Pedigree Dog Health Issues

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Our recent update on Fat Labs at Westminster once again proved to be a lightning rod for comments and complaints about pedigree show dog health. And it wasn’t limited to the overweight Labs, we heard from many purebred dog owners, some who show their dogs and some who refuse to because of unhealthy expectations. But, a common complaint was that judges are rewarding the extremes of their breed. Rewarding these extremes perpetuates the exaggeration of unhealthy features and poor genetic practices. It seems that to some, function and health is no longer as important as appearance.

There is a growing problem in the purebred dog show world and the sooner everyone involved acknowledges it, the sooner it can be addressed and hopefully turned around. Obviously, there are many conscientious breeders out there who put the health of their dogs above anything else. But what we’ve seen in the shows and heard in feedback and comments, is that there seems to be a certain myopic vision on the part of some breeders and a refusal to acknowledge that there is a potential issue. While a majority of dog owners and dog lovers easily see the problem, some breeders believe that the overweight or physically exaggerated dogs that often represent the various breeds in the show ring are perfectly fine and healthy.
We see two aspects of breeding, raising & showing dogs that contribute to the problem:

Breeding & Genetic Issues
One major issue is breeding dogs with genetic health issues without proper screening, or breeding them even when the health issues are known but breeding them to dogs ‘strong’ in that area thinking somehow that balances out the bad genes. Too bad there’s no guarantee that the ‘good’ genes will win out in the genetic lottery of mating. This affects many breeds with known issues, such as:

  • Dalmations and deafness;
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and their brain disorder, Syringomyellia;
  • Golden Retrievers and cancer;
  • Pugs, Bulldog and other short-nosed breeds with Brachycephaly.

Unfortunately, the list of purebred dogs with genetic health issues is much longer. Passing along these deformities and diseases through close-breeding will not improve the strain and produce strong, healthy purebred dogs, it will eventually destroy them.

Rin Tin Tin V

Rin Tin Tin V

We heard from German Shepherd owners who are dismayed at the appearance of GSDs in the ring, the sloped back, hocks bent so badly they are practically walking on them and sunken shoulders. These dogs have been breed specifically to look like this, but it’s not a healthy conformation. Do you see police dogs that look like this? Of course not. GSDs were meant to protect, to run fast and be strong defenders – these dogs are anything but that. Where are the Rin Tin Tins of 2015?

Similarily, Bulldogs have been breed to be wider and wider with bigger hips and bigger heads. It has progressed so far that now most purebred Bulldogs are no longer able to breed or give birth without assistance. How is that normal and healthy? Without human intervention, the Bulldog in its current form, would become extinct.
Nutrition, Diet & Exercise Issues
In addition to the hereditary issues that can be passed on in careless breeding programs, there are health issues that dog owners unintentionally create based on what they feed and how they exercise (or don’t exercise) their dogs. We heard from MANY Labrador owners who want to show their perfectly normal, healthy and well within conformation standard Labradors only to be told they are too thin and that they need to “fatten” them up.
Here’s a photo of Cash, one such dog who’s owner has been told many times that he is too thin. Does he look thin to you? He looks like a healthy specimen of a Lab, one that can run and hunt with you all day – which is exactly what Labradors are supposed to do. Cash is also within height limits, actually at lower end of the 22 1/2″ – 24 1/2″ standard and is within the proper weight standard. Interestingly, his owner says he towers over other male dogs in the ring – how can that be if he is on the low end of the standard? Why are dogs shorter and heavier than he winning and he being told to fatten up? Shouldn’t measurements be required?



It should also be noted some of the common hereditary issues Labs see, like hip dysplasia is made worse by being overweight and under-exercised. That alone should be a factor for keeping your dogs as lean and fit as possible. What is the obsession with extra weight on Labs?

This mentality of “fatten” them up is heard by other breeds as well. Here’s an example of a healthy and fit female Bulldog. The dog is within height/weight standard for the breed, but her owner has been told that she appears to be “starved” and needs to add weight if she wants to win. She has also been faulted for “bad hips”, but has passed both BVA and PennHip hip dysplasia tests. What’s bad about them – the fact that they are not over-sized?


