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All About Mutts

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A black and white mixed breed dog is lying in a grassy yard.

Mutts are awesome examples of the remarkable variety we can find in dogs, bringing together a mix of looks and personalities that are truly one-of-a-kind. They may not have fancy breed names or official papers, but mutts have an undeniable charm and uniqueness that make them great pets and loving additions to the family. Let’s dig into what makes a mutt and why they’re so special!

What is a Mutt?

By definition, a mutt, also known as a mongrel or mixed breed, is a dog of mixed or indeterminate breed. They do not belong to one officially recognized breed, including those that result from intentional breeding. Instead, they embody traits from various breeds that are, many times, a mystery. Mutts are usually the accidental combination of various breeds, resulting without much human interference.

Some people might opt to refer to their dog as a "mixed breed" instead. This is because the term "mutt" still carries a negative association from the 1800s when it was used as a derogatory word for an unintelligent person or a dog of inferior mixed heritage.

Most mutts do not have identifiable purebred ancestors, making their lineage a complete mystery. The speculated mix of breeds isn’t always accurate, adding to the mystery and uniqueness of these lovable canine companions. They possess distinctive appearances and exhibit individual personalities. Their genetic composition results in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and coat patterns; they might have a long snout or a short one. They may display pointed ears or floppy ones. They could have a stubby tail, spindly legs, a giant spot over their left eye — or all three.

Mutts vs. Purebreds vs. Designer Dogs

To really grasp what sets mutts apart from other dogs, it's essential to start by exploring the world of purebreds and designer breeds and see how they stack up against each other.

Vs. Purebreds

A purebred dog refers to a dog who comes from a specific breed and has parents of the same breed, or, in other words, dogs with two parents of the same breed registered as being of unbroken descent from the original breeding pairs. These dogs have a documented pedigree, and their characteristics, appearance, and temperament are consistent within their breed standards.

Whether it's a Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, or Poodle, purebred dogs are bred to maintain specific traits that make them unique to their group. Breeders carefully select parent dogs with desirable traits and genetic backgrounds to produce offspring that conform to the breed standard, and they will have official papers that show both their parents were registered and from the same breed. Since they have a well-defined breed standard, people know what to expect in terms of size, coat type, energy level, and behavior.

As prestigious as they may seem, since they have a more diverse genetic makeup, mutts are often less prone to inherited disease, meaning fewer trips to the veterinarian. This lack of diversity can lead to health issues including certain genetic conditions. In fact, most purebred dogs today are at a high risk for numerous inherited diseases due to selective breeding.

Purebred pet owners invest a significant amount of money in pedigrees, valuing both the lineage and the recognition they receive in the dog community. However, it's crucial to note that being a purebred doesn't automatically equate to superior quality. It doesn't make them better than mutts, crossbreeds, or designer dogs. It simply indicates that they belong to a specific, recognized breed.

Vs. Crossbreeds & Designer Dogs

Crossbreed dogs, also called hybrid dogs, are technically considered mixed breeds, similar to mutts, but they are actually the result of two different breed groups purposely bred with the intent to combine desirable traits from both parents. These traits can include appearance, temperament, or hypoallergenic qualities. Crossbreeds aren't officially considered purebreds because their parents are from different purebred breeds. However, they're not exactly mutts either since they're intentionally created by combining two specific breeds. In contrast, mutts, or true mixed breeds, usually have at least two or three different breeds in their genetic makeup and were not purposely bred by humans.

Crossbreeds that are given nicknames combining their parents' breeds have gained popularity in the past decade. These mixed breed dogs, often referred to by their catchy nicknames, are marketed as "designer dogs." Popular examples of designer dogs include hypoallergenic breeds, as well as Labradoodles (Labrador Retriever + Poodle), Goldendoodles (Golden Retriever + Poodle), and Cockapoos (Cocker Spaniel + Poodle).

While crossbreed and designer dogs can be adorable and unique, it's important to remember that their characteristics can vary widely, and they may not always possess predictable traits. They are still mixed breeds with diverse genetic backgrounds and may receive undesirable traits from each of their purebred parents. Understanding the specific mix of breeds can provide valuable insights into the physical appearance and temperament of your dog, although genetics is only one of many factors that contribute to animal behavior.

Mutts, purebreds, and crossbreeds each come with their own set of advantages and considerations in terms of lineage. But remember, there's no 'best' type of dog—just the one that fits your family and lifestyle. Consulting with your veterinarian and/or a dog trainer may be worth your time to help determine what kind of dog may be an ideal fit for your lifestyle and environment.

