If I could make a Global Veterinary Service Announcement (I have just patented that phrase in my mind, and also assigned it the awesome acronym GVSA), my very first one would be: Don’t choose a breed of dog to have as a pet just because you think it’s cute, or looks tough, or is enormous/tiny. Actually, I would have to shorten that up so it could be a snappy sound byte, but since this is a blog and I’m wordy, I think I’ll let it stand for now.
This is the single piece of advice that I think would save the most heartache (and pocketbook stress). Every time I see a college-age kid walk in proudly trailing her new pet English Bulldog, my heart sinks. Folks, some breeds are going to cost you a fortune, and the English Bulldog is only outdone by the Shar Pei in terms of how many expensive ailments your pet could potentially suffer during its lifetime (in my experience). For some reason though, people are almost uniformly surprised to hear that a Maltese the size of a hamster or a Bulldog that has been bred to share about zero morphology with its wolf ancestor is super duper likely to have a host of physical problems you will battle throughout its lifetime.
Now, I know I will catch some flak for this post; people will accuse me of ‘breedism.’ Or they will flock to tell me about how their aunt had Bulldogs her whole life and they never suffered so much as the sniffles. Let me say then to begin, I love all breeds of dogs. They are all wonderful, special creatures, and will give you so much love that these characteristics should be irrelevant. But the key word in that sentence is ‘should.’ The reality is, some breeds really are prone to more problems than others. And unless you are independently wealthy, this can become a strain on you, your pet, and your relationship with your veterinary staff.
Think about it. Many breeds of dog have been selectively bred for a variety of unnatural qualities. Let’s take the Pug. I love me a Pug. But if you think of all the genetic mutations that have been selected for to produce a canid half the size of a wolf (which should be your mental ‘ideal dog’ model), with a short, twisted tail, squat, compact body, muzzle that barely protrudes from its skull, bulging eyes, flopping ears—it should make your mind boggle.
So what’s wrong with that? Along with the ‘desirable’ mutations, you get some undesirable ones. Look back at that Pug. See those bulging eyes? Do you have any idea how many of the Pugs that come to see us have scratched or poked or otherwise injured those eyes, requiring exams and stains and drops? I would venture to guess the percentage is about 90%. See those tiny little nostrils? Hear that wheezy, snorty breathing? Many Pugs suffer from stenotic nares (tiny little nostrils), elongated soft palates (the source of a lot of that snoring, snorting, wheezing), and other problems that have arisen from genetically modifying a normal wolf-like muzzle down to something that in some cases is flush with the rest of the skull. Some brachycephalic dogs (the classification of dogs whose muzzles are severely foreshortened) actually require surgery to open the nostrils wider, or to shorten the soft palate so the animal can breathe. Then there’s the fact that about half of the dog’s teeth are in the mouth sideways (due to the fact that they can’t come in correctly since there isn’t any room), which can lead to an early accumulation of plaque and predispose the dog to periodontal disease. And all that is just in the dog’s head.
I could go on and on about breeds and issues: Boxers and heart disease, Schnauzers and bladder stones, Cockers and ear infections. But the point I am trying to make is not to avoid certain breeds on the grounds that they have a higher likelihood of specific problems. Mixed-breed dogs do benefit from hybrid vigor, but it doesn’t prevent them from developing allergies, or having other conditions. My point is simply to do some research on the breed you choose, so you know what to expect, and can be prepared for the potential issues you may have to face over your dog’s life. It’s ideal to go through this process BEFORE you bring home an adorable puppy.
When I say research, I do not mean visit a breeder’s website. The breeder is going to tell you that their dogs have never ailed a thing in their lives and never will. The breeder, you should remember, is trying to sell you a puppy. What I mean is, find a forum dedicated to your chosen breed. These exist, for any breed you can think of, and a lot you probably can’t. Then just scroll around and read. Once you are on page 10 of the forum, you’re probably done. Common problems occur commonly, and you will likely have identified several of the top contenders. Then, ask yourself if you have the time and resources to handle these problems if they arise. If you think cleaning ears is gross, do not adopt a baby Cocker Spaniel. If you think brushing a dog for a half hour each day is too time-consuming, do not even look at a German Shepherd puppy.
Choose a breed that fits well with your interests and lifestyle. If I had a nickel for every miserable Husky I see that lives in a Florida apartment with an owner who is gone 9 hours a day, I’d be rich. Think about what your breed was bred to do. Huskies were bred to haul heavy loads tirelessly through frozen terrain. Translation: they have LOTS of energy. Cooping this type of dog up in a house all day with nothing to do means you will come home to destruction. But if you live in Wisconsin and go for a daily run even in the winter, hey, here’s your new best friend!
In short, do your homework. Find out more about the breed you are interested in. If that breed doesn’t seem to be a good match for your personality or lifestyle (or pocketbook!), keep looking. I guarantee there’s a breed out there (or a mixed breed!) that will be perfect for you. And as a wise person once said, choose for personality, not looks. Because that great personality will transform even the homeliest mutt into a ravishing beauty in your eyes.