Why is greyhound racing cruel?


The greyhound racing industry has a long and extensive history of animal welfare abuse related to the use of banned substances and illegal drugs. These include a range of drugs and banned substances that have been identified regularly in test samples- e.g. of hair and urine – taken from dogs involved in racing. These tests being performed are part of the racing industry’s own attempts to reassure the betting public of the integrity of racing, by trying to promote it as fair and above board.

But is it actually fair and above board on the greyhounds used within this commercial industry, when we look at their experiences involving drugs in a commercial industry?

How do greyhounds ingest drugs?

Firstly we need to understand that performance enhancing drugs are used to affect the track performance of a dog, and this includes a class A substance, cocaine. 

Cocaine is a performance enhancing drug. Its known effects on dogs include increased heart rate, more blood pumped to the heart and lungs, and increased action / speed. It is also an illegal Class A drug and there are usually legal consequences for those people found with it, using it or supplying it in wider society.

We know from the independent press and TV exposures

that racing greyhounds have been given cocaine along with other drugs used to affect performance, with the aim of  ‘rigging the betting’ or put simply, cheating.

The racing industry has a self regulated body – the Greyhound Board Of Great Britain – overseeing its operations. The GBGB is able to host its own disciplinary hearings for anyone found in breach of the rules of racing, and importantly, they decide the subsequent action to be taken against an offender.

The welfare of greyhounds however is compromised while the racing industry attempts to protect the integrity of betting in the gambling public’s eyes as a multi billion pound industry.

 Those administering these substances have become ever more imaginative in the excuses used in their defence if caught out by a dog testing positive for drugs, and the consequences for offenders are not consistently applied. 

What effect does a drug like cocaine have on a greyhound’s health?

Research has shown that the adverse effects of cocaine on dogs include neurological and muscular effects, increased heart rate and convulsions / seizures as described in ‘Presumptive cocaine toxicosis in 19 dogs: 2004–2012’, (research first published in April 2014, undertaken by Emily K Thomas BA VetMB MRCVS, Kenneth J Drobatz DVM MSCE DACVIM DACVECC and  Deborah Mandell VMD DACVECC)

In short unnecessary suffering is the price paid by these dogs 

The systemic use of drugs to stop a female (bitch) dog coming into season.

When in ‘season’, female greyhounds are unable to race for a specified period, thus causing the potential loss of an expected race win or difficulty in fulfilling a contract, and this affects owner/ trainers seeking to maximise their profits.

 Female greyhounds naturally ‘come into season’ (if unspayed) every 6 months, and with regulations applied by the racing industry this means they are effectively removed from ‘track activity’ for 8-10 weeks during this time. 

To overcome this, greyhound trainers may administer industry approved hormonal based ‘suppressants’ to female dogs in-order to delay a season from occurring. This enables the owner /trainer to race the dog rather than keep her for many weeks ‘off the track’ due to an enforced rest as ‘in season’, thus maximising income, but at what cost, again to the greyhound health?

The effects of these suppressants

One such suppressant approved by the GBGB for use in greyhounds is norethisterone. Unfortunately there is evidence that this drug’s reported side effects include significant behaviour changes as well as physical impacts on the dog’s health. Norethisterone is included in a list of pharmacological compounds used to control the reproductive cycle of some animals.

Some of its reported side effects are described by veterinary expert Professor Romagnoli below: 

‘If used at supra pharmacological doses or for excessively long periods, these compounds show a variety of actions on the reproductive and endocrine system (such as hyperplasia of the endometrium, hyperplasia of the mammary parenchyma, decreased production of adrenocorticosteroids, increased secretion of prolactin and growth hormone, insulin resistance) as well as some local skin reactions at the injection site and behavioral modification’

(Control of Reproduction in Dogs and Cats: Use and Misuse of Hormones)
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2006
Stefano Romagnoli, DVM, MS, PhD, DECAR
Professor, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, University of Padova Agripolis, Legnaro, Italy)

We might ask ourselves why not spay the dog and let her race but this would mean that a breeding future would not be available to her at the end of her racing ‘use’.

