The Breed History
Though one of the most popular modern dog breeds, the origins of the Beagle are obscure. Some reports place them in England before Roman times. Many of the early reports date to the 1300s. It is thought that their early lineage included crosses out to other scent hounds, and Foxhounds are variably thought to be derived from the Beagle as a result of those crosses, or perhaps Foxhounds were crossed back to be an early influence on beagle type. The mid 18th century reports indicate two types of hare hunting hounds. The modern beagle apparently derives from the North Country Beagle. The modern American lines were first imported in the 1860s and 1880s. The breed name origins are also obscure, with deviation from Olde English, French or Celtic being cited; the derivative may be from roots such as "begle", "beag", or "begele".
Breeding for Function
As hunters, they are courageous and have a great deal of stamina. They hunt equally well in packs, braced (pairs) or solo, though they are most commonly hunted in packs. They are scent hounds and were bred to hunt hare and rabbit. Today, they are most commonly companion dogs.
Height at Withers: Two distinct varieties:
1. Thirteen Inch: up to 13" high.
2. Fifteen Inch: 13-15" high (maximum height 15" in the United States, 16" in England).
Weight: Thirteen inch variety is generally less than 20 lb (9 kg), Fifteen inch variety is generally 20-30 lb (9-13.5 kg).
Coat: The hard, short-medium outer coat hairs may be of any hound colors. The haircoat is dense. Black, tan and white tri-color is very popular, also common are the red and white. Irish Spotting is a specific spotted marking distribution. Ticking is also accepted; blue tick and red tick being the most common of this pattern. Patch beagle refers to a predominantly white beagle strain (with large black, lemon or red patches generally). Dilutes (e.g., blue) in the coat are also accepted.
Longevity: 13-15 years
Points of Conformation: The skull is broad and slightly domed, ears are long and pendulous with round tips that hang in towards the cheek, the leather is fine, and the ear pinna is broad. Eyes are soft in expression, brown or hazel in color, large and wide-set. Beagles have a moderate stop and square muzzle, minimal flews, large nose and the nostrils start out black but fade with maturity. The neck is medium in length and muscling with no throatiness. The back is short, ribs are well sprung, and forelegs are straight boned. Feet are compact and round. The tail is held high but not over the back, and is shorter than most hound tails and is slightly curved with brush.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Loyal, gentle, trustworthy, playful, adaptable, affectionate, but can be prone to independent thinking and will wander off if not kept on leash or fenced in.
The fence needs to be secure to prevent digging and jumping escapes. Considered excellent with children due to a low aggression tendency, assuming they are properly socialized. They possess a moderate to high barking tendency. Not considered a watchdog. Good with other pets, though may chase small ones if not accommodated to their presence.
They have low grooming needs and low to moderate shedding tendency. Good for city or country living. Beagles have low to moderate exercise needs. They need close human companionship or may howl or become destructive. Can be more of a challenge to housebreak than some of the other breeds. Tend to gain weight unless given adequate exercise and dietary intake is controlled.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Echocardiographic Normal Values:
Weight (kg) - 5.5-12.0
LVPWD (mm) - 6-13
LVPWS (mm) - 7-17
LVD (mm) - 18-33
LVS (mm) - 8-27
FS (%) - 20-70
EF (%) - 40-100
IVSd (mm) - 5-11
IVSs (mm) - 6-12
N - 50
LVPWD, LV posterior wall dimension at end-diastole; LVPWS, LV posterior wall thickness at end-systole; LVD, LV chamber dimension at end-diastole; LVS, LV chamber dimension at end-systole; FS, percent fractional shortening; EF, ejection fraction; IVSd, interventricular septal thickness at end-diastole; IVSs, interventricular septal thickness at end-systole; N, number of animals.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 17.8% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited trait causing stifle instability and arthritis. OFA reports 1.4% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. Too few Beagles have been evaluated by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Primary (Narrow and Open Angle) Glaucoma: Autosomal recessive glaucoma causes bilateral increased pressure within the eyeball between 1-2 years of age. Secondary blindness occurs due to damage to the retina. Diagnose with tonometry and gonioscopy. Diagnosed in 1.10% of Beagles presented to veterinary teaching hospitals. Beagles with open angle glaucoma have increased myocilin protein levels in the aqueous humor, with intermediate levels in heterozygous carriers. A genetic test is not available. CERF does not recommend breeding any Beagle with glaucoma.
