Redbone Coonhound

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Redbone Coonhound

A muscular and athletic hound dog, the Redbone Coonhound was developed by mixing Foxhounds and Bloodhounds in the pursuit of finding the all-American hunter. Distinguished by their red coat, they are one of six Coonhounds currently in existence. Determined when on the trail, they are prized in the States for their endurance and strength.

It is not unusual nowadays for this breed to be kept as a family pet rather than a working dog. They are known to be particularly demonstrative with their affection, and when exercised sufficiently, make very well-behaved housemates. Due to their strong hunting instincts, caution is advised before housing the Redbone Coonhound with smaller pets.

About & History

More popular in America than the rest of the world, the Redbone Coonhound is one of six Coonhounds, the others being the: Bluetick Coonhound, Black and Tan Coonhound, Treeing Walker Coonhound, American English Coonhound and Plott Hound. The Redbone Coonhound is easily recognised by its beautiful red coat.

Traditionally, the British brought over Bloodhounds and Foxhounds to America in order to hunt for sport. From these, the Americans developed their own hunting hounds that were more suited to the local conditions. Irish, French, Welsh and Scottish hounds were added to the mix, resulting in a genetically diverse breed of sporting dog.

Peter Redbone of Tennessee is credited with the breeding of the Redbone Coonhounds who derive their name from him, though it was a Mr. George Birdsong who standardised and truly established the breed in the mid 1800s. He bred the Coonhounds for their red coat colour, as well as their overall conformation, and eventually their hunting abilities. The ideal Redbone Coonhound was bred to be courageous, to have great stamina and determination and be able to swim.

Initially, the Redbone Coonhounds produced from selective breeding were crossed with Red Irish Foxhounds and the resultant litters had a black ‘saddleback’ patterned coat. This was not thought of as desirable, and so this trait was later bred out, with the solid red colour being far preferable in the eyes of the breeders.

Starting in the 1800s, Coonhound trials have been run, providing owners with the opportunity to compete their dogs with their peers. Often very profitable for the winning animals, these are hard-fought contests with strong competitors.

It was in 1902 that the Redbone Coonhound breed was first recognised by the UKC. Recently, the breed has also joined the AKC within the Hound group. Far from a dog that exclusively hunts racoons, the Redbone Coonhound hunts a variety of game, such as deer and cougars. However, many are kept solely as companion animals nowadays.


Redbone Coonhound Large Photo

A medium to large hound, the Redbone Coonhound is distinguishable by its classic, red coat colour. Breed members must have long ears that flop forwards and brown, expressive eyes, with a prominent and well-developed snout, and black nose. Their body is well-muscled with a deep chest and long, slender tail. Their skin is somewhat droopy, though far less than, for example, the Basset Hound, with the Redbone Coonhound’s loosest skin being around their face and neck area.

Typically, males stand at 55 to 68cm, while females reach heights of between 53 to 66cm. An adult Redbone Coonhound will weigh between 20 and 32kg.

Character & Temperament

Due to their affectionate and good-tempered nature, many of the Redbone Coonhounds used for hunting spend a good proportion of their life as household pets, tolerating children well in most circumstances. They enjoy the company of other dogs and will often work in a pack. Unfortunately, this tolerance does not often extend to small animals, and it may be difficult to home a Redbone Coonhound with a cat or small dog, due to their desire to chase and hunt.

Vocal when active, excited or bored, the loud ‘bay’ of the Coonhound can put a lot of owners off and is to be considered if living in close proximity with other people.


Photo of Redbone Coonhound puppy
Tim Chilcott /

Scent dogs by nature, you won’t be able to train this instinct out of your Redbone Coonhound. Their mission in life is to find a trail and track it, whether you want them to or not. When hunting and tracking, you will find that they inherently know what to do from a young age with little input from the hunter.

Intelligent, they will pick up on new tasks quickly and rarely have trouble following commands. However, this does not mean that they are easy to train. In fact, these dogs can be wilful and stubborn and often require a persistent and dedicated trainer with a profound knowledge of the breed. When training, food is most definitely your friend.


A hardy breed, the Redbone Coonhound has an average lifespan of between 12-14 years. Conditions to be observant of include:

Coonhound Paralysis

Also known as Acute Idiopathic Polyradiculoneuritis, this is a nerve inflammation that leads to a progressive and debilitating paralysis. While any dog can be affected, those that are hunters (and particularly raccoon hunters) are more predisposed. Typically, one to two weeks after the animal has come into contact with the raccoon, they will start to display signs, such as stiffness, weakness and pain. Intensive nursing care and physiotherapy are essential for a good recovery. It is thought that this disease is caused by an, as of yet, unidentified virus or bacteria.