We heard from Rottweiler owners who are told the same thing – “fatten them up”, “put more weight on them”. Why is that a good thing? What is this obsession with beefy dogs, why can’t a dog be at a healthy weight – or even on the thin side? It’s more healthy for the dog and leads to a longer life – isn’t that preferable than a few medals?

Our main goal by writing these posts is not to criticize pedigree dogs or breeders, but rather to open dog owner’s eyes to the fact that the dogs that they see in the show ring are not necessarily models of good health. If your dog doesn’t look as big and hefty as the Best of Breed Lab, or have a great big huge head or a squished face like the winning Bulldog or that winning Pug, well, that might not be a bad thing.


We also want to note that we are not Animal Rights Activists, nor are we professional breeders. We don’t hate purebred dogs, we have two Labradors ourselves for goodness sake. What we are is dog lovers. We are also fitness and health advocates and are passionate about helping pet owners keep their pets fit and healthy, which studies prove can extend the pet’s life significantly. And isn’t that what it’s all about – a long and healthy life for your pet?
What can be done about this? Unfortunately, until the breeders, judges and AKC take note we can only voice our concerns and try to educate others about the issue. We are encouraged that the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom has taken to heart the public outcry from UK dog owners as a result of the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed which aired in 2008. The concerns raised by that documentary are identical to the issues we see in American dogs. Unfortunately, the American Kennel Club has not attempted similar actions with their breed clubs, judges and members. Some may consider the AKC to be ‘just a registry’ but the fact is they certify the AKC show judges and could work with the Breed Clubs on instituting health standards and testing in a manner similar to the Kennel Club. It will take many generations to correct these issues, just as it took many generations to create them, so the sooner we get started the better.


As a final note, we encourage comments on our posts but expect that feedback and comments to be respectful and productive. Disagreeing with our opinion is fine, it is after all our opinion, but name calling is counterproductive and doesn’t advance the discussion.

References and Further Reading

Information Guide: Health screening and the Kennel Club



100 Years of Breed “Improvement”

Make Health, Not Show, the Standard in Dog Breeding

The Emperor’s Striptease

Are Dog Show Judges The Problem?

Can the Bulldog Be Saved?

Response To The Dog Snobs “That’s Not How That Actually Works…”

A Healthcare Basketcase Wins Westminster

Honesty and Education – To Wicket Or Not To Wicket

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  1. We find some of the breeds and the way they are bred these days so sad. It really makes us thankful to be a rare breed that is bred mainly on demand, breeders have bred out certain health issues, but want to keep us as robust hunters and scent hounds. We never want to be popular and over bred and changed into something we are not. It is really sad when we see some of these breeds like Shepherds with the slanted stance and overweight dogs. Not right at all. I guess it is the dog version of human beauty queens who starve themselves, get plastic surgery, etc. Not right.
    Emma recently posted…Squirrels Ruined Our Excursion!My Profile

  2. I know how it feels when a judge writes ” dog was presented overweight” on a rating card… but now we often hear that I should get more food….although I’m far away to look scrawny… well we probably can’t suit efurrybuddy…
    I dislike the “trend” to fatten them up” that they look more impressive…. at last it is overweight and the dogs have to pay the price with their health….
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog MISCHIEF MOANDAYMy Profile

  3. It’s such a sad state of affairs! And I have never understood the requirement that show dogs be kept “intact”. With such an overpopulation of homeless pets out there, why should a dog be disqualified for show just because its owners don’t want to risk contributing to the problem?! My Goldens, IMO, are just as beautiful as any in the show ring; but they are spayed and healthy overall.
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky’s Mom recently posted…Wavering Faith StrengthenedMy Profile

    • Dog shows (Conformation Shows) are to judge breeding stock against the breed standard. That is why the dogs must be intact. It is not just a beauty pageant (at least it should not be). For sporting dogs, the way they move in the ring is just as important as the way they look. A poor moving dog is a bigger problem in my opinion than a dog which looks beautiful but cannot move properly.
      2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Pleasant Weather For JanuaryMy Profile

    • I can tell you why they need to be intact. Dog shows are to show breeding stock and get opinions on them. How can they breed if they are not intact. Responsible breeders are very careful. They do not produce hundreds of puppies a year and they take their time to choose the right homes. The majority of these puppies go out on spay/neuter contracts so they will not be bred.

