Retro pug breeders cross Jack Russell terriers with pugs for a healthier dog with a longer life.
Dr. Candy Akers, a holistic veterinarian from Colorado, had a retro pug that lived for 18 years.
He says retro pugs are playful and energetic and have fewer respiratory problems than purebred pugs.
This recounted essay is based on a conversation with Doctor Candy Akersa Colorado-based holistic veterinarian, pet cold laser therapy expert, and founder of Healthy and happy dogs. She had a retro pug named Kasey who lived to be 18. This story has been edited for length and clarity.
I met Kasey while waiting for acceptance letters to veterinary school.
Signature breeds were becoming popular at the time, and the woman I got Kasey from marketed her as a miniature mastiff. I only later learned that it was actually a retro pug or “Jug”: a cross between a pug and a Jack Russell terrier.
All I knew was that I couldn’t resist her lovely face. She quickly bonded with my mini dachshund to become part of my family, going on to live for an amazing 18 years.
How the healthiest retro pugs came to be
Pugs date back to 400 BC Tibetan Buddhist monks and Chinese royalty kept these sweet and loyal dogs as pets, but those pugs looked very different from most pugs you’ll see today.
Hundreds of years of selective breeding have compacted their bodies, shortened their legs, increased their wrinkles and given them that squashed face many people find so adorable.
But this selective breeding has done a lot of damage. Compared to many other dog breeds, modern pugs have a higher risk of ear, eye and skin fold diseases, as well as obesity.
Additionally, due to their flat faces, they are nearly 54 times more likely than many other dog breeds to have brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. This life-threatening condition causes serious breathing problems.
So, to improve the overall health and lifespan of pugs, 21st century dog breeders have started crossbreeding them with Jack Russell terriers, a breed with fewer health problems.
They have the retro pug. These playful and energetic dogs have longer muzzles, longer legs, larger ears, slimmer bodies and a tail with a softer curl.
Not only did the retro pugs resemble historical pugs, but they had improved genetics, fewer health problems, and a longer life expectancy than purebred pugs.
Pugs usually live around 13-15 years. But in my experience, retro pugs might live to be 16, or even more, like Kasey did.
I have treated many pugs with eye problems
Eye problems are common among pugs and retro pugs, but I’ve found that retro pugs can heal much faster than their purebred relatives. A simple infection or scratch on a retro pug’s eye that takes two weeks to clear up can persist for up to eight weeks in a purebred pug.
Dry eye is another common problem. It’s less likely to affect retro pugs, but it still can. For most of her life Kasey battled this condition, which eventually caused her to lose most of her vision.
We have tried numerous eye drops (such as cyclosporine drops), supplements, and a home-cooked diet. Eventually she became resistant to the drops, but the diet and supplements still gave her some relief.
When treating eye problems in retro pugs, my go-to recommendation is this combination of dietary changes, conventional eye drops, and whole food supplements.
Despite her blindness, Kasey remained a perky and unstoppable furball of glee in her later years.
Reactions to vaccines are another common health problem
Small breeds like retro pugs and pugs commonly have vaccine reactions, such as vomiting, diarrhea, facial swelling, and hives.
Retro pugs tend to have less severe reactions than pugs, in my experience – and the reactions they have are less of a medical emergency.
Personally, I give pugs anti-inflammatory before their vaccines and try to give only one vaccine at a time. I have found that these practices help reduce the risk of reactions.
I recommend responsibly bred pugs and retro pugs
Retro pugs are super tough little dogs that draw on the strength and speed of the Jack Russell terrier, for everything from zooms to leaping off furniture to hiking.
I believe crossbreeding may help reduce some of the genetic health issues in purebred dogs. Retro pugs are a great breed, as long as breeders design their specific cross genetics carefully.
That’s why I think amateur backyard breeders should stop breeding pugs and leave this task to professional, reputable breeders.
If you’re thinking about getting a pug, it’s important to have a realistic expectation of the extra care this breed requires, even if you choose a retro pug, like I did.
Kasey had some respiratory irritation, reverse sneezing, and a tendency to overheat on walks. That said, she didn’t huff or snore and loved going on long hikes in Colorado.
And nothing made me smile more than her happy little tail when I walked through the door after a hard day.
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