Italian Greyhound


The smallest member of the Sighthound family, the Italian Greyhound has captured the hearts and minds of many. Delicate and fragile looking but very stoic these delightful little dogs, the smallest of the Sighthound family, have graced many well-known households throughout the ages. They have been written about, drawn, painted and sculptured by many famous writers and artists.


It is thought the Italian Greyhound originated over 4000 years ago in the Mediterranean Rim. In countries now known as Greece and Turkey small skeletons and decorative arts depicting a small hound have been found. Small greyhound type skeletons still wearing their jewelled collars have been found in Egypt in the tombs of the ancient Pharaoh’s and can be seen in the Cairo Museum. It is rumoured that Cleopatra owned and had given one to Marc Antony as a gift. In fact Tiepolo, in his painting, “The Banquet of Cleopatra” depicts a little Italian Greyhound so there may be some truth in the rumour.

In Pompeii small hounds have been found in lava flows and the Latin inscription “Cave Canem” or Beware of the Dog, found in floor mosaics of houses of that period, was not a warning, but a reminder not to step on the miniature hound.

During the Middle Ages the Italian Greyhound spread through Southern Europe. They were very popular during the Renaissance Period in Italy and this is where they gained their name. From this period they can be well traced throughout Europe, arriving in England in the 17th Century during the reign of Charles I.

Popular in many European households, the breed graced many salons, with owners including Mary Queen of Scots, Princess Anne of Denmark, Charles 1, Queen Victoria, Catherine the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia, whose Italian Greyhound accompanied him in many military campaigns.

Catherine the Great of Russia had a favourite named Zemira. When the little dog died she had her buried in Peterhof Park, St Petersburg and a life size porcelain figurine of Zemira was commissioned, where it can be seen today in the Palace. An annual holiday on 27th July in St Petersburg marks the occasion with “The Wind Plaything” Italian Greyhound festivities dedicated to Catherine’s beloved Zemira.

In England they became popular with royalty and the privileged classes and the beginnings of the English Italian Greyhound Club was established to save the breed due to some unfortunate circumstances around the two world wars.

They arrived in Australia around 1870 and there are records of some having been exhibited during this time. Their popularity has grown and now the Italian Greyhound is represented Australia wide, with many being successful in the showring.


Being what is known as an ‘outline breed’ the general appearance of the Italian Greyhound should be of delicate grace, refinement and beauty with long and flowing lines. We see an arched and graceful neck almost swan-like, the back with a slight arch over the loin flowing with the droop at the croup and the long fine tail.

Lean and muscular there is a graceful curve from the chest to the tuck up. One of the hallmarks of the breed is the expression - the large round eyes in an almond setting provides a lovely soft and gentle doe-like appearance. The coat is like satin to touch and the skin feels like the finest kid leather. A foreleg raised delicately is a characteristic pose. Once moving the Italian Greyhound should appear to ‘float‘ over the ground. Overall an almost ethereal creature!

The Standard calls for ‘a Greyhound in miniature’ but they are not an exact replica nor are they a smaller version of a Whippet. They are overall Greyhound in type and distinctive enough to be recognised as an Italian Greyhound.


The Italian Greyhound has a typical Sighthound temperament in that they are aloof with strangers until they get to know them. They are never aggressive or nasty and are loving, gentle and affectionate with their owners.

They have been described as being cat-like, able to get up on high places in the house such as the back of lounges, chairs, tables, etc Usually this is following the sunny spots or being up closer to eye level with their owners.

The Italian Greyhound loves to cuddle and snuggle up close to their owners, much like a cat does. Of course they don’t purr, rather in their contentment they sigh and in doing so melt the hearts of their owners. They often develop a habit of smiling at their owners for various reasons, usually when their owners have returned home or greeting them first thing in the morning.

In the event that there are two or more, the Italian Greyhounds will often have a singsong that is referred to as the ‘Italian Opera’, with one taking the part of the choir master beginning and ending the cacophony. It is very important that the Italian Greyhound learn from an early age the meaning of the word ‘no’ as they can easily have their owners wrapped around their paws and this is not beneficial to dog and owner.


The Italian Greyhound does have some health issues that breeders are working hard to eradicate through careful breeding programs. There is currently work being done in the USA to compile a register of the genetic markers for inherited diseases of the Italian Greyhound. These diseases include Epilepsy, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Luxating Patella and dentine degeneration. They need to have their teeth watched and brushed and scaled when necessary to manage tartar build-up.

During the colder months they can lose condition very quickly due to shivering, so they will require a variety of warm coats to ensure they are kept suitably warm. In the summer time they can be found sunning themselves and it is not unusual to find them underneath a blanket on even a very hot day. Care must be taken to ensure that they do not overheat and that they do not develop melanomas.

They can live a long life sometimes between 14 -16 years of age.

Suitability & Maintenance

The Italian Greyhound will suit those wanting a loving and devoted canine companion, although they can be needy. The males are usually more affectionate than the females. The females like to be the ‘pack leader’ and are often more independent and aloof even with their owners. They are better with older children as younger children may not have the coordination to pick them up and handle them and accidents can occur.

They are happiest when on the couch and under a blanket, as they hate cold draughts.

They will need a warm coat to wear in the colder months and a bed in which they can snuggle. Exercising will require a regular walk on a suitable Sighthound lead or a good run in a well fenced yard. Due to their curious natures they can be escape artists and will dig under a fence or find that space to wiggle through to investigate what might be on the other side.

Words: Maryanne Ashton-Sporne

Image by FFire Photography


In Conclusion 

Now you know a little about the Italian Greyhound, you may think that this is the dog for you. Before you make a decision, please make contact with the breed club or your State controlling body for purebred dogs. They will be able to give you information about available puppies and also suggest dog shows where you can see the breed and speak to breeders. In this way you will gain a better perspective of the Italian Greyhound and its needs, and whether this breed would suit your lifestyle.






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