  4. When compared to a non-show Labrador, “Cash” is hefty; in the show ring, he looks emaciated compared to his competition. Therefore, he looks out of place. Comments from winning show dog owners and handlers are that they purposely put weight on their Labradors for the show ring. Thank you for bringing this important problem to light and let’s hope that something can be done – and soon. Labs are “Sporting Dogs” and should be able to work all day.

  5. I think the more people we encourage to participate in dog sports, the more likely we are to get form to function kinds of dogs. And that’s what the standards are supposed to be. They should represent the kind of athletic dog needed to perform its original work. So breeders that produce the kind of pet dog who can participate with its owner in agility or flyball or obedience or rally or tracking may be the ones who ultimately control the fate of the breed.

  6. I have read articles and books on the subject, and your post summarizes the problem quite succinctly. A great book, Dog Sense by John Bradshaw really lays out the case against the pure bred over-breeding issue. I’m glad you’re bringing the topic out in the open.

    –Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats.
    Susan and the gang from Life with Dogs and Cats recently posted…Ball is Lost: Tucker the Dog Faces His Worst NightmareMy Profile

  7. I love these blogs, but for some reason in my RSS feed, none of the paragraphs, photos or formatting shows up, making it a bit challenging to read on the fly. Will keep trying to read, but would definitely be easier if worked well. Maybe it’s my RSS feed? I use feedly.

    • Maybe – does it happen with other Blogs? I use BlogLovin, and it comes in fine there.
      mkob recently posted…Pedigree Dog Health IssuesMy Profile

      • Nope, this is the only one. I follow about 80 other blogs too. Weird.

  8. These posts bring to mind a comment someone shared in a raw feeding group. Many people think that healthy dogs are too skinny, but over the decades, we’ve grown so used to overweight dogs that we don’t know what healthy looks like.

    Rodrigo used to be 75# and I thought that was great. He’s now 63# and looks amazing. Because of what I’ve learned about dog nutrition, I’m very vigilant about our dogs food intake (including treats) and their weight. I’m surprised that people find a point of contention with raising awareness of how to help our dogs be healthy.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Choosing the Right Proteins for a Raw Fed DogMy Profile

  9. I am so grateful for blogs like these where I continue to learn and find resources to increase my knowledge. I never had a dog before Harley – and I am dedicated to giving him the healthiest life possible. In his earlier years I must admit – I questioned his vet’s insistence on monitoring treats and food consumption along with the introduction of fresh fruits and veggies. I am so happy I listened. Thank you Slim, Kimberly and many others for all the information you share to people like me 🙂 #muchlove

    • You are so welcome – we appreciate folks like you who place such importance on the health and vitality of your dog. I know they appreciate it! Thanks for being a loyal reader.
      mkob recently posted…Pedigree Dog Health IssuesMy Profile

  10. Like most things, I think there’s a pendulum swing. In large part due to new data and more robust ethics considerations, it seems like more people believe breeding practices should value health and longevity over exaggerated physical traits.

    • I think your average breeder is more aware, but I think sometimes the folks that breed for show are a little less aware.
      mkob recently posted…Pedigree Dog Health IssuesMy Profile

  11. I used to enjoy dog shows, but now watching what has happened to some of the breeds, especially the GSD, the Pekes, and the Bulldogs, it just breaks my heart to see them. The good news is that the AKC is becoming more and more irrelevant and unimportant as people realize they are supporting puppy mills and unhealthy breeding practices.
    jan recently posted…Chihuahua puppy gets sex change surgeryMy Profile

  12. We show our dogs in field condition and they have taken all their points in that condition. I think sometimes people put weight on for the ring to try to disguise some other flaw in conformation. For example the dog Cash that is pictured seems to have a sloped topline. Should be level according to the standard. Sloping is not good in a retriever. It will not allow the dog to move efficiently. It is no different than the German Shepard you discussed except the GSD standard calls for some sloping in the topline. Maybe weight would help to make the topline look better? I do not know.

