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Chihuahua: Health usually isn’t the problem with the Chihuahua. These active, in-your-face little dogs behave much bigger than they are (but not bigger than they think they are, which is huge!), and many of them live well into their teens with regular wellness care. But as one of the two most common breeds in many shelters these days, finding homes for them all is a challenge. For that, you can thank Taco Bell and Paris Hilton, I guess, but I’d like to thank everyone who adopts them, and spays and neuters them. A little Chihuahua goes a long way, and I’ll be happier when I see a lot less of them in practice, because that means the shelters aren’t struggling to cope with the overpopulation.
German Shepherd: A good German Shepherd is an awe-inspiring dog, and the best have served in so many ways. German Shepherds were the original service dogs for people who can’t see, and they’ve long been used for police and military work, and for search and rescue. Their popularity has been pretty steady since the days of Rin Tin Tin, but the problems with the health of the breed seem to have increased with every decade. German Shepherds are prone to epilepsy, vision problems, bleeding disorders and digestive problems, as well as bad hips and degenerative myelopathy, an incurable condition that causes progressive paralysis. The German Shepherd is the world’s first media-darling dog, and remains the classic example of the problems of popularity.
Golden Retriever: We love Shakira, our 12-year-old Golden whose sunny personality, supermodel looks and ball-crazy behavior are everything people love about Goldens. But Goldens have had more than their share of breed-related health issues, the most common and most tragic is cancer. Our family has been lucky enough to escape this diagnosis, but countless other owners will be getting bad news about their dogs today, and many of those dogs will be young. Many of us veterinarians not-so-secretly call this breed “The Cancer Retriever,” which is why I’m so excited about the Golden Retriever Lifetime Project, a huge and important step in helping to save many of these dogs down the line. And many people too!
Pit Bull: I fell in love with Gracie, a Pit-Lab mix, while visiting shelters at Christmastime to give gifts to the pets there. Gracie was found as a stray puppy, and even though everyone at the shelter loved her, no one adopted her until I came along. I guess I could see beyond her "Plain Jane" exterior and her troubled legs to the beautiful heart inside. The biggest problem with Pit Bulls? Too many of them. Just as with Chihuahuas, the popularity of Pit Bulls has driven a population explosion that’s out of sync with the number of homes available and suitable for these large, powerful dogs. The majority of Pitties are sweet and stable, but the unfair negative press the breed has received makes many people afraid to adopt them. As with the Chihuahua, more adoptions and a lot fewer litters are the answer.
Again, I want to stress that no dog of any of these breeds is a “bad dog,” and that I don’t want any breed to disappear. But I hate knowing that some dogs are struggling for homes and others are struggling for health. That just goes against everything I stand for as a veterinarian.
Do what you can to help. That might mean adopting a breed with a “bad” reputation if the dog fits your family, or not actively seeking out the dog from the television ad unless it's at a shelter needing adoption. And as always, it means working with your veterinarian to ensure the best possible life for whatever pet you choose.
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