'Designer mutts' not likely to cause new health concerns


CLEVELAND — "Designer mutts" are making their way into veterinary clinics and a leading geneticist says their long-term health risks are negligible.

CLEVELAND — "Designer mutts" are making their way into veterinary clinics and a leading geneticist says their long-term health risks are negligible.

The new breed varieties combine genetics of two purebreds and are growing in popularity despite opposition from breed groups.

F1 Labradoodle.

The price tag on these designer dogs is nothing to sneeze at, either; the dogs demand anywhere between $900 to $1,900 each.

General practitioners will be seeing more of these intentional crossbred dogs in their offices, fueled by a need to "outdo the Jones', " one practitioner says.

The crossbreeds that might have once resulted in a litter of puppies given away free of charge now are being bred in Australia and America and have seen their way to many media outlets, including "The Early Show." Some breeders are even seeking the expertise of veterinary theriogenologists.

F1 Labradoodle.

Considering health issues, the new breeds could offer better health prospects than the breeding of two homozygosis breeds, such as bloodhounds, bull dogs, etc., says Dr. John Verstegen, MSc, PhD, DECAR, associate professor, department of large animal clinical sciences, theriogeneology section at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine.

"The bad thing about the new crossbred dogs is that people are buying them on an impulse," says Lainie Cantrell, director of public relations, American Kennel Club (AKC). "There are 153 breeds registered with AKC, and we think that is enough of a variety for people to find a dog that suits their wants and needs."

Along with some of the new breeds comes unpredictability. Breeders who do not keep records of the dogs and have them tested for health problems are just breeding more problems into the gene pool.

F5 multigeneration brindle puppy.

Responsible breeders have a problem with people who are driven by money and not improving the breed, Cantrell adds.

"Veterinarians may not be able to identify the new crossbreed dogs as being anything more than a mutt," Cantrell says. "They may have little to offer owners as what to expect from their new pet as it ages."

There are no plans at this point to add any of the crossbred dogs to the AKC registry, however, any breeder can attempt to have their breed registered by going through the registry process with the organization.

F5 multigeneration parti-color puppy.

"The history of many breeds is that of a specific objective, to be used for working, hunting or herding. These breeds are largely being created as a fashion, a response to eccentric needs — with the exception of Labradoodles that are seemingly a working dog devoid of allergenic effects or reduced shedding," Verstegen says.

As far as the new breeds developing genetic problems new to veterinary medicine, it is unlikely, Verstegen says.

"Cross-breeding a Pug to a Beagle would likely produce a dog with less respiratory problems," he says. "But we do not need to create a new breed to do that. An orientation of the way breeding pairs are selected would certainly help to improve and correct some deviations recently introduced by intensive in-breeding."

Helene Roussi bred Labrador Retrievers for 30 years before switching to Labradoodles and initiating Westwood Labradoodles, an organization that is dedicated to selecting healthy dogs to form breeding pairs.

"I was getting tired of all of the Labrador hair and thought trying to breed Labradoodles would be a way to eliminate the problem," Roussi says.

The dogs' genes can be manipulated to conform to whichever breed's traits are desired.

Crossing a Labrador with a Poodle creates F1 offspring, while combining two F1 parents creates F2 offspring. Crossing an F1 with a parent breed yields F1B offspring, generally giving dominant traits to the parent breed used. The physical appearance of F1 dogs also can be a toss-up.

"The puppies from the most recent litter will be about 20 pounds when they are full-grown," Roussi says. "They are called miniature-multigeneration Labradoodles."

Just like with any other dog breed, animals used for breeding should be tested for predisposed genetic problems, such as hip dysplasia and eye diseases. If problems are present, the animal should be sterilized, according to Roussi.

Verstegen says many of the new crossbred dogs probably will disappear in a few years when their marketability decreases. But it isn't out of the realm of possibility that some may become excepted breeds in organizations, such as The Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI), a world canine organization that includes 80 members and contract partners — one member per country.

"Fashion is certainly one of the driving forces in this field," he adds. "We'll see where it goes."

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