Factor VII Deficiency: An autosomal recessive, mild to moderate bleeding disorder occurs in the breed due to a mutation in the cFVII gene. A genetic test is available.
Chondrodystrophy (Dwarfism): An autosomal recessive dwarfism occurs in the breed. Affected dogs have a small and disproportionate body size, a shortened neck, curved, deformed legs, a broadened skull, and chronic arthritis. They can be diagnosed by by x-ray stippling (i.e., punctate bright spots) of the wrist bones under 3 months of age, or by a compressed L7 vertebrae at over 6 months. Genetic research is ongoing to identify the defective gene at the Mark Neff lab.
Musladin-Leuke Syndrome (MLS, Chinese Beagle Syndrome): An autosomal recessive disease that affects the development and structure of connective tissue. It is multi-systemic, with involvement of multiple organs, including bone, heart, skin, and muscle. Affected dogs walk up on their toes due to tendon contracture. They often have tighter skin with limited "scruff". They have a flat skull, higher ear set and slanted eyes. The disease shows variable expressivity, and affected dogs live a normal lifespan. See the National Beagle Club and UV-Davis VGL websites for more information. A genetic test is available.
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK): A rare, autosomal recessive disease of red blood cells causing exercise intolerance with a persistent, severe, and highly regenerative anemia, splenomegaly, and progressive osteosclerosis. A genetic test is available.9,10 Tapetal Degeneration: A rare, autosomal recessive degeneration of the tapetum occurs as a result of abnormal postnatal melanosome development. The degeneration of the tapetum does not affect vision and does not result in functional or structural damage to the retina.
Periodontal Disease: Beagles are predisposed to periodontal disease, with 44% by two years of age, and up to 81% of older dogs affected. The maxillary premolars are most frequently affected. Few affected Beagles are clinically impaired, though halitosis and gingivitis are usually present.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 17.30% of Beagles CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 16.5% positive for thyroid autoantibodies based on testing at Michigan State University.
Retinal Dysplasia: Focal folds are seen in the breed. Identified in 2.70% of Beagles CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cataracts: Anterior and posterior cataracts are equally represented in the breed, and can be intermediate or punctate. Reported in 2.16% of Beagles CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Beagle with a cataract.
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD): Spinal cord disease due to prolapsed disk material. Clinical signs include back pain, scuffing of paws, spinal ataxia, limb weakness, and paralysis. Almost all dogs with IVDD have calcified disk material. Beagles are significantly over-represented with cervical IVDD. Dorn reports a 1.39x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Cryptorchidism (Retained Testicles): Can be unilateral or bilateral. This is a sex-limited disorder with an unknown mode of inheritance. Reported as a breed issue on the National Beagle Club website.
Diabetes Mellitus (Sugar Diabetes): Almost exclusively female Beagles are at increased risk of developing diabetes due to immune mediated destruction of the pancreatic beta cells. Treat with insulin injections, dietary management, and glucose monitoring.
Corneal Dystrophy: The breed can form oval epithelial corneal opacities that can progressively block vision. They do not lead to corneal edema.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 1.62% of Beagles CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Prolapsed Gland of the Nictitans (Cherry Eye): This condition occurs secondary to inflammation of the gland. Identified in 1.35% of Beagles CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Idiopathic Epilepsy (Inherited Seizures): Control with anti-seizure medication. Seizures generally start under one year of age. Reported as a breed issue on the National Beagle Club website.
Pulmonic Stenosis: Narrowing of the right ventricular outflow tract/pulmonary artery. Clinical signs in severely affected dogs include exercise intolerance, stunting, dyspnea, syncope and ascites. A left systolic murmur is present on auscultation. Beagles are over-represented.
Juvenile Polyarteritis (Beagle Pain Syndrome): A naturally occurring vasculitis and perivasculitis of unknown etiology occurs in 6-40 month old Beagles, presenting with episodes of fever and neck pain that last 3-7 days. Histologically, the small-to medium-sized muscular arteries of the heart, cranial mediastinum, and cervical spinal meninges are consistently involved. Undetermined mode of inheritance.
