On a recent run my Greyhound/ Deerhound cross was lagging behind and eventually I stopped and we rested a while before walking home. Normaly he will run 20k with me without any problems. Later that night I noticed his urine was a very dark brownish red. Naturaly i took him to the Vets who were quite perplexed as he appeared to be a very fit and healthy dog but he was running a temperature and his bloodwork showed that his red cell count was extremely (dangerously) low.

After numerous tests it was concluded that the caused was Sporadic Exertional Rhabdomyolysis. This is a condition most commonly associated with racehorses but it can occur in working dogs, particularly Greyhounds and sled dogs. This is not something that a general vetenary practitioner is likely to have come across unless they have experience with these specialist type dogs. It seems that it is only very fit, well exercised dogs that are at risk. I have included some information on what to look for below, if you recognise any of these symptoms rest your dog and get some blood tests done, it can kill.

One way to avoid it is to ensure that your dog exercises at the same level regularly, if he has had a break from longer runs, even for just a week, build up to those distances again slowly. I day away from training for a dog is equivilant to 1 week away from training for a human.

This information should not cause you to much anxiety as this is very rare but I want you to be aware of it as your Vet may not be.

Fortunately my best buddie has made a full recovery.

  • A metabolic disease usually affecting athletic and working dogs.
  • Results from extreme muscular work to the point that the muscle cells are damaged.
  • Cellular damage creates secondary problems ranging from minor muscle pain to death.
  • Few references in canine veterinary literature although well documented in equine medicine, and has recently been a topic in the human literature.
  • Mostly seen in Sled Dogs, Racing Greyhounds, bird dogs, coursing dogs and Field and Trial competitors.
  • Greyhound and Sled Dog veterinarians in Sports Medicine deal with this problem much more commonly than the general practitioner.
  • In general veterinary practice condition seen occasionally in the pet dog that has escaped and run away.
  • This problem is also seen by the wildlife veterinary practitioner. A condition called capture myopathy is seen in animals that have been stressed too greatly during the capture process. This is a common cause of death related to the capture process.

Clinical signs

  • Exertional rhabdomyolysis may be subdivided arbitrarily into 3 categories that differ in the severity of the clinical signs and the suddenness of onset. The following descriptions are adapted from articles written by Pemberton and Gannon.

Hyperacute exertional rhabdomyloysis

  • Extreme distress with generalized muscle pain.
  • Swollen and tense muscles causing discomfort if touched.
  • Muscles initially hot to the touch as result of the acute inflammatory changes and diminished heat dissipation.
  • Discomfort, particularly along the back and over the hindquarters.
  • Occasionally dragging of rear legs and scuffing nails along the ground when being walked. Difficulty standing up and lying down.
  • Red discoloration of urine due to myoglobinuria .
  • Death is common within 48 hours from acute kidney failure .

Acute exertional rhabdomyloysis

  • Dogs show distress after a race and exhibit pain when palpated over the back and hind limb muscles.
  • Urine may or may not be red-tinged, but will test positive for myoglobinuria.

Subacute exertional rhabdomyloysis

  • Dogs show suboptimal performance.
  • May be pain on palpation of the saddle area (this may take 24-72 hours to develop).
  • Red urine is rarely seen but the urine analysis will show a positive myoglobinuria.
  • May be an increase in protein levels , and an increase in urine pH .
  • Usually when the dog is asked to run the following day, he appears to be ‘tying up’ or shortening his stride because of myositis (inflammation) in the muscle groups.
  • The subacute form of exertional rhabdomyolysis is rarely fatal, but may progress to the acute or subacute forms if the patient is ubjected to a heavy workload during subsequent racing or trialing.
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