Caring for a Mutt

Caring for a mutt requires the same level of love and attention as caring for any other dog breed. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, routine veterinary check-ups, and plenty of affection are essential to keep your mutt happy and healthy. Remember, mutts often have unique personalities and traits, so understanding their individual needs and providing a nurturing environment will help them thrive.

The exercise needs of mixed breeds and mutts depend on what breeds are behind them and how large and athletic they are. Generally, large, round, thick-coated, short-muzzled dogs tend to become overheated easily and are less active than smaller dogs, who require plenty of exercise and activity.

When it comes to grooming, all dogs should be brushed at least once a week, with long hair requiring more frequent brushing.

Obesity is one of the most common problems seen among dogs, both mixed and purebred. Adult dogs should be fed a balanced diet, with restricted calories and limited treats if the dog starts to gain too much weight.

The Benefits of Owning a Mutt

These dogs come with a host of benefits that their purebred counterparts don’t. They are typically cheaper, they can be healthier, they’re adaptable, and they come with the bonus of saving a life!

Lower Cost

Owning a mutt can come with several cost benefits. To start, mutts are generally more affordable to adopt compared to purebred dogs. Not only are adoption fees usually lower, but mutts also tend to have fewer health issues that can drain your wallet. And since they have a more diverse genetic makeup, they often have a stronger immune system and are less prone to inherited diseases, meaning fewer trips to the veterinarian.

Better Health & Longer Lifespan

Mutts have a leg up in the genetic department compared to purebreds and crossbreeds. With a bigger gene pool to choose from, mutts are believed to be less prone to health problems. This is all thanks to the concept of heterosis, which boosts the overall quality of mixed breed offspring.

Purebred dogs, on the other hand, have a higher likelihood of carrying breed-specific diseases. Take, for instance, purebred English Cocker Spaniels who are more prone to eye issues, bleeding disorders, deafness, and allergies. Or the Pug, a brachycephalic breed known for serious respiratory issues such as Brachycephalic airway syndrome (BAS).

By avoiding breed-specific illnesses and conditions, mutts have the potential for a longer and healthier life compared to their purebred counterparts.

A Good Mix

Although often shunned as having no pedigree, mutts can give you the best of everything that any purebred pooch or designer dog has to offer—and more. Mutt dogs can have a wide range of personalities, but their loyalty, warmth, and deep desire to please, however, remain fiercely intact. They can be shy, goofy, crazy intelligent, aloof, quiet, loud — you name it. Their distinct charm and personality make them loyal companions, and there is one for any lifestyle. But remember, early socialization and proper training play a big role in shaping their behavior as they grow up, giving your mutt the best possible start in building a strong bond with you.

Making A Difference

Mutts are far more likely to end up in a shelter than a purebred. In fact, shelters are overpopulated with mixed breed dogs, with some studies reporting that mutts make up over 95% of shelter populations. Adopting a dog with unknown breed origins can be a rewarding choice, as it provides a loving home for a deserving and often overlooked canine. And with so many diverse and different pups gracing shelters, it’ll be easy to find the perfect canine for you.

To adopt a mixed breed mutt is to celebrate diversity and root for the little guy. It often means you’re giving a home to a dog who really needs one, while supporting a great cause and reducing demands for puppy mill dogs and unethical backyard breeding practices. When you adopt a shelter dog, you are also taking a stand against the “pets for profit” mindset. You’re giving a home to a dog who really needs one and possibly even saving them from euthanasia, as well as freeing up space and resources that can be used to help another homeless pet.

Breed Isn’t the Only Thing That Matters

The truth is heritage matters very little and knowing the exact breed, genetics, and ancestry of your dog may not be all that important in the grand scheme of things. Analyzing the things that lead to long-term compatibility, such as age, size, gender, and any special needs, is far more important than thinking about breed alone.

Getting along well with your dog really comes down to personality, expectations, and training. For example, if you love to run and get a dog who also loves to run, you’ll likely get along because of that connection, not because a piece of paper says he comes from a long line of dogs originating on the coast of Croatia.

However, if you have a genuine curiosity about their ancestry, a pet DNA test can provide an opportunity to uncover the one-of-a-kind mix that makes your canine companion so unique and special. It's important to remember that regardless of the results or personal preference, mixed breed dogs are truly exceptional, and there are many out there looking for their forever home.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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