    As for genetic problems, I agree that when breeders turn a blind eye to genetic issues, that is bad. But the reason they know is because they test. There is a myth that you can eliminate genetic problems through screening. Not true. In the end, sometimes nature throws a curve ball. It is also a myth that you can’t breed away from certain problems. You can. It has been done for many, many years.

    But I am not letting breeders off the hook. In fact I have a couple of post coming up where I take aim at our parent club for trying to change our standard not for the better and another about breeders who discount health issues they know about and can predict will probably reproduce.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Pleasant Weather For JanuaryMy Profile

    • One other thing I thought I would mention is that at training this past weekend we got on the subject of weight. No one could believe that Freighter weighed 83 lbs, including our trainer who handles a lot of dogs. He doesn’t look it, but he is solid and fit and actually could really use a couple of pounds (85 is right for him). Just going by weight can be deceiving. Of the dogs out at the time, he was the heaviest yet not the tallest.
      2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Pleasant Weather For JanuaryMy Profile

      • Well there is truth to the fact that muscle weighs more than fat…Freighter is probably more muscular – so he may ‘look’ thinner, but it’s just more compact muscles.
        mkob recently posted…Pedigree Dog Health IssuesMy Profile

    • Good points from an experienced hand. Look forward to your posts on this topic.
      mkob recently posted…Pedigree Dog Health IssuesMy Profile

  13. I completely agree with this. We have such a ‘bigger is better’ mentality that I often see in the giant breeds. I cherish the breeder that strive to improve the breed standard, but I can’t stand the ones that ultimately harm the dog. We all know it’s healthier to be on the lean side as humans and its the exact same way for dogs. I HATE when other pyr owners talk about how thick their dog is, but you can’t feel their ribs. No, your dog is overweight and you’re slowly killing him.

    • IT is disappointing that we are hearing this same thing from so many different breeds – no wonder over 50% of dogs in this country are overweight or obese!
      mkob recently posted…Pedigree Dog Health IssuesMy Profile

  14. Such an amazing post; you touched on so many important topics. Unfortunately for the Bulldog (which I’d consider to be the most extreme) I don’t know if breeding them at all as they are can be considered humane. They’re so prone to so many various health problems it seems cruel to breed them anymore. And to think 100 years ago they were such an athletic breed – now it’s advised against having them outdoors if it’s above 80 degrees or humid out. A 2009 study by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals found 71.9% of them to be affected by hip dysplasia.. And the list goes on.

    Thank you for writing this article; it’s important to highlight the differences between breeders who really care about the health, well-being, and reputation of their breed vs. the ones who are going to the extremes when the trends fluctuate that way.
    Jen Gabbard recently posted…Looking for a Laid Back Family Dog?My Profile

    • Thanks – we’re trying to raise some awareness, hoping to get the attention of some groups that might be able to actually do something…
      mkob recently posted…Pedigree Dog Health IssuesMy Profile

  15. Great work on this post. I love watching dog shows because I love seeing so many different breeds, but I do feel guilty because of the issues you’ve brought up. Are most show dogs unhealthy? I don’t know, but it seems that way sometimes.

    The whole thing about English bulldogs being physically unable to breed or give birth naturally just freaks me out. I feel bad for bulldogs.
    Lindsay recently posted…Is Kirkland’s dog food contaminated and making dogs sick?My Profile

    • It’s a real shame what has happened to many of the show dogs. I don’t think they are all unhealthy, but certainly a large number of them are due to close-breeding and these physical exaggerations. It is sad.
      mkob recently posted…Pedigree Dog Health IssuesMy Profile

  16. What a great post, thank you for sharing.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…4%~It’s A Girl Busy Buddy~Monday MischiefMy Profile

