Monday, October 12, 2009

So You Want a Dog?

This piece is from the July issue of Dogs Today.

Terrierman's Top Ten Tips for Avoiding Expense & Misery

Two stories recently crossed my desk almost simultaneously.

The first was how the tallest dog in the world, a Great Dane living in Southern California, was dead at age 7.

The second was about how the oldest dog in the word, a cross-bred Jack Russell in Louisiana, was still kicking at age 26.

I was not too surprised by either story.

You see, the health and longevity of dogs is directly related to such things as size, breed, and gene pool diversity.

Pick the wrong breed of dog to love, and heartache and jaw-dropping veterinary bills are likely to follow.

Follow a few simple rules, however, and you may save a lot of money, as well as avoid a lot of pain and heartache.

10 simple tips for selecting a happier and healthier canine companion:

  1. Rethink the dog.
    Do you really want a dog? This is the first question that needs to be asked. You see, most people want a puppy; they do not want a dog. A puppy is cute and triggers both maternal and paternal instincts. They seem like no problem at all. A dog, on the other hand, will get you up at the crack of dawn, will bark in the back yard, will eat your couch, and may occasionally urinate or defecate on your rug. Here's a test: If you will not consider getting an adult dog from a local shelter or over-stocked breeder, you do not want a dog. You want a puppy. And what you need is a cat.

  2. Don't become breed-fixated.
    Having decided to get a dog, most people start flipping through the pages of an all-breed book trying to decide which breed. Big mistake. Deciding to get a specific breed can dramatically increase your chance of getting a dog with serious health issues. Dog insurance records show pedigree dogs are less healthy, as a group, than cross-bred dogs. Canine health surveys show that 40 percent of Kennel Club dogs in the U.S. have genetic defects of one kind or another -- hip dysplasia, heart murmurs, deafness, cataracts, spinal problems, glaucoma, Cushings disease, autoimmune disorders, hypothyroidism, epilepsy, congenital skin conditions, polyarthritis, progressive renal atrophy, and genetic predispositions to cancer, to name a few. Instead of focusing on a breed of dog, consider focusing on a broad type of dog: a terrier, running dog, lap dog, guard dog, herding dog, retriever, or pointer, for example. After that, look for either a cross breed of the type, or get the healthiest breed of that type.

  3. Avoid giant breeds.
    The larger the dog the shorter the life, and the more expensive the care and maintenance. This is particularly true for giant breeds like Wolfhounds, Deerhounds, Great Danes and Mastiffs, which often come with expensive veterinary bills and short lives due to cancer and gastric torsion (bloat). Other common health issues associated with giant breeds are heart problems, and spinal injuries due to massive heads being supported on overly long necks. Along with sobering veterinary bills, also expect to pay more for fencing, crates, food, and boarding. Finally, after shelling out a lot of money, expect a really giant dog to be dead by age seven or eight.

  4. Avoid "tea cup" dogs.
    Tea cup dogs generally come with a host of problems. Their jaws are almost always over-crowded with teeth, and their bones can be so small and brittle they may break if the dog jumps off the couch. Another common problem is hydrocephaly (water on the brain) caused by too much cerebellum crammed into too-tiny skulls, leading to domed-shaped heads and skull plates that do not completely close over.

  5. Try to get a dog weighing less than 40 pounds.
    Cruciate ligament and other expensive joint problems are far less likely in dogs that weigh less than 40 pounds. By going with a dog that weighs less than this limit, you remove some of the most common, and most expensive, health care problems from the table.

  6. Avoid dogs with misshaped bodies.
    Dogs that are out of proportion tend to have higher-than-normal health care issues, whether these dogs have massive heads (like English Bulldogs), or tiny legs (like Dachshunds and Basset Hounds). A lot of truly misshaped dogs suffer from a kind of dwarfism called "achondroplasia" which not only stresses joints, but is also associated with serious back and heart problems.

  7. Avoid flat-faced dogs.
    Dogs that have extremely flat-faces are called brachycephalic breeds, and they typically have a hard time breathing, get winded and overheat easily, and often have soft palate issues which may require corrective surgery. In addition, due to the flatness of their faces, English Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese and other flat-faced breeds are especially prone to eye injuries.

  8. Avoid merle-coated dogs, dogs with pure white coats, spotted dogs, and dog with blue eyes.
    The genetics here are complicated, and change a bit from breed to breed, but as a general rule dogs that have spotted coats (such as Dalmatians), merle coats, pie- bald coats, all white coats, or blues eyes, are best avoided if you want to decrease your chance of getting a deaf dog.

  9. Avoid dogs with exaggerated features.
    Exaggerated features are almost always maladaptive, which is why they are not found in natural dogs. Dogs with deep skin wrinkles, long pendulous ears, and extra long backs all come with health problems associated with those conditions. As for "hair dresser dogs" with long, thick coats, remember that they rarely look as good at home as they do when on display at ringside or in a book. Do you really want to spend more time and money on your dog's hair than on your own?

