Designer dog breeds: healthy hybrids or pointless status symbols? Podcast from Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

The above photo shows a “Jackaranian”: a pup with a Jack Russell mother and a Pomeranian father. Designer breeds continue to feature in my daily life as a vet in practice. Are they good pets? Or do people spend hundreds of euros on silly names just to make themselves feel and look cool and trendy? Click on the play button at the foot of this page to listen to the podcast.

So-called “designer dog breeds” – the background

A designer dog breed is also known as a “dog hybrid’. It is a deliberate cross-breed between two pedigree breeds of dog with the intention of obtaining the best of both breeds. The resulting breed-mixes often have strange sounding names. Goldendoodles, Peke-a-poos, Puggles, Labradingers and Cockapoos are typical examples.
The theory makes sense: if you mix two different pedigree breeds, the puppies may have the best qualities of each of their parents, and less chance of inherited diseases. The hope is that the pups will enjoy “hybrid vigour” (or “outbreeding enhancement”). But people often forget the risk that you maView Posty actually get the worst of both breeds – so-called  “outbreeding depression”.
In the world of pure pedigree breeding, there is always a risk of a puppy developing inherited diseases. Every breed has a different list of hereditary problems that are more common than the average dog. Examples include arthritis, blindness, kidney failure, liver problems, heart disease, breathing issues, itchy skin and many others.
In nature, dogs that are stronger and healthier are more likely to survive and breed, so dogs with disease don’t tend to pass on as many genes. In dog breeding, the dogs that are selected by humans As a consequence, the “weak” genes that make animals prone to disease can be perpetuated.

Good dog breeders are doing a lot to reduce hereditary disease in pedigree dogs: there are screening programmes for arthritis, inherited eye problems and other issues too. DNA tests are also available for some inherited diseases to ensure that pedigree dogs are as disease free as possible. Yet despite these measures, there are still problems.

So what’s best: pedigree dog, cross-bred or “designer breed”?

Pedigree dog

To make sure that you choose the healthiest pedigree puppy,  you should ensure that the puppy has parents that have been screened in the appropriate way for their breed (e.g. X-rays of hips, eyes checked etc). Contact the Irish Kennel Club to ask about the appropriate screening programmes for each breed. Also, ask the breeder if you can meet the mother and the father of your puppy. If both parents are healthy, good-natured individuals, your pup is more likely to turn out well, although this does not remove the need for proper genetic screening.

A good-quality pedigree dog will cost between €400 and €1500, depending on   breed.

Cross bred dog

Thousands of unwanted dogs need homes every year in Ireland, and it can be rewarding to give a home to such an animal. There are some potential problems involved in rescuing a dog but the risks of these are not as high as people fear. An adult dog from a sanctuary may have been rejected by its original home for many reasons, and often these are “human” reasons rather than “dog” reasons. If you choose a cross-bred puppy, it’s often difficult to meet both parents, but at least try to meet the mother.

The up-side of a cross bred puppy is that it is less likely to develop inherited diseases than a pedigree dog. However it is harder to predict what the final adult animal will be like.

Designer dog

A cross bred dog from two known breeds can give you an animal with a more predictable adult type than a random cross bred dog, but you don’t need to choose a trendy name or fancy breeds.  Ask around online, at local vets and at animal sanctuaries. If cross-bred pedigree dogs are available, they may be a good option for you. If the pedigree parents have been screened for inherited diseases that’s even better, but it’s unlikely to happen in most cases.

For all puppies, go to the vet at once to get them checked.

It always makes sense to take your new arrival to the vet promptly. Problems like heart murmurs and hernias should be identified as soon as possible. If a serious problem exists, you may be advised by the vet to send the puppy back to the person where it came from, and if you have had the pup for a few weeks, you’ll be so emotionally attached that you’ll never agree to sending the pup back. The vet will also give you good general advice on caring for the puppy, from vaccines to worming to nutrition and more.

Questions for listeners about pets

The following questions were asked on air this week, and you can hear the answers at the end of the podcast:

  • After getting my male dog neutered five weeks ago because he was roaming, he is still roaming! What can I do? Anne
  • What’s the best small-medium dog breed that does not bark?
  • How can we coax our cat into the house at night? He never wants to come in at bedtime

Pete also answered questions live in a Facebook video session: you can watch it here.


You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the play button below

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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