Pitbull puppies are adorable which makes them a popular choice for adopters. They are also readily available at most animal shelters. While shelter dogs are often a pitbull mix, a popular style of pitbull people look to breeders for is the merle. This coloring is often referred to as dappled or mottled. Today we’re breaking down what to know about this particular type of pit.
1. What is a Merle Pitbull?
“Merle” refers to the color pattern on a dog’s coat. It describes a coat that is one color throughout with splotches of another color. It’s considered very attractive in a dog. Merle is a genetic marker that results in differences in pigmentation so it can be achieved through breeding. Merle is not the same as brindle.
A merle pitbull, therefore, is a pitbull bred to have this unique color pattern present.
2. Merle vs. Brindle
Where merle is random and results in splotches or spots, brindle is generally more uniform. This occurs when a brown dog has small stripes of black or brown. It can look tiger-like. Some brindles have uniform patterning throughout the dog whereas others have patches that are brindle.
3. Many other dogs have merle coloring
Plenty of breeds see evidence of merle coloring, not just pits. Common breeds that have the merle gene include:
Catahoula Leopard Dog
Old English Sheepdog
Welsh (Cardigan) Corgi
American Pit Bull Terrier
Of these, it’s most common in the Australian Shepherd and Catahoula Leopard Dog.
4. How is Merle Coloring Achieved in a Pitbull Litter
In order for a pitbull to have merle coloring it must have a specific genetic marker: the merle gene. Some people have mixed pitbulls with Catahoula Leopard Dogs to gain the coloring. Generally speaking, a pitbull is not purebred if it has this coloring. First, since it does not occur naturally in the breed, the gene must be introduced somewhere down the breeding line. Second, a pit with merle coloring can no longer be registered or recognized in an effort to discourage breeding for the color.
5. Merle Pitbulls are Not Recognized
The American Dog Breeders Association and many other reputable organizations have stopped recognizing merle pitbulls. The reason is simple: the merle gene isn’t simply about coloring. It also brings with it significant risk for reduced vision and hearing in dogs.
By purposely breeding dogs for the gene great risks are taken with the puppies health.
6. Double Merle Pitbulls
Genetics looks at what happens when two members of the same species create offspring. The way their genes match up determine things like whether hair is straight or curly or their eyes are blue or brown.
In dogs, a single merle gene causes the coloring pattern: dapples, splotches or a mottled look. Some breeders choose to breed two dogs with the gene, creating litters of double merles. But this is dangerous. Why? A double-merle puppy is 25% likely to be white with vision and hearing impairments. It’s very difficult to get people to adopt dogs with special needs and no one will buy these from a breeder. What happens? These puppies are often killed because they both don’t meet the aesthetic standard people have when looking for a specific breed and because many do not have the knowledge, time or interest in working with a dog that is going to have such a difficult time learning.
7. Is My Merle Pitbull Unhealthy?
Some pits with merle coloring are perfectly fine and live healthy lives. That said, the ones that are born not healthy are usually killed or abandoned (and end up dying). Those who are adopted from shelters or taken off breeders hands are not necessarily unhealthy but do have genetic issues such as vision and hearing loss. Dogs learn a great deal from seeing and hearing.
Think about if you’ve ever had an aging dog lose its hearing or vision: it takes adjustment but usually it’s fine in the long run. I had a dog that lost its hearing in the last three years of her life but she was able to understand me through visual cues and she also looked to her younger brother (who is now losing his vision) for cues. My current old dog is losing his vision but is adjusting well thanks to listening to us and us making sure we don’t move things around too much. He’s still able to see, but in dim lighting it’s tough.
These two dogs had the advantage of 13+ years with hearing and vision fully intact. They had 13+ years of learning through sight and hearing and us using hand signals from the get go thanks to helpful advice from our veterinarian.
Now, imagine a puppy who cannot see or hear from birth. How does this puppy learn? Through tremendous patience and special knowledge. Can this puppy live a great life? Yes! Is it likely to be adopted? Nope!
8. Why do Merle-colored Pitbulls Exist Despite the Risks?
Breeders who are looking for high sales know that merle-colored puppies fetch a high price. So much so that the 25% risk of a double-merle puppy being disabled isn’t going to affect their revenue stream much. For them, it’s worth the risk.
Pitbull litters generally run 5-10 puppies. That means breeders can assume one or two puppies will be unsellable out of each litter. Considering the price that comes with a merle, it’s worth it to them.
9. Should I Buy a Merle Pitbull?
No. And, we recommend taking it a step further: you should not refer to these dogs as “merle pitbull.” This naming convention makes it sound like it’s a special, good quality in a dog when, in fact, it is not. Use “merle-colored” in your nomenclature and avoid those selling these dogs. Merle-colored pitbulls are not special or rare. They are bred at a high risk and likely have littermates who were discarded because they were born without vision or hearing. Any breeder doing this is not someone who loves dogs.
That said, if you see a merle-colored pit at your local shelter, by all means bring him home! Generally speaking, dogs bred for color have genetic health conditions. This is why your local shelter dog is one of the best options out there.