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Soft Paws: Purebreds vs. mixed breeds


By Charlene Marchand

For Capital Region Independent Media

Buddy is an 8-year-old Labrador. He was brought to the shelter because his previous owner passed away. Buddy is the sweetest old man who just wants human affection. He’s pretty low key, but he gets excited to go outside and to go on walks. Buddy loves nothing more than to get pets and belly rubs, and he’d be content hanging out on the couch all day with his person! He’s great with both cats and dogs, and we think he’d be fine with kids. Contributed photo

As I became more involved with the intervention and training of shelter dogs in the 1970s and ‘80s, with a significant increase in my time commitment during the 1990s and with the proliferation of independent rescues in the mid 2000s to today, much of my involvement centered on the health problems of my clients’ dogs.

Discussions often took place on health comparisons between purebreds and mixed breeds. Many of my purebred breeder colleagues who were also veterinarians often questioned the popular “hybrid vigor” discussion.

As someone equally involved with purebreds and dogs of mixed parentage, I knew, practically speaking, that our supposedly “healthier” mixed breeds were not. Dogs that I worked with (those not purebred) had allergy problems, dysplasia, epilepsy, cancer, spinal and orthopedic problems, digestive disorders, and the like.

I often discussed with my clinic colleagues that there were no accurate statistics for a model of comparison. Even if a dog of mixed parentage that happened to look like a German shepherd dog, or a beagle, or a Rottweiler, etc. were treated, that individual was often identified as a member of that breed, period. When the offspring of our purebred breeding programs were treated, they obviously were listed as such, and tracked according with the dog’s veterinarian and organizations such as the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA), who keep logs on breeds, hips, elbows, cardiac, thyroid, pancreas, patellas and more.

We now have a definitive word on the relative health or lack of, a comparative study done at the University of California – Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Training Hospital.

Medical records of over 90,000 purebreds and mixed breeds were evaluated, with the study headed by Dr. Anita Oberbauer, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Animal Science at U-Cal Davis.

“The study’s results contradict the assumption that purebred dogs are always less healthy than mixed breed dogs, the latter of which supposedly always benefit from hybrid vigor,”* according to the report.

To highlight just a few of the study’s findings, “cranial cruciate ligament rupture was more likely to be observed in mixed breed dogs.” For health disorders including “hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, mast cell tumor, osteosarcoma, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, mitral valve dysplasia, patent ductus arteriosus, ventricular septal defect, hip dysplasia, epilepsy, patellar luxation, hypoadrenocorticism, hyperadrenocorticism, and lens luxation, the researchers were not able to identify any difference in occurrence.” *

Purebreds did have a higher incidence “of aortic stenosis, cardiomyopathy, hypothyroidism, elbow dysplasia, disc diseases, atopic dermatitis, bloat and cataracts.”* It was stated that the fact that more purebreds were more often seen for extensive diagnostic testing, affected the prevalence factor.

Dr. Oberbauer states that “Purebreds are not necessarily healthier OR less healthy. It’s a matter of the individual genetic disorder being looked at. Likewise, mixed breeds are not necessarily healthier or less healthy. Again, it’s disorder specific.”

Knowledge is power. We should not go into a dog purchase or adoption with an expectation of little or no health problems. Mother Nature can and does throw curve balls at all of us.

We as dog owners (or any companion animal owners) must be prepared to take better than adequate care of our animals. With health care costs rising on all fronts, our relationship with our veterinary practitioners is more important than ever.

I’ve been involved in a number of “end of life” decisions, when a family was financially unable to provide aggressive medical treatment. We can only promise to do the best we can for our beloved companions. At Columbia-Greene, we are blessed to have many special families seek out individuals with special health needs for their forever friends.

* Dog News, Nov. 29, 2014, “Hybrid Vigor, Myth or Reality?” by Sharon Pflaumer

Charlene Marchand is chairperson of the Columbia Greene Humane Society/SPCA.

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