Not long ago I wrote about the breeds I miss seeing, those that used to be more popular but no longer caught the fancy of the general public. It wasn’t an argument for those breeds to start filling the veterinary offices again — raging popularity has never been good for any breed — but rather a nostalgic yearning for the wonderful pets I saw more of at the very beginning of my veterinary career.
Yes, I miss seeing all those Collies, Cockers, Brittanies, Irish Setters and Scotties, but that just means I enjoy them even more when I do see one in practice these days. And that got me thinking about the breeds I see too much of, now that I am in my third decade of practice. I like these dogs; in fact, I own two of the five on this list. But I am still concerned about these breeds.
No Such Thing As a 'Bad' Breed
I love all pets. I wouldn’t be a veterinarian if I didn’t, and I celebrate the human-animal bond every day. I do look forward, though, to the day when these five breeds aren’t as popular. The reasons vary, but in many cases the problems are health-related, and overbreeding by puppy mills and other less-than-ideal operations has a lot to do with that.
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What would help these breeds is for there to be a lot less of them. A couple of them need many more adopters and far less breeding, and all would benefit from people who are well-prepared for the challenges of owning a dog, and who make sure to look to rescue, shelters and reputable breeders for their pets.
As always, whatever pet you choose, we veterinarians are here to help you make healthy choices for life.
Five Worrisome Breeds:
1. GOLDEN RETRIEVERS
We love Shakira, our 12-year-old Golden whose sunny personality, supermodel looks and ball-crazy behavior are everything people love about Goldens. But Goldens have had more than their share of breed-related health issues, the most common and most tragic is cancer. Our family has been lucky enough to escape this diagnosis, but countless other owners will be getting bad news about their dogs today, and many of those dogs will be young. Many of us veterinarians not-so-secretly call this breed “The Cancer Retriever,” which is why I’m so excited about the Golden Retriever Lifetime Project, a huge and important step in helping to save many of these dogs down the line. And many people too!
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The Bulldog is the beloved breed of the advertising world, today more than ever. There’s no denying the adorability factor here, and I’m as much in love with the look of the Bulldog, French Bulldog and Pug as anyone else. But the exaggerated features of the Bulldog and other related breeds have produced a perfect storm of health problems that diminish the quality of life for many of these dogs, and often make them extremely expensive to own. Many need surgery to shorten their soft palate and enlarge their nostrils just so they can breathe somewhat normally. Much as I love them as individuals, as a veterinarian these problems make me hurt for these dogs and their families.
Health usually isn’t the problem with the Chihuahua. These active, in-your-face little dogs behave much bigger than they are (but not bigger than they think they are, which is huge!), and many of them live well into their teens with regular wellness care. But as one of the two most common breeds in many shelters these days, finding homes for them all is a challenge. For that, you can thank Taco Bell and Paris Hilton, I guess, but I’d like to thank everyone who adopts them, and spays and neuters them. A little Chihuahua goes a long way, and I’ll be happier when I see a lot less of them in practice, because that means the shelters aren’t struggling to cope with the overpopulation.
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4. GERMAN SHEPHERDS
A good German Shepherd is an awe-inspiring dog, and the best have served in so many ways. German Shepherds were the original service dogs for people who can’t see, and they’ve long been used for police and military work, and for search and rescue. Their popularity has been pretty steady since the days of Rin Tin Tin, but the problems with the health of the breed seem to have increased with every decade. German Shepherds are prone to epilepsy, vision problems, bleeding disorders and digestive problems, as well as bad hips and degenerative myelopathy, an incurable condition that causes progressive paralysis. The German Shepherd is the world’s first media-darling dog, and remains the classic example of the problems of popularity.
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5. PIT BULLS
I fell in love with Gracie, a Pit-Lab mix, while visiting shelters at Christmastime to give gifts to the pets there. Gracie was found as a stray puppy, and even though everyone at the shelter loved her, no one adopted her until I came along. I guess I could see beyond her "Plain Jane" exterior and her troubled legs to the beautiful heart inside. The biggest problem with Pit Bulls? Too many of them. Just as with Chihuahuas, the popularity of Pit Bulls has driven a population explosion that’s out of sync with the number of homes available and suitable for these large, powerful dogs. The majority of Pitties are sweet and stable, but the unfair negative press the breed has received makes many people afraid to adopt them. As with the Chihuahua, more adoptions and a lot fewer litters are the answer.
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Proceed… With Caution
Again, I want to stress that no dog of any of these breeds is a “bad dog,” and that I don’t want any breed to disappear. But I hate knowing that some dogs are struggling for homes and others are struggling for health. That just goes against everything I stand for as a veterinarian.
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Do what you can to help. That might mean adopting a breed with a “bad” reputation if the dog fits your family, or not actively seeking out the dog from the television ad unless it's at a shelter needing adoption. And as always, it means working with your veterinarian to ensure the best possible life for whatever pet you choose.