National Dog Day 2022. Hair-raising cases in hair testing: Doggy doping

Aug 26, 2022

Hair raising cases in hair testing - Doggy doping

Dogs on cocaine. It may sound barking mad, but as part of National Dog Day 2022 we thought we'd share with you a blog we've previously published about dog racing, cocaine and drug testing. 

The last few years have seen hair testing professionals called in to test racing greyhounds for the class A drug, cocaine. Trainers dope their dogs for a racing advantage - cocaine makes dogs hyperactive, running faster - and to fix race results. Dogs are sedated in races to lengthen their odds for later events, and then raced without sedatives or with stimulants to improve their performance on a given day.

Increase in drug testing

The Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) - the governing body for dog racing in the UK - has increased drug testing over the last decade, and reports that 99% of tests come up negative. However, 261 positive tests for banned substances over four years indicates an ongoing cause for concern.

Disciplinary hearing

A GBGB disciplinary hearing early in 2019 was decided by hair test results: the test showed cocaine incorporated in the dog’s hair, to a level indicating several days’ exposure or a shorter, larger dose that took longer to wear off. Earlier cases, in which urine tests were used, required three tests over a period of two months to confirm the presence of cocaine metabolites..

With trainers’ reputations and fines of between £500-£1500 on the line - not to mention the animals’ health and wellbeing - an accurate and well interpreted test result can be crucial.

Canine hair analysis

Canine hair analysis is an established field, but its testing regimen is set up for health checks that identify allergies, deficiencies and appropriate dietary supplements. In these circumstances, it doesn’t always work.

When undertaken, third party checks on allergy tests revealed that results could not be reproduced, and the results of the tests weren’t up to the job of diagnosing an illness. A similar study into illegal and commonly abused drug metabolites in dogs found the tests were more reliable in some cases, but that false negatives did occur around specific drugs.

Toxicology literature and guidance

Evaluating these test results is a particular challenge since, as the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals explains, the majority of toxicology literature and guidance is based on human metabolism. Without a developed a sense of the biology involved in testing dog hair, it is harder for testing labs to understand the base state of the hair.

Potential limitations

While the measurement of drugs in dogs’ hair can be useful in several scenarios, providing us with long-term, retrospective data on drug administration, we must be aware of its potential limitations. As with human hair, many different factors could influence the results of hair testing: hair growth rates, hair colour, environmental exposures, and more. Beyond this, the duration of the hair growth cycle as a whole, and the duration of the individual phases within it, varies between pedigrees, animals, and anatomical sites - whereabouts on the body the sample came from.

Drug use over time

The analysis of dog hair samples could enable an extension of the detection period compared to urine, into the territory of drugs being present over several months. The interpretation of hair analyses concerning the date of a drug administration depends on the growth rate of the dog's hair, as well as incorporation of the drug due to sweat and sebum (an oily secretion from glands under the skin). It is not possible to verify an exact application date and the beginning of a repeated abuse; only a continuous presence of the drug over a period of time.

Hair Testing Guide for Social Work


Photo credit: Michael from Pixabay

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