  10. Avoid any breed with a disease named after it.
    If the breed under consideration has a disease named after it, consider that fair warning! Almost all breeds carry a genetic load of some kind, but some loads are much heavier than others. The last thing you want to discover is that your breed is "really prone" to cancer, hip dysplasia, heart problems, "eye anomaly," epilepsy, or congenital skin conditions.

What about that Great Dane, dead at age seven?
He was euthanized after coming down with cancer -- a very common outcome for this breed.

Of course the sadness with this dog probably started right at birth. You see, this was a Harlequin Great Dane. About one in four Harlequin Great Danes are born deaf, and most of these dogs are put to sleep -- something a professional breeder might "take care of" on their own by simply slipping a new-born puppy into the freezer.

Buy a Harlequin Great Dane or a Dalmatian, and you become complicit in the routine and predictable euthanasia of puppies born with these kinds of preventable problems. Who wants to be part of that?

And what about that cross-bred Jack Russell?

Most terriers are small dogs and, as noted, smaller dogs live longer. Cross-bred working terriers like Jack Russell's are particularly hearty due to their genetic heterogeneity. When small size, genetic diversity, and a low-calorie diet are combined, a terrier's lifespan routinely reaches 15.

A 26-year old dog? Clearly, this dog is a very special case. That said, it's no surprise that the world's longest-living dog is not Kennel Club registered, is a moderately small dog, has a normal body shape, has a pointed face, and does not have a spotted or merle-coat.

Bottom line: Canine health and longevity are not an accident. By following just a few basic "rules of thumb" when selecting your dog, you and your family can avoid a lot of unnecessary pain, heartache and expense.


Seahorse said...

Not sure if it was a repeat, but tonight on Animal Planet there was an installment of "Dogs 101", and it centered around the "ugly" breeds. I only saw about half of it (I found it hard to watch), but often the focus came back to how "cute" and lovable the ugly dogs were. True, the health problems were mentioned in passing in the synopsis of each breed, but it's not like they were well highlighted. Much more time was taken showing the prep work for competing in the Ugliest Dog Competition. This program came on the heels of another I caught part of, one showing puppy mills and the problems stemming from them. Seemed a weird juxtaposition to me!


Linda K said...

Good information! People need to go into dog ownership with their eyes wide open. We have an English Bulldog who is such a love but we were aware of the host of health issues that the breed can encounter. The last time we were at the vets for a recheck she did not charge us. Her comment was "This one on the house, you have an EB and you'll be back!" This is not a first time dog owner breed for sure! We got ours through a EB Rescue. The place many end up when the issues and bills pile up! Thank goodness for breed rescues and the work they do!

seeker said...

Thank You again!! You hit the nail on the head. Its one of the reasons we got Jacks. We lost two bullies at age 6 and 7 the heartbreak was tremendous. I want a long lived healthy dog. I hope my two rescue Jacks both make it to twenty.

Anonymous said...

Let me add another one: If you buy from a dog breeder, make sure that they are a dog breeder, not a home showroom sales person.

A few state have some limits on the number of dogs that can be kept on one property, or the number of dogs licensed by one person.

I onced lived in a city where there were no limits. A dog breeder moved her dog kennel to near my city.

She had hundreds of breeding dogs.Yet I never saw a puppy ad from her in the paper.

But when I went to look at puppies for sale (and yes I knew to shop around) I notiiced one really oddd thing that so many of the dog breeder had in common.

Their mother dog's had no milk. Mother dogs with puppies that young have milk, or at least have longer breast from just drying up their milk supply.

When I started ask about it, breeder after breeder told me the same thing - that the mother dog had had a milk infection and the pupppies were weaned early or were bottle fed.

Then I noticed another thing, if I said something to one breeder, breeders that I visted next seemed to know what I had told their competitor.

Then I noticed that the background noise that I heard when I would call the breeders was the same, no matter which breeder I called.

What was happening? This one breeder with hundreds of breeding dogs in cages (big time puppy mill) was some distance outside of the city,

so she hired people to take a litter of pupppies (and a female show dog to pose as the mother dog) into their homes, to be salesmen for the puppies.

Some of these sales-people also used the breeders phone system where calls to their number were tranfered to a central professsional person who dealt with phone calls.

Also, I have gone to an advertised "home breeder", walked away (like the magazine recommends) then a few days later,

found that the telephone number to the breeder didn't work, so I drove back to 'her house' only to find someone answering the door who said that she had lived there for years and didn't own a dog.

Odd weird fellings, like I had stepped into the Twilight Zone because I was sure that it was the right house, and I had saved the directions to the house. But all the barking dogs were gone.

One of her neighbors explained it to me, this woman rented her house out on weekends, and it was frequently rented by sales-persons who sold puppymill puppies.

I was once offered a job saling puppies this way, but I refused.

Anonymous said...

I'd think that the upper limit for weight in terms of ACL problems and joint problems was closer to 50lbs than 40lbs, but I'm sure you've got a source I can correct my misconception with ;)

PBurns said...

