An ancient breed, the Italian Greyhound is thought to have originated more than 2,000 years ago in the Mediterranean lands currently known as Turkey and Greece, based on skeletal remains and decorative depictions from that time. The small breed spread slowly throughout Europe and eventually became popular with Italian royalty in the 16th century, acquiring the name Italian Greyhound, which it carries today. The breed has survived virtually unchanged for centuries, prized for its diminutive stature, its sweet temperament and its elegance. Early owners prized it as a high-status adornment – particularly as a ladies’ lapdog. By the start of the 19th century, the Italian Greyhound was vying with the King Charles Spaniel, the Maltese and other tiny dogs for the role of the most prized dog among nobility. Efforts to breed smaller and smaller dogs almost ruined the breed. Progressive miniaturization of the IG weakened the gene pool and led to unsoundness in structure and temperament. Towards the end of the 1800s, a group of breed fanciers implemented selective, well-managed breeding programs in an effort to restore the Italian Greyhound’s soundness, strength and style.
The first volume of the Stud Book of The Kennel Club (England) contained forty Italian Greyhounds. The first Italian Greyhound recognized in the United States was registered in Volume III of the American Kennel Club’s Stud Book, dated 1886. Never a highly popular breed in terms of numbers, it was not until 1950 that fifty IGs were registered with the AKC in a single year, and it was 1957 before fifty were registered in a single year in Great Britain. The World Wars interrupted development of the breed. After World War II, breed fanciers imported fresh stock from the United States into England, evidencing the quality that the Italian Greyhound had achieved in America.
It is not clear whether the IG was originally bred to hunt small game, or whether it always was primarily a companion animal. Most likely, it was bred to perform both roles. Italian Greyhounds have competed successfully in all parts of the United States in obedience trials, lure coursing and the conformation ring.
The average life span of the Italian Greyhound is 12 to 15 years. Breed health concerns may include autoimmune disease, dental problems, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, patellar luxation, degenerative eye conditions, cataracts and von Willebrand disease. Due to their delicate bone structure, IGs are at an increased risk of bone fractures and injuries if playtime becomes too rough or if they are allowed to leap from extreme heights. Italian Greyhounds have a greatly increased (and adverse) susceptibility to thiopentone.