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Mixed breed / Pure Breed

Posted by karen on June 8, 2013 at 9:55 AM

Which is better?  A mixed breed dog or a pure breed dog?  This question can generate a great deal of heated discussion and many people are firmly in one camp or the other.  An oft cited reason for promoting mixed breeds is the health issues sometimes seen in pure breed dogs. But how true is this?  Certainly there are breeds that have been deliberately bred for exaggerated features - brachicephalic breeds have issues with breathing and heat tolerance, dogs with long backs are prone to slipped discs etc.  These issues are inherant in breeding for the physical structure that is part of the breed standard. But from the perspective of genetic health, are pure breed dogs less healthy than mixed breeds?

The evidence is limited.  A recent article sheds a little light on this question but we need to be careful to consider the limitations of the study.

Prevalence of inherited disorders among mixed-breed and purebred dogs: 27,254 cases (1995–2010)

Thomas P. Bellumori, MS; Thomas R. Famula, PhD; Danika L. Bannasch, PhD, DVM; Janelle M. Belanger, MS; Anita M. Oberbauer, PhD


To state the obvious, it is of course, the genetic health of the parents that plays a key role in determining the genetic health of the offspring. This is true whether or not the dog is of mixed or pure parentage.  A good breeder puts great effort into selecting both physically and genetically healthy parents to give her puppies the best chance for a long and healthy life. Tests are available for many genetic defects and breeders will have their breeding stock tested for problems common in their breed.  They will also track the pedigrees of their sires and dams to watch for evidence of health problems in previous offspring that might signal a problem.  They will want to knwo about health issues occuring in their dogs even after they have been sold.  Some breed groups have extensive health pedigree registrations and actively track health problems to assist breeders in making good breeding choices.  Chances are, if you are getting a dog from a good breeder, your puppy will be backed up by a great deal of information and careful decision making aimed at getting the healthiest, soundest possible dog (and the best temperament).

Sadly, this is not true of all 'pure breed' dogs!  Not all breeders are concerned about the health and well being of their puppies.  Puppy Mills are high intensity breeding programs that often produce poor quality puppies with significant health issues, including genetic disorders.  Puppy Mill breeders may be dog lovers, but their primary motivation for breeding is profit.  They are looking for "cute and cuddly" quick sale pups.  They have little if any concern about what happens to the puppy after it is sold and are generally not interested in hearing about health problems arising later in life. They may continue to breed dogs that have been demonstrated to produce genetically unhealthy offspring, especially if the pups are very attractive and sell quickly.

Casual breeders are people who typically have a nice dog and for a variety of reasons decide it would be nice to have a litter of puppies - while well intentioned, they rarely have the expereince or background to help them make the best choices in identifying a mate for their dog.   A mate is often chosen simply based on convenience, availability or physical appearance. The breeding is rarely backed up by knowledge of the breeding pairs genetic history and there is usually no long term committment to the health of the pups.

What about the new "designer breeds"?  These are dogs that often have two pure breed but different breed parents and go by a variety of cute names such as schnoodles, puggles etc.  An arguement for these 2 breed combinations has often been that they are less likely to exhibit genetic disorders, but is this a reasonable assertion?  Combining two breeds may reduce the likelihood of a breed associated autosomal recessive (two abnormal genes required for disease to occur) genetic defect, assuming that both breeds do not carry the gene.  However, many genetic disorders have complex inheritance patterns and combining two breeds may actually introduce the risk of a broader range of genetic disorders.

Be aware that CKC registration is NOT a guarantee of a well planned breeding.

So what about mixed breeds? As with pure breed dogs, the risk of genetic disorders is determined to a large extent by the genetic health of the parents. Simply being a mixed breed is NOT protective of genetic abnormalities. Unfortunately for mixed breeds, we rarely know anything about the genetic health of parents or the pedigree of the dog.

So what to do?

  1. Do your homework! Regardless of whether you are leaning toward a pure or mixed breed dog, resist the tempation to impulse buy / adopt and learn as much as you can.  Health is only one consideration amoung many that should be taken into account.  Be sure to get a dog that is appropriate to your lifestyle and capabilities. Carefully assess temperament.  Learn as much as you can about the breed or breeds that make up your dog. 
  2. If you want a pure breed dog - find a reputable breeder with a good track record. Look for a breeder who ascribes to the CKC ethical breeding guidelines, who is a member of the breed club and who can explain what she does to ensure the genetic health of her puppies.  Find out what health testing she does on her parents and puppies.  Learn everything you can about the health issues that have been identified in the breed.  Avoid puppy mills and backyard breeders - and know the 'red flags' to watch for.
  3. If your heart is with a mixed breed dog look for a well structured dog that moves easily and does not have exaggerated features. Be aware that there may be surprises in your future - of course this is true with any dog.  There is no guarantee of perfect health with any dog, but as you will likely know little about your mixed breed dog's genetic history, there is a wide range of potential problems that may arise.
  4. Don't buy from pet stores - most pet store puppies come from puppy mills and the risk of future health problems is high.  By buying from a pet store you are keeping puppy mills in business. 
  5. Consider a putting aside some money for a "health fund" or purchasing health insurance for your pet.
  6. And above all - love the dog you have!

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