Is a mutt healthier than a purebred?

By Patty Khuly, DVM on Aug. 18, 2009

Here’s a question I often get: Is a mutt really healthier than a purebred? If so, why would that be?  

Given similar circumstances, the answer is a resounding "yes." Why? Because inherited diseases contribute tremendously to the stockpile of conditions veterinarians deal with on a daily basis. 

Sure, mutts get lots of diseases, too. They even get genetic conditions along the same lines our purebreds get. After all, no one’s immune to the possibility of inheriting a few bum genes. 

Hip dysplasia, inherited heart diseases and nasty vascular malformations are not just for purebreds. Still, there’s nothing like breeding pets with similar genetics to help pass on diseases they may share.

Nonetheless, let’s be clear: We’re talking about statistics here. About what’s likeliest to happen.

Because yes, it’s true: Your Golden retriever may never suffer hip dysplasia. And that might even be because your dog’s breeder went out of his or her way to makes sure all the dogs were as free of hip problems as possible before deciding which dogs to include in the breeding program. Viewed that way, you might think a purebred is more likely to live a long, healthy life.

You might even point to the pound or the streets, where all the mutts live, and (rightly) point out that these are the dogs that carry the most diseases, suffer the most parasites, and are least likely to do well in the long run. 

OK, so that’s true. But recall that I offered an initial caveat: "given similar circumstances." And there’s the rub. Because most mutts are not granted the privilege of a happy home environment with doting owners that breed for beautiful hips (for example), you might assume mutts will never best a well-bred purebred.

Regardless, the sad truth is that only a teensy percentage of dogs in the U.S. are "well bred." They may be beautiful specimens and perfectly emblematic of their breed, but that doesn’t mean their "breeders" have taken pains to test and screen their breeding dogs for genetic diseases. In fact, the vast majority have not. And I’m not even talking about puppy mills (don’t even get me started). 

Our nation’s most popular source for purebreds is no more genetically discerning than your neighbor’s back yard. In fact, it IS your neighbor’s backyard. "We have two X breed dogs and they got it together and now we have lots of beautiful X puppies"––all of which may carry the same gene for Y disease. 

Viewed that way, you might start to agree that when it comes to sourcing the healthiest dog, your best bet might well be the mutt that’s managed to avoid the mangekennel coughs, and parvoviruses of this world. But then, those are highly treatable. Inherited allergic skin disease and congenital heart abnormalities, sadly, are NOT. 

Dr. Patty Khuly


Patty Khuly, DVM


Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health