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Purebred Dog Genetics: What A Veterinarian Thinks About America's Single Breed Obsession

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By Dr. Patty Khuly For Vetstreet:

“What breed do you think she is?”

Every veterinarian gets asked this question at least once a day. And it’s one that tends to elicit more of a bemused response than anything else. After all, guessing a pet’s breed is just that — a guess.

But people really want to know. I believe it’s because Americans love definition in our pets — especially when it comes to our canines. For the majority of U.S. dog owners, it’s essential that their pets emerge from specific bloodlines, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.

Humans have always loved to classify and categorize animals to serve both form and function, but Americans, as a breed, enjoy putting their individuality on display. And what better way to signal who we are than through our choice in best friends?

Here's the problem with that line of thinking: Our demand for purebred friends is so great that we’re willing to overlook some pretty nasty things that come attached to their provenance.

Genetic Diseases

I’m willing to go on record and say that I generally observe at least one genetic disease in nine out of 10 purebred patients during their first examination with me.

It’s true that my mixed breed patients suffer relatively high rates of genetic disease, too, but it's usually as a result of their discernible purebred parentage. In fact, my Labradoodle patients (not to pick on this adorable mix) have a high rate of hip dysplasia and allergic skin disease, just like their parent breeds.

We can chalk a lot of this up to line breeding, the failure to adequately test parents for genetic diseases and the trend among show breeders toward increasingly exaggerated features. Case in point: The English Bulldog of the 1930s bears little resemblance to the flat-faced modern varietal.

Questionable Suppliers

Purebreds can’t all come from responsible breeders, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that they do.

And we're not just talking about puppy mills disguised as reputable breeders. An alarming percentage of my purebred patients come from overseas. They're often shipped as pups who are much too young to be away from their mothers or receive vaccines, much less travel internationally.

Although I repeat that there’s nothing inherently wrong with purebred pets, the reality is that a surprisingly tiny percentage of them are truly responsibly bred. This means that, as a culture, our demand for purebreds is fueling an industry that’s ultimately doing a great disservice to our dogs, especially if you consider the health care and animal welfare implications of “purebred lust.”

Adoption Is the Answer

So what’s the solution? We need to wean ourselves from the bosom of purebred addiction.

Instead of seeking out breeds that we believe are compatible with our tastes, identities and lifestyles via suppliers, it would seem to me that it’s only morally correct to adopt otherwise unwanted animals — be it purebreds or mixes.

I know it’s not a popular position to advocate against purebred ownership, but when you consider the genetic disease and animal welfare problems it raises, it makes sense for me to urge my clients to consider mixed breed dogs.

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