The ancestry and historical background of most domestic dogs usually can be traced with some degree of accuracy. Not so with the elusive Saluki, whose geographic roots and heritage are shrouded in mystery. This breed’s origin pre-dates recorded history. What is known is that Salukis have lived in the Middle East since antiquity, and that they have been treasured by nobility and prized by nomadic hunters for thousands of years. Carvings from the Sumerian empire, estimated to have been created between 7000 and 5000 B.C., have been found in tombs and other excavation cites in the upper Nile region, depicting dogs virtually identical to the modern-day Saluki: Greyhound-like, with softly-feathered ears, legs and tails. Representations of Saluki-like dogs have been found on sculptures, royal seals, mosaics, pottery and other objects that are millennia old. Well-preserved mummified bodies of these dogs have been found in tombs and other burial sites, reflecting the esteem in which they were held by the nobility of ancient civilizations. The desert tribes that developed this breed were nomads that took the Saluki from the Caspian Sea to the Sahara. There were some natural variations in coat, size and type of the Salukis, depending upon the local weather, game and terrain.
In addition to being loyal companions to noblemen and nomads, Salukis were used to hunt rabbit, fox, jackal, gazelle and other fast-moving ground prey. They excelled at this due to their exceptional eyesight, agility, endurance and speed. Although they hunt primarily by sight, Salukis also have a fair nose for scent. The Saluki’s popularity survived the rise and fall of ancient Egypt. Some scholars recognize Biblical references to Salukis, and others believe that the Koran describes them as sacred gifts from Allah. For centuries, the breed has enjoyed special status among followers of Islam, who may touch them and let them live in their dwellings, including in women’s quarters, because they are considered to be “clean,” unlike other canines.
Salukis, then called Persian Greyhounds, first appeared in England in 1840. The breed’s popularity got a boost in 1895, when Lady Florence Amherst imported a pair of Arabian Salukis to Norfolk, England. The breed still remained relatively obscure until the 1920s, when Saluki breed clubs were established on both sides of the Atlantic. The Saluki/Gazelle Hound Club of England was founded in 1923, the same year that the Kennel Club of England officially recognized the Saluki as a distinct breed and adopted the first official breed standard.
Although the first Saluki may have arrived in America in the late 1800s, the breed as we know it today became recognized much later. The Saluki Club of America (SCOA) was formed in 1927, the same year that the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed as a member of its Hound Group. Rhode Island’s Senator Macomber and Col. Brydon Tennant of Virginia were among the first serious Saluki breeders and exhibitors in this country. Their stock came largely from the Sarona and Grevel kennels. The famous Diamond Hill Kennels in Rhode Island started in 1932, eventually housing up to 50 extremely high-quality purebred Salukis. A Diamond Hill dog, CH Marjan II, was the first Saluki to win an AKC all-breed Best In Show and Group I at Westminster. Marjan II was one of the foundation dogs for the El Retiro and Pine Paddock Kennels. Diamond Hill Hadji was the first Canadian Saluki Champion. Esther Bliss Knapp imported several fine desert Salukis to her Ohio Pine Paddock Kennels in the late 1930s and early 1940s; those dogs and their progeny are behind many of the finest Salukis in America today.
Saluki numbers waned during World War II, and many were lost to starvation, bombings and euthanasia. However, devoted breeders did what they could to save the breed from extinction. Fortunately, they were successful. The United Kennel Club formally recognized the Saluki in 1956, as a member of its Sighthound and Pariah Group. The Saluki is also recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club, as a member of the Hound Group. Salukis have slowly but steadily grown in popularity and number world-wide. Today, they are still used for sight-hunting in the Middle East and in the West. They are extremely strong competitors in lure coursing and other competitive canine events, including in the conformation show ring.
Salukis are fairly healthy dogs that live to about 12 to 14 years of age. The three main breed health concerns are cancer, heart problems and autoimmune disorders. Specific abnormalities in these areas include: 1) Cancer: mammary tumors, hemangiosarcoma, liver, spleen and skin masses, lymphoma, leukemia and squamous cell carcinoma; 2) Cardiac: heart murmurs, congestive heart failure, heart valve disease, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), cardiomyopathy, congenital heart defects (ones that the dog is born with), verrucous endocarditis (mitral valve insufficiency); vsdd3) Autoimmune disorders: autoimmune hemolytic anemia, autoimmune thrombocytopenia. Other disorders that Salukis may be predisposed to include Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism), hypothyroidism, color-dilution alopecia, dermatitis, black hair follicular dysplasia, ceroid lypofuscinosis, seizures, retained testicles, cataracts, deafness and adverse drug reactions.
Like other willowy sighthounds, Salukis have a low ratio of body fat to lean muscle mass, which can affect how their bodies metabolize drugs and combinations of drugs, especially fat-soluble anesthetic, sedative or tranquilizing drugs such as thiopental, pentobarbital and halothane. Veterinarians treating Salukis may need to make special accommodations for surgery or other procedures that require sedation or general anesthesia. Owners of Salukis should discuss this with their veterinarians, as they may not know how sensitive Salukis can be to certain medications. Salukis are also prone to sunburn, especially on their long, thin muzzles, and should be protected from prolonged sun exposure.