The Purebred versus Mixbreed Myth
We are quality bred purebred Australian Shepherds!
The Purebred versus Mixbreed Myth
I am writing this to shine some light on the various myths circulating about the health of purebred dogs, as compared to mutts or mix breed dogs.
There is a huge myth that mix breed dogs will somehow be healthier than their purebred cousins. From my 20 plus years of experience with dogs and wolves, and that of everyone I talk to as well as the research I have read, I can say this simply isn't true. I think part of it was started by animal rights groups as a way to attack breeders, since most breeders do breed purebred dogs rather than randomly bred mix breeds. Most mix breed dogs are the result of accidental breedings, either from purebred parents or those of mixed ancestry. Then there is a more recent fad to purposefully breed two different purebred parents together to result in mix breed pups, which are some times quite ridiculously called "designer dogs." The problem with many such breedings is they are done solely with the goal of making money, not producing carefully planned litters from quality and health tested purebred parents, with a goal of creating a healthy crossbred litter to fit a certain goal, such as becoming service dogs. If "designer dog" breeders were to at least do the same health testing on their breeding dogs that quality purebred dogs do, as well as study pedigrees and health issues in each breed, the puppies resulting from those breedings would have as good a chance as being sound and healthy as those from quality purebred breeders. Randomly bred mix breeds don't though, as they are not the product of carefully planned breedings.
The biggest point I want to make with this is that QUALITY bred purebreds are the result of planned breedings where a breeder studies the pedigrees of the dogs they work with, looking for various issues including genetic health problems. They will do any pertinent health testing available for their breed, including OFA for hips and elbows, CERF for eyes, and many other tests such as for thyroid, MDR1 testing in herding breed dogs, and many, many others. This is the best way to reduce the risk and incidence of inherited genetic health problems. They will also assess other qualities such as temperament and breed type (how well the individual dogs meet the written breed standard). They will plan breedings to produce quality puppies, and will also ensure those pups get off to the best start with premium nutrition, health care and socializing. Going to the AKC website and searching for your breed's parent club is a place to start to learn what health problems may occur in your breed, and what tests are done. Breeders and breed clubs often spend a lot of money developing tests for any health issues. To my knowledge, there is no such program for mix breed dogs. They are just randomly produced and since they carry the same genes as their purebred ancestors, but with less knowledge of what is there or what to avoid. That makes the risk of getting a dog with inherited problems higher than that of many quality bred purebred pups.
I have friends who work for vets or who are vets, and I've asked them all what they see in their daily work. Most say mix breed dogs with health problems are at least as common as purebred ones. This shouldn't come as a surprise given the random history of a mutt. Don't get me wrong, I am not at all against mix breed dogs, but am trying to provide truth based on science, not emotion and propaganda, when it comes to this topic. I am equally supportive of getting a dog from rescue as I am of buying from a breeder. But I just don't want people making misinformed choices. So this is a hot spot for me. If you want to get a dog or pup from a rescue or shelter, do so with accurate information, not myth or because you feel guilty after reading some of the animal rights propaganda. If you want to choose a puppy from a quality breeder, do so knowing you have increased your odds of getting a healthy, sound puppy or dog. And you should not be made to feel guilty for this choice.
In my own breed, I have had a number of healthy dogs both as foster dogs, and in my personal dogs. The most genetically messed up dog I have had in my own care was a rescue that came as a pup, and he had severe hip dysplasia by the age of 7 months (as diagnosed by radiographs at my vet). He was a mix of at least 4 breeds based on the parentage we knew for him. So much for "hybrid" or mixbreed vigor. While I know this is just one case, I know of many, many more. He was the product of indiscriminate breeding of two mix breed parents.
There are some breeds of purebreds that have a higher rate of health problems than others. Sometimes this is from poor breeding choices by the stewards of that breed. This can be corrected though, through education and making wiser choices. Some breeds, such as the English Bulldog or other bracheochephalic dogs, have been breed to such extremes that they have a number of health problems including breathing problems, reproductive issues and more. This doesn't mean ALL purebreds are unsound, or even all bulldogs are. Other examples could include the German Shepherd dog with it's extreme rear angulation, or the truly giant breeds who may have orthopedic issues as well as other problems. But if we can get breeders of such breeds to go back to a less extreme type in the few breeds that are taken to extremes, the dogs in those breeds will be more healthy and sound. If you have giant mix breeds, or extreme mix breeds you will see the same issues in them, simply due to their structure, not their purebred or mix breed genetics.
My own breed, the Australian Shepherd, is healthier than many and I am thankful for that. I think part of this is due to the breed being a functional breed. The other breeds that are also bred to fufill specific working dog roles tend to be more sound, as they must be to be active and purposeful. I think most of the breeds that haven't been bred to extreme types (size, coat, head shape, and so on) or overbred due to popularity (think of Dalmatians, Siberian Huskies and Chihuahuas, who were in high demand after movies with the breeds featured prominently.) Overbreeding, where just any old dog of the breed is bred with little regard to the quality and health of the dog, will also increase health and even temperament problems. Again, it's not just due to being purebred, but because of poor choices made by the breeders of the dogs, using dogs with unsound temperaments or health problems, just to produce a lot of puppies as fast as they can. The same can happen with mix breeds. Truly the only way genetic health problems can be reduced is by studying the lines of the dogs you have, doing all necessary health testing, and making informed breeding choices with the goal to reduce the incidence and impact of such health problems.
In the end and based on all this information, I truly believe a purebred dog from a quality breeding program has a higher chance of being healthy than a randomly bred mix breed, simply because the purebred dog came from a line of dogs with health testing done. Mix breed dogs, like any dog, are a product of their parents, and if their parents, purebred or also mixbred, have genetic health problems, the pups are quite likely to inherit them. For example, breeding a Labrador Retriever with hip dysplasia to a standard poodle with genetic epilepsy is likely to result in Labradoodle pups with hip dysplasia AND epilepsy. The pups won't magically become healthy and sound by virtue of crossbreeding! They will only be sound if their parents are!
On a related topic, I often hear a "slogan" put forth by animal rights activists. It is something like "if you breed or buy, a shelter dog dies." I don't agree. Many people choosing to buy a quality dog are not likely to adopt a shelter dog. They may have a valid and specific reason for wanting a purebred dog of a certain type, or a puppy versus an adult with an unknown background. This may include having children or other pets in the home, or wanting the dog for a specific reason and wanting to know it has a high chance of having certain physical and behavioral traits. I don't think a person should have to apologize for buying a dog rather than rescuing one. Both are good outcomes for the dog, since both give a dog a good home. Not all shelter dogs are going to be physically and/or mentally sound, and not all people are capable of dealing with potential issues in a shelter dog. Some will come with contagious health issues such as kennel cough or worse, Parvo, and not everyone wants to bring that into their home, especially if other pets are involved. For those who DO want a rescue and do a good job with the dog, congratulations on making a difference in the life of a truly needy dog. For those who choose a quality purebred dog, I also congratulate you on your choice. Both can give you many years with the wonderful companionship of a dog. You can't go wrong with that!
Here is a link to an article about importing animals for adoption from out of the country. Some of these animals are carrying serious disease and they can be transmitted to unwitting and well meaning adoptors.
"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
"Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make His name known among the nations what He has done."
1 Chronicles 16:8