  17. May I point out that the way the AKC certifies dogs as “pedigreed” enables puppy mill owners to continue their abusive business practices? Just because a puppy’s parents have AKC papers shouldn’t automatically label them as purebreds. My suggestion would be that all these AKC certifications be scrapped and owners be asked to reapply for a new Quality Certification. This would only be granted after a review of the breeder by the AKC to ensure they are breeding responsibly. Puppy mill dogs would be eliminated from the gene pool, the market for purebred dogs, and the abused and sick dog population, and perhaps the shelter population. Dare to dream.
    Amy recently posted…52 Snapshots of Life: DreamMy Profile

    • That would be a dream come true wouldn’t it.
      mkob recently posted…What are Functional Foods?My Profile

      • It surely would! Thanks for these posts on breed standards. They are so interesting and lead to such good conversations in the comments too.
        Amy recently posted…52 Snapshots of Life: DreamMy Profile

  18. It’s a very worrying trend. It’s also happening in the world of showing cats – features are becoming more exaggerated because that is what wins shows.
    Clowie recently posted…Welcome to the new home of Clowie’s CornerMy Profile

  19. The comments on here are just as stupid as this blog itself is. What qualifications do any of you have to tell breeders how to breed dogs? What citations can you list to prove that what you state is indeed fact and represents a large portion of breeders? What experience do you have working with and dealing with the AKC? How much do you really know about their policies, rules and regulations?

    All I see is agenda driven rubbish, spurred on by the AR Proganda Mockumentary PDE. Wake up sheeple!

  20. Thanks for writing about these issues in more detail. My parents were thinking about adopting a CKCS and we weren’t aware of how many will likely develop Syringomyelia. It’s really sad how several breeds are now suffering from severe medical issues all while being awarded for best conformation. Thank you for raising awareness.
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  21. Have you actually met and compared your pictured lab to the breed standard (which akc has no say in) ? I doubt you have or perhaps you’d realize his coat and top line are easy to see not within standard. Perhaps if you researched or had credentials you wouldn’t just find sore losers to back up your opinions but find actual facts. I’m sure there are some that are over weight, is that the norm, NO it sure isn’t. Let’s go with your theory though only fat dogs win in akc…..ok maybe the above pictured lab has been beaten (I don’t find that hard to believe) the fat dog can go home and lose weight, the one pictured can not correct his top line or coat….so you tell me who’s a better representation of the breed?

    • I don’t think we stated that only fat dogs win in AKC. The point of our post was to raise awareness about the health and fitness of not just Labs, but the apparent trend in exaggerated conformation of many pure-breed dogs to an unhealthy degree. That is our concern.
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby, Help me Choose Our New DogMy Profile

  22. You did indirectly through quoting others, owners were being told to fatten their dogs up to win. Not saying you may not have some valid points, however when you skim the bottom of the barrel for contributors you’re hard to support. In other words if you don’t verify that their dogs are losing simply as they say for being too fit when in reality they don’t meet breed standard makes one wonder how far off base you are in other points. Makes one wonder what your true objective and goal is?

  23. Actually, I would say that Lab looks overweight even though he is better than most show dogs. He could have less padding on the ribs and less fat in his abdomen. If he was intended for the field he would be put on a fitness program in my kennel.

    • The Lab pictured is show and field, but interestingly, when shown he is told to FATTEN up. That’s the problem – judges looking for heavier and heavier dogs.
      mkob recently posted…Working Out in the Morning with your DogMy Profile

  24. It makes me angry and very sad, but look at a lot of Americans, they are overweight themselves so how can we expect people who don’t know proper nutrition and portion control for themselves to transfer this to their dogs?

    My daughter has a bulldog and he looks NOTHING like the photo you showed. Very sad indeed.
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  25. That Lab, Cash, is beautiful and of good proportion! I do not show my Lab bitch in conformation because, even though she meets breed standard, I would be laughed out of the ring.

    • I don’t want to get into an argument with anyone. I’m just sick of the Labs who are too fat to even walk normally, they waddle, being rewarded as representing the breed. Fat is not cute; it’s unhealthy and dangerous. It’s not what the breed standard calls for. My females, while from conformation lines, and one has a very pretty head, could work all day, as they are supposed to be able. And since I keep them active, they are slim, not thin, and well muscled.

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