fine, straight hair that does not grow long and will not become matted. As their coat is thin, they do not shed a great deal, however, they are not hypoallergenic. Caution is advised when it comes to bathing, as they can get cold very quickly so owners should keep bath time short and have a warm towel nearby to thoroughly dry them afterwards.

The most important aspect of the Italian Greyhound’s grooming routine should always be their dental care. A tooth brushing regime needs to be implemented from the get go. While they will not have their full set of adult teeth until around six months of age, owners should take the first few months as an opportunity to get them used to having their teeth brushed, as they can see it as quite an alien experience.

Tooth brushing can be made more pleasant by using appropriately sized brushes or finger brushes and meat-flavored toothpaste. While not always possible, brushing once a day or every second day is a good target to set. For dogs, the majority of calculus will build up on the outer surface of the teeth (the surface in contact with the inner cheek), so brushing efforts should be focused here.

Famous Italian Greyhounds

While there may not be many high-profile Italian Greyhounds just yet, they are the breed of choice for a number of celebrities including:

  • YouTube sensation, Jenna Marbles, has an Italian Greyhound called Kermit
  • Kylie Jenner has two Italian Greyhounds who are called Bambi & Norman. In fact, rumour has it that Kylie missed out on the American Music Awards when Bambi was giving birth!
  • Seth Meyers from Saturday Night Live has an Italian Greyhound called Frisbee who even has her own Instagram account.


There are quite a few Italian Greyhound crossbreeds out there, likely due to their elegant appearance and sweet temperaments. These include but are not limited to:

  • Italian-Bichon – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Bichon Frise
  • Bostalian – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Boston Terrier
  • Italian Cairn – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Cairn Terrier
  • Italian Greyhuahua – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Chihuahua
  • Peke-Italian – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Pekingese
  • Puggit – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Pug
  • Whippig – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Whippet
  • Italian Greycrested – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Chinese Crested Dog
  • Italian Greagle – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Beagle
  • Italian Papihound – Cross between an Italian Greyhound and a Papillon

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