Do Purebred Dogs Have More Health Problems?

beautiful dog breed Dalmatian on sunset background portrait

Key Points

  • Purebreds are more likely to inherit diseases from their parents than mixed-breed dogs.

  • For centuries, dog breeders ignored the health issues of the animals they used for reproduction.

  • The most common genetically transmitted diseases range from hip dysplasia and patellar luxation to some types of cancer, epilepsy, and cardiac conditions.

  • The breeds most likely to inherit some of these health issues are the poodle, Saint Bernard, German shepherd, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers.

  • You can use DNA testing to determine whether a dog is predisposed to a disease based on their genetic inheritance.

Ever wanted to adopt a purebred dog, but wondered if they might be less healthy than a mixed-breed?

More studies have to be performed before it becomes universal knowledge that one is healthier than the other. However, it is true that some purebreds are more prone to genetic disorders than their crossbred counterparts.

This article explores some of these breeds, the most common conditions they’re likely to get during their lives, and some reasons breeding has led to this outcome.

Why Are Purebred Dogs Unhealthier Compared to Crossbreds?

Humankind has been breeding dogs for thousands of years. At first, mating dogs was based on their capabilities, such as hunting, herding, or working. For the past few hundred years, breeding focused on improving and tweaking the appearance of dog breeds.

There are canine organizations in every country setting standards for breeds. Competitions and pedigree dogs have fueled unethical breeding. Some breeders ignored the health issues of the dogs used for reproduction and solely focused on their appearance.

This led to the transmission of some medical conditions from the parents to offspring. Breeders used puppies with illnesses for reproduction if they complied with the so-called ‘breed standard.’

A purebred dog inherits not only the beautiful physical features of their breed but also a history of ailments caused by a small genetic pool and injudicious breeding.

British veterinarian Dr. Joe Dunne states, “A number of severe genetic diseases are common with purebred and pedigree dogs, directly as a result of inbreeding within small populations.”

As much as some breeders want to convince you otherwise, it is almost impossible for purebreds to be healthier than mixed-breed dogs.

The Most Common Health Problems of Purebred Dogs

The list of genetically transmitted disorders is a long one, but some of the most commonly encountered ones are:

  • Hip dysplasia

  • Patellar luxation

  • Cancer

  • Heart conditions (especially dilated cardiomyopathy)

  • Portosystemic shunt

  • Aortic stenosis

  • Eye conditions (glaucoma and progressive retinal atrophy)

  • Collapsing trachea

  • Bloat

  • Epilepsy

  • White shaker syndrome

  • Respiratory pathologies (due to brachycephaly)

Parents transmit some of these diseases to the offspring, but others are the direct result of the anatomy of some breeds.

For instance, French bulldogs have a likelihood of experiencing both breathing problems and epilepsy, but these two health complications aren’t necessarily hereditary. These dogs’ extremely flat faces, per the breed standard, lead to these problems, making a normal quality of life impossible.

By age five, 70 percent of Cavalier King Charles spaniels develop canine syringomyelia, a disease where the brain is too big for the skull. This is just one example of inherited conditions occurring due to unethical breeding.

10 of the Least Healthy Dog Breeds & Their Health Issues

Some breeds are more prone to hereditary illnesses and conditions than others. These 10 are considered to be the most susceptible to such ailments.

1. Boxers

Boxers are prone to hypothyroidism, ulcerative colitis, cancer, and heart disease. The most common types of cancers for this breed are lymphoma and mast cell tumors.

While they make great family pets due to their personalities, boxers must be checked by a vet regularly. Any lump or bump could be a sign of something more serious.

The average life expectancy of boxers is seven to 10 years.

2. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Although one of the most affectionate dog breeds, Cavalier King Charles spaniels can’t give their owners their love for too long because their lives can be cut short by genetic diseases.

Some of those conditions include mitral valve disease and the previously mentioned syringomyelia. Others are giant platelet disorder, patellar luxation, and primary secretory otitis media.

The average life expectancy of this dog breed is nine to 14 years.