Hip Dysplasia

Certainly not a disease specific to the Redbone Coonhound, hip dysplasia affects many breeds of dog, particularly those that are medium sized or larger. The hip joint will not form appropriately, resulting in inadequate function and an instability which leads to inflammation and localised damage. Osteoarthritis is a common consequence in later life. Initially, dogs may sit with their back legs to the side, or bunny hop when running. They may also have an abnormal gait or stride.

As the condition progresses, animals become stiff and slow and can struggle to stand and move about. A variety of treatments can benefit affected animals, including pain management, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. In some cases, veterinarians will recommend surgery on one or both hips. Importantly, all breeders should be aware of this condition, and breeding parents should be screened to ensure that they have healthy hips.

Elbow Dysplasia

A similar condition to Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia involves the elbow joint of the forelimb and occurs when there is abnormal joint conformation. Imaging modalities, such as X-rays and CT scans, can help in the diagnosis of the condition. Commonly, a small camera placed inside the joint may be used for inspection; a technique called arthroscopy.

In some cases, small bony fragments may be removed during an arthroscopy. In severely affected animals, elbow replacements may be an option. However, in those animals that are not as badly affected, their disease is commonly managed with lifestyle changes and medications. Controlled exercise, weight reduction (if appropriate) and hydrotherapy are also hugely beneficial.

Eye Conditions

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (a degenerative disorder resulting in blindness), Cherry Eye (a colloquial name for a prolapse of the nictitans gland) and Entropion (a folding inward of the eyelids, often resulting in corneal irritation and ulceration) have all been reported in the Redbone Coonhound.

Ear Infections

As with any dog that does not have erect ears, the Redbone Coonhound is over-represented when it comes to the development of ear infections. As the ear canal has a reduced air supply and any water that enters will not easily drain, the ear of the Redbone Coonhound tends to be moist and humid. The ideal conditions are created for infective micro-organisms to proliferate, and ears become easily infected.

An owner will normally first notice the dog shaking their head excessively and scratching at the pinna. They may then become aware of a bad smell coming from the ear, and on checking, may notice that the ear is hot, red and contains a thick discharge. The sooner an infection is treated, the better the odds of a quick recovery. A vet may take a sample of the debris and discharge to look at under the microscope or to send to the laboratory, to best determine which ear medications will work successfully.


Redbone Coonhounds are notorious for scavenging and over-eating. Adding to this the fact that they have a high exercise demand, it is not uncommon for under-exercised and overfed Coonhounds to become obese. Obesity can lead to joint disease, diabetes, cardiac disease and can even increase the risk of some cancers. An exercise programme and strict diet plan are often necessary to prevent or treat obesity.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Built to be an athlete, the Redbone Coonhound relishes the opportunity to spend time outdoors and to be active. Their preferred owner would routinely jog and hike with them, as well as give them the opportunity to go for a quick dip, weather permitting. ‘Scentwork’ and similar activities are where they really have fun. Allowing them to exhibit their natural behaviour and to ‘do what they do best’ provides satisfaction for both dog and owner.

Under-exercising a Redbone Coonhound will not be well tolerated, and nuisance behaviours, such as excess howling, may become an issue in frustrated pets. Constantly sniffing, with an incredible sense of smell, the Redbone Coonhound should only be allowed off lead in a safe environment and if their recall is up to scratch.

Any outdoor area must be incredibly secure, with a substrate that a Redbone Coonhound cannot dig down into, and a fence that they can’t jump over. Escape artists by nature, if there is a design flaw in their pen or garden, they will quickly find it.


Moderate to heavy shedders with short and smooth coats, Redbone Coonhounds do not require a lot of upkeep, though benefit from weekly brushing, which may be done with a grooming mitt if the owner prefers. Their claws will generally not overgrow if they are outdoors and active, but for Redbone Coonhounds with less active lifestyles, they may need routine claw trims.

Owing to their dangling ears, owners must pay extra attention to their ear health, particularly those Redbone Coonhounds that love to swim. Ears should be kept as clean and dry as possible, and often the use of an ear cleaner every one to two weeks will help to prevent waxy build ups. Additionally, Redbone Coonhounds have got a reputation for drooling, though thankfully not to the same extent as some other hounds.

Famous Redbone Coonhounds

Where the Red Fern Grows is a popular novel by American writer, Wilson Rawls, which features the breed and has increased people’s awareness of their existence, with many owners citing it as the reason they now own the breed. Published in 1961, there are two Redbone Coonhounds in the book called Old Dan and Little Ann.


There are currently no popular cross-breeds of the Redbone Coonhound in existence.

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