What are the healthiest dog breeds?
Certain breeds, such as the English bulldog, have been in the news lately because they have some serious health problems.
What breeds (or breed mixes) should you look for if you are interested in a dog with the best chance for a long and healthy life?
In this article, we’ll see what the experts say about dog breed health.
Is it possible to find a dog breed with a proven track record for robust health?
We’ll list the healthiest dog breeds, broken down into sizes, to help you decide which of these pups will be the perfect dog for you.
Before we get to the breeds, how do veterinarians, breeders and other experts determine whether a breed is generally healthy or unhealthy?
What Makes a Dog Breed Unhealthy?
There are many things to consider when looking at dog breed health.
According to scientists, two of the most important factors that contribute to poor health are a breed’s limited gene pool and breeding for extreme physical characteristics.
The English bulldog is a good example of how both factors can come into play.
One well-known genetic study of the English bulldog found that the breed suffers from an extreme lack of genetic diversity.
This is due to a small founder population and genetic bottlenecks caused by selection for that specific bulldog appearance.
Inbreeding can have serious and sometimes fatal health consequences for purebred dogs.
When diseases are passed down from one generation to the next, the overall health of the breed can be negatively impacted.
Many common canine health conditions are genetic.
They include hip and elbow dysplasia; luxating patella; epilepsy; autoimmune diseases; and heart, eye and neurological conditions.
Extreme physical appearance can also have negative health consequences for dogs.
The English bulldog is just one of many breeds that can suffer from chronic health problems caused by physical structure.
Bulldogs and other flat-faced breeds can suffer from breathing problems caused by their short muzzles.
Dogs with short legs like dachshunds can have spinal problems.
Curly screw tails can also cause spinal problems.
Wrinkled skin can lead to chronic skin conditions.
Large eyes can cause eye problems.
If poor health can be caused by both physical appearance and low genetic diversity, how can you find a purebred dog that is very healthy?
What Makes a Dog Breed Healthy?
The healthiest dog breeds have a few characteristics in common.
Many of the breeds considered to be the healthiest have robust working dog ancestries.
Dogs that have been bred for their working abilities rather than any specific physical trait tend to have the fewest health issues.
This is why dogs that belong to groups such as the working, herding, sporting and hound categories can be a good choice for people seeking the healthiest dog breeds.
Besides having a robust background as a working dog breed, the healthiest dog breeds also tend to have a more natural canine appearance than some of the less healthy breeds.
For example, dogs with longer muzzles don’t have the breathing problems of those with flat muzzles.
Similarly, dogs with longer legs and straight tails have fewer spinal problems than dogs with short legs and screw tails.
The same is true for other features such as eyes and skin.
Dogs with protruding eyes and skinfolds can have more eye and skin issues than dogs with more natural features.
Some people argue that mixed breed dogs and mutts are healthier than any purebred dog. Is this true?
Are Mixed Breed Dogs Healthier?
The genetic term “heterosis” (commonly known as “hybrid vigor”) describes the practice of crossbreeding two different genetic lines to produce healthier offspring.
There are many purebred dogs that suffer from inherited health problems, with some genetic lines being unhealthier than others.
Responsible breeders will not breed dogs that are carriers of serious genetic health conditions.
Choosing a responsible breeder is the best way to find a healthy purebred or designer mixed breed dog, such as a Labradoodle.
What about mutts?
The ancestry of quite a few mutts is unknown.
While there are people who say that mutts are healthier than purebreds, a mutt still can have a parent with a genetic health problem.
Research studies have shown that for some diseases such as hip dysplasia and cancer, there is no difference between purebred and mixed breed dogs.
However, researchers have found that some genetic diseases (such as cardiomyopathy and cataracts) are more common in purebred dogs than in mixed breed dogs.
Certain diseases are ancient in origin and are widespread among all dogs while others are more recent developments among certain purebred dogs.
The bottom line is that the health of any dog can never be 100 percent guaranteed.
That’s why any “healthiest dog breeds list” should make it clear that all dogs carry some risk of developing a health problem at some point in life.
That being said, we can name some dog breeds that have fewer health issues than others.
What Is the Healthiest Dog Breed?
As we’ve said, the healthiest dog breeds tend to have more natural canine appearances and come from working dog stock.
Let’s start with the healthiest big dog breeds.
Healthiest Large Dog Breeds
Fans of big dogs know that larger dogs can be prone to certain health problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia and bloat. They also generally have shorter life spans than smaller dogs.
But it is possible to indulge your love for big dogs and choose a healthy one at the same time.
Many breed experts point to the Belgian Malinois as an example of a generally healthy larger dog breed.
The Malinois belongs to the herding dog group and was bred to be intelligent, hardworking and confident.
A strong and muscular breed, males stand between 24 and 26 inches tall at the shoulder and can weigh as much as 60 to 80 pounds.
Females are 22 to 24 inches tall and weigh 40 to 60 pounds.
While the Malinois suffers from fewer genetic health conditions than many other larger dogs, you should still choose a responsible breeder who health tests for hip and elbow dysplasia and inherited eye disorders.
The otterhound is another big dog with a good health record.
This affectionate and good-natured pup was originally bred to hunt otters and still retains a love for water.
Male otterhounds can stand 27 inches high at the shoulder; females are 24 inches tall.
Males weigh as much as 115 pounds, and females weigh around 80 pounds.
As a larger dog, otterhounds can experience a digestive condition called bloat, which may be life-threatening.
The breed can sometimes be prone to hip dysplasia and a bleeding disorder called Glanzmann’s thrombasthenia.
The giant schnauzer is also considered to be an overall healthy large breed dog.
This robust working group breed was bred to drive cattle and serve as guard dogs.
