Italian Greyhound

Known in its homeland as the Piccolo Levriero Italiano, this tiny dog has been kept as a companion animal for thousands of years.

This is a breed of considerable antiquity and, as Renaissance paintings show, was widely popular in Italy in the sixteenth century. Smallest of all hounds, it has been much prized by royalty and nobility.


We know from paintings, reliefs and sculptures dating from early civilizations that this little dog was popular, not only in ancient Egypt (where it was sometimes mummified by the pharaohs), but also in both Greece and Rome. It was probably one of the very first dog breeds created exclusively as a companion. By breeding down from full-sized greyhounds to this diminutive creature, early pet-keepers were able to develop a dog which, although it could no longer take part in serious hunting, was of great value as a high-status adornment about the house.

This situation continued for many years. In the 15th century, for example, great artists such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling both included this dog in their paintings. In Britain it became a highly fashionable breed in the Tudor and Stuart periods and its popularity had become very great.

Royalty has frequently fallen under its spell and monarchs who have owned dainty, high-stepping, Italian Greyhounds include Charles I, Queen Anne and Queen Victoria, not to mention the African King Lobengula, who fell in love with one to such an extent that he exchanged 200 head of Matabele cattle in order to possess it.

Sadly, this craze for high-status pet Italian Greyhounds resulted in progressive miniaturization until the breed was in serious danger. As it became smaller and smaller, many unsound specimens began appearing. The breed was on its way to extinction, but towards the end of the Victorian period, in the 1890s, a group of serious breeders came to its rescue and began to return it to its former, stronger self.


All experts agree that the Italian Greyhound is a small version of the Greyhound, and the IG is ideally 13-15 inches/33-38 cm. It is just a little more slender in all parts compared with its larger progenitor. Graceful, lithe and beguiling, it is an elegant canine with a narrow tapering head with rose-shaped ears set far back on the head. Its rather prominent eyes are expressive and luminous. An arched neck with a svelte body a slight rise over the loin, along with its high-stepping gait, make the IG an enchanting Toy dog.

The Italian Greyhound has a small, beautiful, slender body; a back that curves downwards; a deep, narrow chest; a tucked-up abdomen; long, straight limbs; a long, narrow head; an elegantly arched neck; dark, shiny eyes; small rose ears; an extremely lean, long muzzle with a slightly pronounced stop; and a fairly long tail that is carried low. All markings are permissible except brindle, black, tan, and blue tan.


Loving and playful with its family, this dog is reserved with strangers. The owner should be gentle, because this dog can be quite sensitive to harsh words and behavior. It prefers resting in a warm, comfortable place and doesn't care for excessive physical attention.

Particularly decorative in repose, when it crosses its elegant legs, the Italian Greyhound almost looks as if it is made of bone china. But although it is light in weight and easily carried, it is not a fragile little dog. Common sense should govern how it is handled.

Health Matters

As far as the IG’s health is concerned, breeders report that although there are some cases of isolated illness, the breed is quite free of major genetically inherited problems.

Care and Exercise

The coat needs to be brushed and then massaged with a damp towel twice a week. The Italian Greyhound should be bathed only occasionally. It does not need much vigorous exercise, but should be walked twice daily. Like other hounds, it will run at full speed when given a chance. Remember always to exercise this dog on a lead.

Puppies and Training

The litters of three to five puppies are easily delivered. Newborns are very small and weak. White puppies remain unchanged until they mature, but others will change colors.

Gallery of Italian Greyhound