At first glance, you may think that Wendy is a Pitbull or a Mastiff with a really tiny head. Or maybe that she’s been hitting the gym and the Power Pump XL a bit too hard. But Wendy is 100% Whippet. She just happens to have twice the muscle mass of the average slender dog of her breed.
Wendy’s condition is referred to as Bully Whippet Syndrome because the same mutation has also been observed in cattle. The genetic syndrome occurs when the myostatin gene has two defective copies causing “double muscling”. Some Whippets have only a single defective copy of the gene and enjoy increased speed and musculature compared to those with normal myostatin genes. Mice, sheep, and humans have also been identified with the same condition.
Along with her extreme appearance, there are other effects of the condition that Wendy must contend with. Her heart and lungs are the same size of an average Whippet’s, but at more than twice the weight of her breedmates, the strain on her cardiac and respiratory systems may shorten Wendy’s life. Many Bully Whippets also have pronounced overbites.
When this genetic abnormality first began to appear in Whippet litters it was a concern for breeders, as described by the New York Times in a 2007 article. Whippet Dams and Sires were chosen for their speed and sleek appearance, and Bullies certainly did not meet the breed standard. Later it was discovered that littermates of Bully Whippets were more likely to have the single gene mutation, allowing them to appear normal, but race at higher speeds.
A recent report from the MIT Technology Review states that Chinese Scientists have been able to edit out the myostatin gene from laboratory Beagles. This creates the same double musculature that is caused by the genetic defect in Bully Whippets. Researchers feel that the ability to edit the genetic codes of dogs will allow them to make important medical advances to aid dogs and humans in the future.
Should scientists develop a method that allows them to trigger double-muscling in humans, this could help prevent the loss of muscle in humans who suffer from muscular dystrophy.
As far as Wendy knows, she’s just your average dog. She loves bounding around the acre of land owned by her pawrent, Ingrid Hansen. Hansen also has other dogs and horses for Wendy to romp with. She loves a good back scratch and is not shy about visiting with strangers, although sometimes her appearance can bring about fear or silly comments. Hansen has heard her “Big Wendy” referred to as the “Schwartzenegger Canine” and “The World’s Strongest Dog”.
For now, Hansen is just happy that Wendy is thriving and that this special dog came into her life. Check out this 2007 Animal Planet video to see Big Wendy in action!