An adult male can stand between 25 ½ and 27 ½ inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh between 60 and 85 pounds.
Females are 23 ½ to 25 ½ inches tall, and weigh between 55 and 75 pounds.
While the breed is generally healthy, make sure your breeder health tests for hip dysplasia and inherited thyroid and eye disorders.
Another healthy large dog breed from Belgium, the Belgian sheepdog is a handsome, hardworking and intelligent dog, originally bred for cattle herding.
Males are generally 24 to 26 inches in height at the shoulder, and weigh between 55 and 75 pounds.
Females are 22 to 24 inches tall, and weigh between 45 and 60 pounds.
The Belgian sheepdog is known for its robust health but can suffer from a few health problems.
Be sure your breeder tests for hip and elbow dysplasia and eye problems.
Healthiest Medium to Small Dog Breeds
Let’s look at the healthiest dog breeds that fall into the medium to small size range next.
There are quite a few that fit the bill.
The perky and foxlike Swedish Lapphund (or Lappie) is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, originally bred for hunting, guarding and herding reindeer.
The Lappie is a medium-sized dog, standing between 16 and 20 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing between 30 and 45 pounds.
This robust working dog is generally very healthy, with few inherited health problems.
Be sure to choose a responsible breeder who tests for hip dysplasia and an eye condition called progressive retinal atrophy.
Treeing Tennessee Brindle
The Treeing Tennessee Brindle is an example of how exceptionally good health in dogs can occur with crossbreeding.
The breed is a native American dog, bred from different Cur-type dogs to be a robust hunting dog that specializes in treeing game.
The Treeing Tennessee Brindle stands between 16 and 24 inches tall, and weighs between 30 and 50 pounds.
There are no serious genetic health problems associated with this breed.
As with other floppy eared breeds, the TTB may be prone to ear infections without proper care.
This cute and friendly Spitz-type dog is a herding breed native to Iceland.
The ancestors of the modern Icelandic Sheepdog arrived with settlers from Norway and worked to herd sheep and round up ponies.
Small to medium in size, males are around 18 inches tall and females are 16 ½ inches tall.
Males weigh around 30 pounds, and females weigh 25 pounds.
The breed has few health problems, although responsible breeders will test their dogs for both hip dysplasia and eye conditions.
The Australian terrier is a small but sturdy dog with an outgoing and lively personality.
The breed is a mixture of other terrier breeds brought to Australia from the British Isles.
They were traditionally used to hunt and kill vermin, including snakes.
Australian terriers stand between 10 and 11 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh between 15 and 20 pounds when full grown.
Like other working dogs created by crossbreeding, the Australian terrier is quite healthy.
Reputable breeders will test for luxating patella, eye issues and thyroid problems.
Healthiest Toy Dog Breeds
What are the healthiest dog breeds for fans of very small dogs?
The most important thing to remember when looking at toy breeds is to choose a dog in the normal size range for the breed.
Avoid any toy dog advertised as teacup, micro, mini, etc., because dogs bred for unusually small size can suffer from serious health problems.
Many toy breeds have cute physical characteristics such as protruding eyes, flat muzzles and stubby legs.
The healthier toy breeds will not have traits like these, which often cause chronic health issues.
The “Min Pin” is one of the healthier toy breeds.
This is in part due to healthy physical features such as a longer muzzle and legs because flat muzzles and short legs can lead to significant health issues.
The Min Pin stands between 10 and 12 inches tall at the shoulder, and weighs between 8 and 10 pounds.
Health testing for luxating patella is recommended for this breed.
Optional health tests for the Min Pin can test for a few other inherited health problems associated with the breed.
The long-haired silky terrier is a great option for people seeking a healthy toy dog breed.
The Silky is the result of crossbreeding of other terrier breeds, a key factor for robust health.
The Silky stands between 9 and 10 inches tall at the shoulder, and weighs around 10 pounds.
There are currently no recommended genetic health tests for the Silky, although like other small dogs, it’s a good idea to screen for luxating patella and eye health.
The lovely little papillon is one of the smallest toy breeds.
While it is delicate and dainty, the papillon is quite healthy for a toy dog.
The papillon is a mixture of other toy breeds and spaniels, bred to be a companion animal for European nobility.
Adult papillons stand 8 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh between 5 and 10 pounds.
Responsible breeders will test for luxating patella and some eye and heart problems.
Most Healthy Dog Breeds
Dog breeds with the least health problems come in a wide range of shapes and sizes.
The healthiest dog breeds share a few common traits that contribute to their overall health.
Many are the result of the crossing of multiple breeds, which leads to robust health.
Many are also very natural and proportionate in appearance, with no flattened muzzles, short legs or screw tails.
No matter which of these healthy dog breeds you choose, remember to always work with a responsible breeder who health tests their dogs for inherited conditions associated with the breed.
References and Further Reading:
Bateson, P. and Sargan, D.R., 2012, “Analysis of the Canine Genome and Canine Health: A Commentary,” The Veterinary Journal
Bell, J.S., 2007, “Common Genetic Disorders of Dogs and Cats,” Tufts’ Canine and Feline Breeding and Genetics Conference
Bellumori, T.P., et al., 2013, “Prevalence of Inherited Disorders Among Mixed-Breed and Purebred Dogs: 27,254 Cases (1995–2010),” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
“Hip Dysplasia,” Veterinary Specialty Hospital
“New Study Highlights Concerns Over the Purchasing of Flat-Faced Dogs,” Royal Veterinary College
“Patellar Luxations,” American College of Veterinary Surgeons
Pedersen, N.C., Pooch, A.S., and Liu, H., 2016, “A Genetic Assessment of the English Bulldog,” Canine Genetics and Epidemiology