Should I get a crossbreed?
There is talk that crossbreeds are healthier than purebreds. But what’s the truth?
Once upon a time, if you saw ‘Kennel Club Registered’ in a dog-for-sale advert, it was a sign that this would be a quality litter. However, the TV documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed showed Kennel Club registered dogs suffering from inherited disorders, and some buyers are now choosing unregistered dogs or crossbreeds to try to get a healthier dog. So what do readers looking for a shooting companion need to bear in mind?
Kennel Club registered dogs
If you want to compete in Field Trials and most Working Tests you will need a KC registered dog. Seeing lots of FTCh in the pedigree is some reassurance that the dog will be able to do the job, but what about its health?
There is no requirement for breeders to do any health testing to register a litter with the Kennel Club. However, you can now look up the parents’ names on MateSelect (on the Kennel Club website) and see what testing has been done and check out the level of inbreeding of a litter (COI). Not all tests are recorded there but the breeder should be able to show you certificates. Some breeders are members of the Assured Breeder Scheme and these must do certain health tests and receive inspections, though other breeders follow the scheme requirements without joining but still aim to produce the healthiest pups possible. Unfortunately, some puppy farm dogs are KC registered, so there is no substitute for seeing the puppy with its dam at the breeders to assure yourself that the pup has had the best start.
Unregistered pure breed dogs
These are often offered slightly more cheaply than registered dogs but they are at risk of all the same problems. Unregistered litters probably won’t have had any health testing done and the parents’ pedigrees may not be known, so you can’t check out the level of inbreeding.
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Recent surveys show that crossbreeds live on average around a year longer than pure breeds (except the English springer). But this does not mean they are necessarily healthier. For instance, many dog breeds share the same gene mutations causing blindness, so the parents of crossbreeds should also be health tested. Hip dysplasia has a genetic component but is seen across many breeds and crosses and is also influenced by diet and exercise. Age-related heart problems, arthritis, thyroid problems and organ failure are seen as often in crossbreeds as pedigree dogs too. Some crosses work better than others in terms of health; those which produce a dog with a large body on short legs or heavy muscle on a slight frame will lead to more wear and tear on joints. Poodle crosses are currently very popular and some are working well in the field, but their coat needs more attention than many of the more traditional gundogs to keep it free of knots, burrs and grass seeds, and it is not always as non-shedding as people hope.
Lurchers and working terriers are very special crossbreed dogs in that they have been bred from many different breeds and types over many years to be the ultimate working tools. Lurchers are generally really healthy but can be sensitive to certain drugs if they have collie ancestry. They are also prone to foot and leg injuries. Terriers of mixed parentage are also generally healthy but can suffer from heart problems and patella luxation, in common with many small dogs. They can also suffer lens luxation, a genetic condition seen across many terrier types and breeds.
Buying a healthy dog is not as simple as registered or unregistered, purebred or cross. Good breeders will only breed from healthy dogs and make use of available health tests. They will rear pups in the best conditions and on the best food to give them the best start in life.