Bladder and Urethral Tumors: Beagles are over-represented with tumors of the bladder and urethra versus other breeds.
Microphthalmia with Multiple Congenital Ocular Defects: Several congenital unilateral and bilateral microphthalmia syndromes are recognized in the breed with associated corneal, lens, and retinal defects. Reported in 0.54% of Beagles CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Beagle with microphthalmia.
Deafness: Congenital deafness can be unilateral or bilateral. Associated with extreme piebald pigmentation. Diagnose by BAER testing. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Renal Amyloidosis: Beagles were over-represented in a study of renal amyloidosis. Affected dogs were over 6 years of age, with a female preponderance. Clinical signs were consistent with renal failure. Histopathology showed moderate to severe diffuse global glomerular amyloidosis without tubular or glomerular lesions.
Progressive Myoclonic Epilepsy (Lafora’s Disease): Older affected Beagles show progressive, intermittent seizures that can progress to status epilepticus. The seizures are often elicited by external stimuli, especially a change in noise or light in the surroundings. Electroencephalographic findings show myoclonus epilepsy. Postmortem histopathological findings include multiple periodic acid-Schiff-positive inclusion bodies consistent with Lafora’s disease.
Black Hair Follicular Dysplasia, Brachygnathism, Cervical Vertebral Instability, Cleft Lip/Palate, Copper Hepatopathy, Cutaneous Asthenia, Demodicosis, Dilated Cardiomyopathy, Dysfibrinogenemia, Ectodermal Defect, Elongated Soft Palate, Factor VIII Deficiency, Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy, GM-1 Gangliosidosis, Hyperlipidemia, Hypotrichosis, IgA Deficiency, Lissencephaly, Mitral Valve Disease, Narcolepsy, Non-Spherocytic Hemolytic Anemia, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, Panosteitis, Peripheral Vestibular Disease, Prognathism, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Shaker Disease, Spina Bifida, Vertebral Stenosis, and XX Sex Reversal are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Cobalamin Malabsorption (Methylmalonic Aciduria): A six-month-old beagle was presented with a three-month history of failure to gain weight, lethargy, intermittent vomiting and seizures. Laboratory results showed low serum cobalamin (Cbl) concentrations, anaemia, leucopenia and methylmalonic aciduria. The disorder responded to parenteral vitamin B12 therapy. This has been identified as an autosomal recessive disorder in other breeds.
Cerebellar Cortical Abiotrophy/Ataxia: Two of five 4-1/2 month old Beagle littermates (a male and a female) presented with cerebellar ataxia, intension tremor, and nystagmus. Purkinje cell degeneration in the cerebellar cortex was seen on necropsy. This has been identified as an autosomal recessive disorder in other breeds.
Membranoproliferative Glomerulonephropathy: 5 of 7 adult Beagles from the same litter developed polyuria, polydipsia, proteinuria, and azotemia by 8 years of age. Membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis was diagnosed on light and electron microscopy of renal biopsies.
Renal Agenesis: Cases of unilateral kidney agenesis have been documented in the literature. Compensatory renal hyperplasia occurs in the opposite kidney, with normal kidney values.
Vetricular Septal/Conotruncal Defect: A family of Beagle dogs was identified with congenital heart disease characterized by ventricular septal defect and ventricular outflow abnormalities. Breeding studies suggested an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for MLS is available from UC-Davis VGL.
Direct tests for PK and Factor VII deficiencies are available from PennGen.
Direct test for Factor VII deficiency is available from VetGen.
Direct test for coat color alleles is available from VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC certification: Required testing includes hip radiographs, CERF eye examination a direct test for MLS, and either a cardiac evaluation by a cardiologist, or a thyroid profile including autoantibodies. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend patella evaluation and elbow radiographs.
Urine test for Cobalamine Malabsorption/Methylmalonic Aciduria is available from PennGen.
- Breed name synonyms: English Beagle, Pocket beagle and Glove beagle are historical nicknames for the smallest of the small variety.
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club).
- AKC rank (year 2008): 5 (33,722 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: The National Beagle Club: clubs.akc.org/NBC/
The Beagle Club (UK): thebeagleclub.org
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