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January 18, 2018

The Mixed Blessings of Mixed-Breed Dogs

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Are you considering adding a new furry friend to your family? There are lots of great dog breeds to choose from but, in some cases, a mixed-breed dog might be right for you. Here's why we love mixed-breed dogs and what you need to know when considering a mutt or a fancy hybrid.

Hybrid vigor? 

In dogs, a hybrid is an offspring produced through crossbreeding between different breeds. In some cases, a hybrid will be healthier than the parents because the extreme traits of one breed will be "softened" in a mixed-breed pairing. This is the case of the Pug and Beagle cross known as a Puggle. With this pairing, the Pug's extreme pushed-in nose that can cause breathing difficulties and a tendency to overheat is modified by the longer Beagle snout to bring a physiological balance to the offspring with a medium-length muzzle.

There may be other health benefits associated with a dog that has a mixed heritage. Whether the dog is a product of a chance meeting or a planned crossing of two breeds, statistically speaking, there are fewer chances of two recessive disease traits pairing to manifest an undesirable or even dangerous genetic condition. Furthermore, excessive inbreeding in any animal or plant population has consistently demonstrated that there will be a depression in reproductive rates and a general loss of vitality in successive generations.

We don't have to be geneticists to figure out that a dog's traits will come from both parents. Ideally, crossing a Labrador with a Poodle will produce a puppy that sheds less, has better hips than the Lab parent and fewer eye problems that some poodles can carry. 

In a large litter, you'll get a spectrum of traits, both desirable, and undesirable. In the above example, the Labradoodle litter, you'll find variations in coat type and color, temperament, and some pups might inherit both the bad hips and the eye problems while some will be healthy.

Because of the wide range of possible expressed traits, this may be why the theory of "hybrid vigor" didn't pan out in a study of 90,000 veterinary records from the University of California-Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital from the years 1995-2010. Researchers at UC Davis combed through the electronic medical records and found that all types of dogs - purebred, designer hybrids, and mutts, were all susceptible to various genetic conditions including hip dysplasia, tumor-causing cancers, and cardiomyopathy. These numbers seem to indicate that these conditions are so common throughout all dog populations that both mixed breeds and purebreds are nearly equally at risk.

It occurs to me that this study was banking on the idea that both healthy and sick dogs will visit a veterinarian (in this case, a veterinary teaching hospital.) Healthy dogs may be underrepresented in the study as many dog owners will not take their pet to the vet unless a specific health concern arises. After all, humans can hardly remember to take themselves to the doctor for routine health exams, let alone a pet for a well-dog check when Fido seems to be ailment free.

The key is to find an ethical dog breeder. Whether they are creating a designer cross or breeding purebred dogs - health tests and selection for genetic diversity are a must. Of course, ethical/thoughtful breeding is expensive. The costs that breeders incur for extensive health testing and travel for genetically diverse sires and dams will be passed on to the buyers. This is why designer hybrids might cost as much or more as a purebred dog. 

The case for shelter dogs

What if you don't want to pay a premium price for a designer dog? What if you like the mysteries of the unknown? Thankfully, we have options for adopting a pet in need of a home, and many of these are mixed-breed dogs and cats.

One of the easiest ways to find a new pet is through Petfinder.com. On this highly successful and reputable site, you'll have access to dogs and cats available for adoption near you thanks to their partnership with almost 14,000 shelters and rescues across North America. If you're looking for a specific breed or mix, some shelters and rescues will work across state lines to place dogs in their perfect homes.

Thousands of mixed-breed dogs and cats are looking for people like you to give them a loving home. They may not have a pedigree, but a rescue will have plenty of personality and will show their love and appreciation in hundreds of ways. Soon you'll understand why our "Who Rescued Who?" products don't stay in stock!

As you take a moment to peruse Petfinder.com, you'll realize that adoptable pets are plentiful in most areas. Areas without a lot of adoptable pets often partner with areas that have an abundance of animals. It feels good to help a dog in need, even if they may need specialized care. 

Challenges to mixed breeds

Whether you adopt your next family member from a shelter, rescue, or a breeder, choosing a dog or puppy with mixed genetic heritage can be challenging at times. This is because two or more genetic "programs" are in play both for physical traits and temperament, and some of these traits might be competing with each other! 

For instance, for Bella, the cute adoptable pointer-lab mix we've featured in the photo above, we might wonder if she'll have the high energy and exercise requirements of a pointer, or will she be able to settle into the easy companionship that a Labrador retriever is known for? Bella might make a great hunting dog with her dual-breed heritage that could inspire her to be both a great flusher and retriever. 

Since Bella is estimated to be age 2, there's no guessing about her adult size, and many of her traits will be readily apparent. Keep in mind that rescues and shelters are only guessing what might be in the mix of their adoptable pets, and they aren't able to make guarantees about breed composition or age.

If you don't mind surprises, a mixed breed will often be a mixed blessing!

Breed DNA testing

Fortunately, there have been advances in genetic testing to determine what dog breeds make up your mutt or hybrid. There are also DNA health tests that can be run to help understand your dog's genetic health composition. These tests can provide you with information so you can make adjustments to their training and healthcare that are customized to your unique dog.  

It's fun and easy to dig into your dog's DNA roots. Kits from companies like Embark or the Wisdom Panel offer various options for breed detection and health screenings. Kits usually include cheek swabs to take cell samples from. Once you've brushed the inside of your pup's cheek, you'll send in the samples and get results in a few weeks. 

Understanding your dog's genetic makeup will give you peace of mind and a better understanding of what makes your dog tick. Customizing training methods and healthcare for your dog's specific needs is a great way to enhance your relationship with your one-of-a-kind dog. 

We love mutts!

Mixed-breed dogs make wonderful companions. They come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments to suit any living situation. Mutts are unique, yet plentiful, and may live longer than purebreds. Non-pedigreed pups can participate in dog sports and events.

The initial costs of adopting a mixed-breed dog are typically less than with a dog from a breeder. You can typically adopt a dog from a shelter for $200-$400, which is a bargain since most adoptions include a microchip and a spay or neuter. Additionally, you'll have the all the love gratitude from an adopted pet!

Featured image: Bella, a pointer-lab mix on Petfinder, available for adoption in the Denver area.

Tell us about you mixed-breed dog!

Carol on January 19 at 5:19 AM said:

When I was a child my family and most families had mixed breed dogs. Most of which lived for at least 15 to 20 years. Are they healthier? You bet they are! I would love to own a maltipoo or morkie. My hubby and I are seniors and live in a minihome so a small doggie would be awesome for us. We have always owned dogs. Currently own a toy poodle that we love dearly. He is going on 14 yrs old and so far is extremely healthy!! We are so blessed.

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