It's not as simple as a binary choice --this or that. Up to about 20 pounds, a cruciate injury will often heal itself. From 20 to 40 pounds, it might. Over 40 pounds and the chance of cruciate injuries in dogs that jump, run, and corner hard goes up with weight at a pretty steep angle and the need for surgery goes up with it. A 30-pound border collie is much less likely to have a cruciate injury than a 45 or 55 pound dog, for example. Again, things are not as simple as weight -- overall muscle tone matters too, same as with humans. Age plays a factortoo. A dog that is worked all the time is more likely to stay healthy. Big problems start with 40 and 50-pound couch potatoes that get vigorous ball chasing with other dogs only once a week. Pop goes the ligament!

PBurns said...

There's a lot on the 'net about cruciate ligaments, but here are a few links:




Anonymous said...

Awesome, thanks! I think obesity probably has to do with a lot of it (and I'm starting to think neuter status too, which is just awful because I came upon the research on consequences of neuter AFTER the fact of course)

PBurns said...

Neuter and spay is more commplex than some would have you believe. I will try to write a little about that this week (2/19/13), but neuter of a male (yeah, I am being redundant) after year 1 is fine (not before) and spay of females (yeah, more redundancy) actually lowers dysplasia a little. Again, not as simple as all that as breed, weight, and predictable mortality from unwanted puppies, etc. makes things a bit more complex.

Anonymous said...

There's enough material there to probably warrant somebody writing a book at some point. (Maybe I should apply for a PhD at one of the canine behavior labs and do it myself haha ;)

concretenprimroses said...

I re-read this post because I am toying with the idea of getting a second dog. I'm confused with your charactization of puppies vs older dogs. My dog did all the bad things when he was a puppy (he was 4 mo. old when we got him and is now 4 yrs and 34 lbs) and after a year or 2 settled down into being "good". I assumed that puppies had the bad behaviours and would eventually be trained out of them. Are you saying this isn't generally true?

PBurns said...

I am not sure how this comment relates to this post, but you are right that puppies are dogs that tend to ruin your rugs with loose bladders and bowels, while older dogs (if picked carefully) often do really well. I am all for rescue.

concretenprimroses said...

In number 1. I guess I misunderstood and you were using the word "puppy" to mean fantasy dog and "dog" to mean real dogs including puppies.

OTTB said...

Interesting... if not necessarily correct. I initially picked up a 9 month old beautiful small lab mix from my local animal shelter and loved her from the instant I saw her. Despite my spending a lot of time bonding, playing and connecting with her, she never really bonded with me or anyone in our family. She wasn't at all fearful or shy, nor did she act like she had been abused. I was told by the shelter manager that she was well cared for but her owner had been sent overseas and could not find anyone to take her while he was gone, so he had to give her up. Being as she was young and was mostly a lab, there wasn't any reason she shouldn't have bonded, she just didn't. That was ok, we loved her anyway and took her with us everywhere, camping, trail walks and to the beach. At age 2, despite having been spayed, she developed breast cancer. We spent in excess of $10,000.00 trying to save her, especially since it had been caught "early" and she wasn't in pain initially. Eventually we lost the fight and out of compassion and love for her, we had to have her put to sleep. Two years later we happened by a "backyard breeder" who had miniature dashchund puppies. We purchased a wonderful tiny girl, dapple with one blue eye at 6 weeks of age. She has bonded to our family like velcro and loves being with us and going with us everywhere, although I often carry her in a backpack on longer walks/hikes. She hears perfectly from both ears, has fabulous hearing and has never had a minutes trouble with her health, including not one back issue. She is now going on 12 years of age and still behaves like a puppy. We also have a fabulous rough coat Jack who just recently turned 3 and was also purchased from a "backyard breeder" at 6 weeks of age. She is also well bonded to us, happy, healthy (and NEVER wants to be carried when hiking) and although far more independent, very loving all the same. In my humble opinion, a lot of the rhetoric implying someone is a bad pet owner "if you don't adopt from a rescue or animal shelter" and "if you buy from a backyard breeder" is BS... and just because a puppy is a purebred or is bought from a "backyard breeder" doesn't mean it will suffer medical problems or be less healthy than a mixed breed or shelter dog. A healthy dog is a healthy dog, regardless of its breed or where is was purchased.

Unknown said...

"Avoid giant breeds"
I have read that it is not so much the size of giant breeds that shorten their lifespan, but how fast they grow. Wolves grow as large as giant breeds, but slower. Dogs that grow fast, age faster.

"Take a one-year-old Great Dane, for example. It’s huge. From birth to their first birthday, they increase 100-fold in weight. In that same time frame, wolves increase 60-fold"

Central Asian Ovcharka and Tibetan Mastiff are giant breeds with relatively long lifespans. (12-14 years) Though, these breeds as far as I know are not popular in the dog show industry.

The lifespan of other giant breeds can be increased if breeders select for health and dogs that grow slower.