If we really care about all dogs including greyhounds we can ask ourselves is it really necessary for a female greyhound to endure years of these drugs with noted side effects being administered,  or is it simply a choice made by those who are supposed to care for her welfare, in order to ensure her maximum availability to race and then breed from, for further financial gain? 

Unauthorised Treatment

With the growth of satellite streaming contracts between Bookmakers, streaming companies and racing stadiums to show races at all times of day across the world enabling people to bet 24/7, trainers / owners now have to rely more and more on an income from the stadium dependent on their providing X number of dogs for X amount of races as their main source of income.

This financial pressure means practices where dogs are found to have been treated with substances by owner / trainers in an attempt to make them apparently ‘fit for racing’ rather than allowing them to rest after injury. The substances in their bodies presumably hoped to have been excreted by racetime, have been found in routine sampling.

There are also a number of instances again in the industry’s own disciplinary process, where the keeping of treatment records as required by the industry’s own regulations, do not match with banned substances found in the dogs’ samples.

 Some trainers and owners in recent years have walked away from the racing industry because of this pressure to provide dogs to race in accordance with contracts, others mask injuries and the results can be seen both in the injuries sustained  – e.g. a dog being returned to race too early post injury – or once again through the detection of the use of banned drugs to temporarily treat the dogs and mask the injury. 

Cheap Meat at What Cost?

Greyhound racing is an industry and as such trainers/ kennels can access subsidised cheap meat to use as food for the dogs. The meat is from fallen, dying, diseased animals deemed unfit for the human food chain. This food chain has been cited often by owner / trainers as the explanation for why test samples taken from their dogs show drugs in their results, e.g. ‘must have been from meat they’ve eaten’. Food derived from the meat of animals treated by a vet and containing pentobarbitol is one example, (pentobarbital is a a powerful drug ordinarily used to euthanize an animal e.g. horses).

The finding of pentobarbital in random samples has proved a wider issue than from contaminated meat it would seem….

” it would appear from information obtained in Disciplinary hearings, (Greyhound Board of Great Britain 2016), (that there have been) findings of pentobarbital when Category 3 Animal By-Products (which should not contain drug residue) or meat for human consumption are fed.”

(Tim Morris, Independent Scientific Advisor Greyhound Board Great Britain)

The use of unauthorised drugs in greyhound racing is frowned upon publicly by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, but it is interesting to note that most disciplinary findings in this area will  cite breaches of rules relating to compromising the integrity of the betting rather than the impact these drugs have on a greyhound’s welfare.

Looking at disciplinary hearings by The Greyhound Board Of Great Britain we can see evidence available that between Jan 2017 and Jan 2018, there were 39 hearings where disciplinary breaches involved a banned or illegal substance having been found in a greyhound’s samples, and these included nandrolone, pentobarbital and cocaine metabolite.

There were 39 individual hearings at that time (trainer/ owner/ agents) found in breach of their own industry rules with regards to drug/ banned substance offences involving greyhounds. There is scant regard by the self regulating body – i.e. the Greyhound Board of Great Britain – to any consideration that the offences were in breach of animal welfare legislation meant to protect dogs from ‘unnecessary suffering’ as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 states. 

The subsequent fines issued by the GBGB board for these drug related offences ranged from £0 to £3,000, the latter for an issue with sample integrity being interfered with.

Also, in the same time frame 13 defences offered ‘contaminated meat’ as an explanation for the presence of a banned or illegal substance by way of reasoning for positive samples. If the meat is an issue why are the dogs being fed it, we ask? 

To conclude, greyhounds racing every day in this commercial industry are exposed to injurious/ banned/ illegal substances, why?

  1. To affect performance and race outcome 
  2. To mask injury and ensure contractual income 
  3. To maximise their racing availability by suppressing female dogs coming naturally into season and thus protect trainer/ owner income
  4. Those responsible for their welfare are accessing cheap, subsidised feed which is used for the dogs  

We need to ask ourselves and those operating and supporting this industry: is it fair to expose greyhound dogs to the use of drugs in this way and why is it necessary? Perhaps the answer lies in what its own officials define as profit within a ‘ multi billion pound industry’…. 

References are mostly given within the article but some material referred to is derived from research on The Greyhound Board of Great Britain’s own disciplinary hearings and has been collated by the author from the Board’s own publications and website during 2017/18.

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