3. Dalmatians

In June 2023, The Dalmatian Club of America Foundation published an article detailing some of this breed's most common health issues. From renal disease to eye conditions such as acute glaucoma, Dalmatians can be born with and develop a variety of health issues.

Many get dilated cardiomyopathy or epilepsy, while others suffer from hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism or autoimmune health issues such as Cushing’s disease.

Dalmatians live for 10 to 13 years maximum.

4. French Bulldogs

Hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, and spinal disc issues most likely affect French Bulldogs. Besides these conditions, this breed is prone to degenerative myelopathy (DM) and cleft palates.

With proper veterinary care, most French Bulldogs live for 10 to 12 years. That’s still a much lower life expectancy than some other breeds.

5. German Shepherds

German shepherds are one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world, but unfortunately, they have no say regarding their health. This police-loved breed can inherit many genetic conditions, such as:

  • Hip dysplasia

  • Degenerative myelopathy

  • Von Willebrand disease

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  • Hemophilia

  • Pancreatic disease

  • Megaesophagus

One study found that 13.6 percent of inbred German shepherds suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, with 14.9 percent dying because they cannot stand. In the group studied, 5.54 percent suffered from osteoarthritis and 7.89 percent had ear canal inflammation. 

6. Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers

These two breeds are grouped together because they share a plethora of pathologies.

Golden retrievers are most likely to develop hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cardiac pathologies, and eye disorders. Labrador retrievers have the same risks and extra ones, such as progressive retinal atrophy and exercise-induced collapse.

Because of the musculoskeletal issues, veterinarians recommend screening for hip and elbow dysplasia as early as the age of six months.

Labrador retrievers have a life expectancy of 10 to 14 years, while golden retrievers can live for 12 to 13 years.

7. Poodles

Poodles have three main hereditary diseases — epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy, and hip dysplasia. This breed is also predisposed to Addison’s disease, thyroid conditions, bloat, and puppy hypoglycemia.

Toy and miniature poodles are even more exposed to health concerns. Besides the already mentioned issues, they can also get Legg-Calve-Perthes disease and a collapsed trachea.

The standard poodle lives between 12 and 15 years. The miniature poodle life expectancy is 10 to 18 years. The toy poodle lives up to 15 to 18 years.

8. Saint Bernards

You know them the film Beethoven. This warm, people-loving dog breed saves human lives every day in Switzerland and other mountainous countries. They are easy to love, but not so easy to care for.

The Saint Bernard is likely to inherit several conditions due to past breeding practices, such as:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia

  • Bone cancer

  • Thyroid problems

  • Osteochondrosis

  • Eye problems

  • Addison’s disease

Some Saint Bernards have to undergo limb amputation due to musculoskeletal complications. For a dog this size, amputation can be a death sentence because it can lead to severe spinal pathologies within a few years after the operation.

Unlike some other breeds in this list, Saint Bernards only live for eight to 10 years.

9. Yorkshire Terriers

"Yorkies" are popular because of their big personalities and small size. Unfortunately, they are not the healthiest dog breed in the world. Yorkies inherit multiple conditions, from tracheal collapse to portosystemic shunt, retinal dysplasia, and hydrocephalus.

They also have dental problems. Their teeth tend to grow incorrectly and have to be surgically removed. Puppies can experience hypoglycemia and dry eye.

Despite the many pathologies that affect them, Yorkshire terriers can live for 13 to 15 years.

10. Newfoundland Dogs

This Canadian dog breed is a family favorite, but it has one of the lowest life spans and suffers from many inherited diseases. All Newfoundlands are likely to experience heart, eye, hip, and elbow diseases. Some inherit kidney disease.

Bloat and cancer aren’t strangers to Newfoundland dogs, and neither are neurologic problems or autoimmune skin disease. Two potential health conditions requiring immediate veterinary assistance are megaesophagus and laryngeal paralysis.

Like the Yorkshire terrier, the Newfoundland doesn’t live a long life, with an average life span of 8-10 years.

