Dr. Tim Kirby MVBGpCertEqPMRCVS
Pet ownership is increasing, and it is fair to say in Ireland & UK that we love our four-legged friends. Recent data suggests that up-to 52% of all UK households have at least one pet. Dogs provide us with companionship, loyalty, happiness, and affection – what’s not to love? However, dogs come in all different shapes, sizes, and breeds. With their average life span being over 12 years, it is important that a lot of thought and planning is done before you welcome your new canine friend into your home. If you are looking for your new furry family member, the first decision is often whether to choose a pedigree or mixed-breed dog. What are the differences? Are there any advantages of one over the other? And do pedigree dogs have more health problems than mixed breed dogs? Let’s find out!
What Is the Difference Between Pedigree and Mixed Breed Dogs?
Pedigree dogs have two parents of the same breed that are registered with a recognised club or society such as the Kennel Club in the UK. Over 220 different breeds of dogs are recognised by the Kennel Club.
Often the terms purebred and pedigree are used interchangeably. For some, purebred means the animal’s parents are of the same breed, whereas pedigree means its breeding history or lineage is known. There is, however, no legal definition of either term.
Mixed breed dogs have parents that are different breeds. Crossbreed dogs will have parents who are each purebred or pedigree dogs but from different breeds. Examples include the Cockapoo (Cocker spaniel and poodle mix) and the Springador (Springer spaniel and Labrador mix). Some mixed breed or crossbreed dogs will have parents that are also crossbreeds (i.e., not purebreds) meaning there is a bigger mix of breeds in the resulting puppy. These are often referred to as ‘mongrels’, ‘mutts’, or ‘Heinz 57’ dogs.
Are Purebred or Mixed Breed Dogs Better?
No dog is ‘better’ than any other! Choosing a breed (or crossbreed) for you or your family needs careful consideration as to what would best suit your lifestyle. Mixed breeds are the most popular ‘breed’ in the UK. Unfortunately, they are also the most common type of dog found in rehoming centres. However, the reasons for this are vast and not because purebred dogs are ‘better’.
Mixed breed dogs are often cheaper than purebred dogs, although this is not always true for some of the more popular crossbreeds or ‘hybrid’ dogs such as the Cockapoo, Cavapoo, Daschund, and Bulldog crosses. Because mixed breed dogs are less likely to be predisposed to breed-specific health problems, they may also be cheaper to insure throughout their lives.
Are Mixed Breed Dogs Healthier than Pedigree Dogs?
There is no overall verdict on which is healthier. Any dog can be unhealthy depending on its parents. Purebred and pedigree dogs share many of the same genes from common ancestors and are often bred from a very small population. This means that many genetic diseases are more common in purebred dogs. In contrast, crossbreeds are a mix of different breeds and therefore, the gene pool that creates these dogs is larger. However, unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that crossbreeds don’t suffer from genetic (or inherited) diseases. Purebred dogs are often bred in a very selective manner with regulated genetic testing taking place on the mother and father to try and reduce the incidence of specific breed-related diseases. In contrast, a lot of mixed breeding is unregulated, and it can be a lucky dip as to what you end up with. Not knowing the health of a dog’s parents makes this riskier.
Why Do Some Purebred Dogs Have Health Problems?
Purebred dogs have less genetic diversity than mixed breed dogs. Several severe genetic diseases are common with pedigree dogs as a result of inbreeding within small populations. Some examples include heart disease in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, spinal problems in Dachshunds, and cancer in Boxers. As a result, the life expectancy of these dogs may be lower than mixed breed dogs. In addition, breeders select certain traits in specific breeds that are considered desirable or are part of the ‘breed standard’. Many of these traits introduce further health problems to our dogs. For example, Pugs are selected to have small noses leading to severe breathing problems, Bulldogs are selected to have skin folds on their face leading to painful skin and eye problems, and German Shepherds are chosen for their sloping backs leading to joint and spinal diseases.
To reduce the incidence of genetic diseases, and to slowly improve the health of our canine population it is advised to buy purebred puppies from a reputable breeder which tests for predisposed genetic diseases. You will often pay more for puppies that have been certified to be free from certain genetic diseases. However, this does not eliminate all illnesses and diseases that each breed is predisposed to due to their shape or conformation. An example of this is airway and breathing problems that brachycephalic dogs (short-nosed dogs) such as English bulldogs, French bulldogs, and Pugs suffer from.
Does My Dog Have to Be registered With the Kennel Club?
The Kennel Club is a UK organisation that includes a registration database for pedigree dogs and an activity register for crossbreed dogs. They also run an Assured Breeder’s scheme which provides evidence and advice to improve the health and welfare of purebred dogs by providing advice on genetic testing, breed standards, and limiting the number of litters breeders can register from each breeding bitch. It is not mandatory to register your puppy with the Kennel Club, however certain competitions, training, or breeding programs will require registration. The Kennel Club provide education and advice to puppy buyers to ensure they find a responsible breeder and buy the right breed for their lifestyle.
Overall, there is no right or wrong answer as to whether to buy a purebred or a mixed-breed dog. It is important to consider the genetic diseases each breed (whether crossbreed or pure breed) is predisposed to and the characteristics of each breed to ensure that they fit in with your life and that you can provide the care that they need.
We would love to hear your comments on this article, and if your opinions on designer dog breeds, are these dogs more than just a 'fashion' statement?