Dear Labby – Genetic Disease?

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Dear Labby

Dear Labby

Dear Labby-

We have decided to get a dog (our first ever) and are both excited and nervous about it. We both work and are rather sedentary, so we think we need a low-energy dog; certainly nothing big or active like a Golden Retriever or Border Collie.  As of now, we are leaning toward a Maltese – they are small and we both like them.  We are wondering if this breed has any known health issues that we should be aware of before we take this step. And is it true that pure-bred dogs are more likely to have health issues than mixed breeds? Can you help?

— Anxious Newbie


Dear Anxious,

First of all, it is so nice to hear that you are factoring in your lifestyle when deciding on a dog.  You would be surprised how many people just go with a dog that is ‘cute’ and don’t consider whether they are a good match.  Second, no matter what kind of dog you decide on, we would encourage you to check with your local shelter or dog rescue.  You can use to do a quick scan of available dogs in your area. You would be surprised how many ‘pure-breed’ dogs they have available, but consider a mix as well.

Now to your questions.  First of all, there was a recent study done at UC Davis which somewhat debunks the ‘myth’ that purebreds are more likely to have genetic disease than mixes.  You can read that study here: The bottom line is that it depends on the specific disease.  Here is the summary paragraph from the article:

The researchers found that the prevalence of 13 of the 24 genetic disorders was approximately the same in purebred dogs as in their mixed-breed counterparts. Ten were found more frequently among purebred dogs, and one such disorder was more common in mixed-breeds.

Regarding the Maltese breed, it seems that this type of dog would be a good fit in your home from a personality and energy perspective.

Maltese puppy:

Maltese puppy:

As far as the Maltese breed’s genetic predilection to disease, we refer to the Canine Inherited Disorders Database (CIDD).  This is an amazing resource for people to learn about a breed’s history of genetic or inherited disease risks.

According to this database, the most serious common inherited disease of the Maltese is something called “Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)”.  According to the CIDD:

At birth, the blood supply from the mother is terminated when the umbilical cord is cut, the dog (or other mammal) begins breathing on its own, and blood flow through the ductus arteriosus is no longer necessary. Within a few days, the ductus shrinks and closes off completely.

Where the ductus arteriosus does not close within 24-48 hours after birth, the dog is left with a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA).   PDA causes unnecessary recirculation of blood through the heart, greatly increasing the workload of the heart and potentially causing terminal heart failure in time if the PDA is not closed via surgery.  The extent to which a PDA affects any given dog depends on the degree of patency, or size, of the ductus.

Sounds like a serious issue, but if you know of the risk, you and your vet can ‘watch’ for symptoms.  Surgical treatment appears to be the only way to fix the problem and lack of diagnosis can result in permanent heart damage and heart failure. When surgery is performed early and successfully, the long-term outlook for a normal life is generally excellent.

There is also an assortment of other, less serious genetically linked diseases associated with the Maltese.  Here are a few:

  • Shaker dog syndrome
  • Deafness
  • Glaucoma

Although this all sounds like a lot to worry about, know that most dogs are predisposed to some forms of genetic disease and that the key is to know which ones are linked to your dog so that you can monitor and take corrective (medical) actions at an early stage.

Good luck with your new dog!


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  1. Great info and links. I’ll check those out and especially read about the UCD study.
    BoingyDog recently posted…Heroic Dog Saves Teen Owner From AttackMy Profile

  2. How interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that condition before! I’ve also never seen the CIDD before. We used to have a cool book that we referenced to for breed specific conditions. Thanks for sharing. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of a Maltese are their teeth. They are prone to building up tartar quickly so they may need extra dental care.
    Ann “Paws” Staub recently posted…Why Don’t Pet Rats Have Fur on Their Tails?My Profile

  3. Good job answering the question. 🙂 I am so glad that you referenced the UC Davis study. So many people buy into the myth that mixes are healthier than pure-bred dogs.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Follow-up Friday 7-5-13My Profile

  4. I think its unfortunate when people decide to get a dog that they choose one by breed. Responsible shelters work hard to determine their dogs personalities to help determine an appropriate adopter so that the dog isn’t returned. That route would be a far better choice then buying a breed that has been overbred with predisposed diseases. Not to mention the number of purebreds in shelters because of overbreeding. Why not look there first?
    Dolly the Doxie recently posted…I’ve Moved!My Profile

    • Absolutely…hopefully they will follow our link to PetFinder and at least give a look through the hundreds of sogs available there. That’s how we found Jack!

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