Are All Crossbreeds Healthy?

More scientific evidence is needed to back up the claim that mixed-breeds are healthier than purebreds. Nevertheless, mixed-breed dogs have a larger genetic pool and are less likely to inherit the gene from one disease if one of their grandfathers was a purebred.

By contrast, a puppy with two purebred parents carrying the same disease gene is likelier to develop it during their life.

Colorado-based veterinarian Dr. Sarah Wooten claims that based on her 16 years of clinical practice experience, "mixed breed dogs tend to be healthier and tougher and tend to live longer."

Purebreds vs. Crossbreds: Costs and Personalities

There are some differences between purebreds and mixed-breed dogs that go beyond their health. The following sections deal with a few extra factors to consider before getting a puppy.


Purebred dogs tend to be much more expensive than mixed-breed pets. Some are more in demand and can be pretty rare, which hikes up the price of a puppy even more.

For example, an Afghan hound puppy can set you back as much as $7,000. Interested in owning and caring for a purebred Rottweiler? Then expect to pay around $9,000. A Samoyed whose parents have pedigrees can cost more than $13,000.

You know just as well as anybody else how much a trip to the local dog rescue center costs. Besides the gas, a few shots, and a couple of essential dog products, the whole experience probably costs no more than a few hundred dollars.

Even better, most of these dogs are spayed and neutered and possibly already have their whole vaccination plan completed. After all, this makes them more adoptable.


Some dog breeds are genetically engineered to perform tasks. A herding dog is not happy being indoors for hours on end. They can develop destructive behaviors due to boredom and restlessness.

Mixed breeds, on the other hand, are much more flexible and quickly adapt to your life circumstances.

With a consistent routine, they quickly learn to respond to commands. Since most "Heinz 57" dogs are medium-sized, they can live in the city or the country.

Another factor is that purebreds need to be socialized as early as possible. If they are separated from their mothers after six to eight weeks, they can become withdrawn or develop aggressive behaviors if they don't become used to people or other animals.

Any dog, whether purebred or mixed-breed, should not be adopted prior to their three-month birthday. This gives them time to spend with their mothers, brothers, and sisters and learn how to act in the presence of people.

Unfortunately, breeders rarely wait this long before selling the puppies.

How to Avoid Genetic Disorders with Purebred Dogs

The more popular the breed, the more likely it is to inherit conditions from its ancestors.

Everyone loves Labrador and golden retrievers because they’re easy to hang out with, they love kids, and they’re beautiful. The fact that they are so beloved has made breeders produce puppies continuously, often ignoring the parents’ health.

If you want your dog to be healthy, adopt a breed that’s not as popular as these two examples.

Watch out for problematic anatomies such as those present in brachycephalic breeds like the pug or the French bulldog if you don’t want your dog to suffer from respiratory health issues or neurologic problems.

Another readily available solution for pet owners is genetic testing. For example, if you have a German shepherd and want to know if they might develop an inherited disease, get a dog DNA test kit and find out if your pet carries the gene.

Brands like DNA My Dog, Embark, or Wisdom Panel 3.0 make some of the most popular DNA dog test kits.

If you find a purebred or mixed-breed puppy in a shelter and want to adopt them, contact a veterinarian for advice on what to do, in addition to a vaccination plan, regular deworming, and a healthy diet.

boxer dog standing in field of wildflowers

Every Dog Deserves a Chance

All breeders tell you they use ethical practices in their profession. They claim to try to eliminate genetic disorders through responsible mating. While breeding has improved over the years, there is much work to be done to achieve this goal.

The bottom line is that both purebreds and mixed-breed dogs are prone to some diseases, but the incidence is higher in purebreds. Purebreds also have a shorter lifespan, are more sensitive, less hardy, and require more care.

Every dog deserves a chance to lead a happy and healthy life. Animal rescue centers and local organizations collect funds and donations to care for stray and abandoned animals.

Before buying a purebred, remember there’s nothing like the love a rescue dog can give you. There are several reasons to "adopt, don't shop."

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