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Beagle - History and Health

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015


The origin of the Beagle is described in an American Kennel Club publication as being “lost in the mists of ancient days and no research, it seems, can ever bring its true history to light.” It is said that before the time of the Romans - back to the time of Pwyll, Prince of Wales (a contemporary of King Arthur) - packs of superb white hounds were hunted in Britain. Some people claim that those light hounds are among the predecessors of all modern hounds. Most experts agree that hounds are indeed the original ancestors of all sporting breeds – including the gazehounds or sighthounds, which hunt almost exclusively by sight, and the true hounds, which hunt primarily by their sense of smell. The Beagle is and always has been a scent hound.

As hunting became increasingly popular in England, country gentlemen bred and hunted larger hounds (called Buck Hounds) on deer and smaller hounds (called Beagles) on wild hare. By the middle of the 1700s, the small hare-hunting dogs were further divided into the Southern Hound which was ponderous and deliberate, with long ears and a deep voice, and the North Country Beagle which was quick and had tremendous tenacity and stamina. The modern Beagle was refined in the mid-1800s, when a gentleman named Parson Honeywood formed a good pack from the North Country type. Virtually all Beagles today go back to his line. Always bred to be small, at one time Beagles were purposefully bred to be tiny. A dwarf dog called a “Pocket Beagle” was popular for a time, but it ultimately fell out of favor and no longer exists.

In the early years of the American deep South, hunters used a small dog called a Beagle which more closely resembled a straight-legged Basset Hound or Dachshund. They were mostly white with some dark markings, tireless in the field and quick, but also were snappy and not particularly attractive. In the 1860s, General Richard Rowett imported beautiful hare hounds from England and began refining the American Beagle. In the 1880s, a pack of hare hounds was imported from Royal Rock Beagles in Northern England, by Mr. Arnold of Rhode Island. James Kernochan brought another well-bred pack over from Northern England in 1896. Together, these hounds formed the foundation of the Beagle breed in America as we know it today. The Beagle Club of England was founded in the late 1800s and helped to fix the breed type.

Beagles were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885 as members of its Hound Group. The National Beagle Club was formed in 1888 in the United States. From that time on, field trials sprang up all over the country, and the Beagle has only grown in popularity since. The National Beagle Club held its first field trial in 1888, causing field trials to surge in popularity across the United States. Hare hounds were separated into those under 13 inches and those between 13 and 15 inches at the withers, and they competed both singly and in packs. Those sportsmen and sportswomen who preferred to hunt with packs generally pursued hares rather than cottontail rabbits; hares are larger, do not go to ground and tend to spoil the hunt when they run straight, fast and for a long distance. Those who hunted their Beagles individually seemed to prefer hunting the rabbit. Since they lived in packs for hundreds of years, Beagles naturally enjoy the company of other dogs. According to an AKC publication: “Curious and comedic, they often follow their noses–which can lead to some mischief if they are not provided with daily activity.”

Health Characteristics

The average life span of the Beagle is 12 to 14 years. This is slightly higher compared to the median lifespan of most purebred dogs (10 to 13 years), and most breeds similar in size. Potential hereditary defects and disorders more commonly found, but not necessarily found, in the Beagle are as follows:

  • Hypothyroidism: Inadequate production and release of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)
  • Beagle Pain Syndrome
  • Chinese Beagle Syndrome
  • Corneal Dystrophy
  • Glaucoma: Serious disorder characterized by fluid build-up inside of the eye
  • Pulmonic Stenosis
  • Pituitary-Dependant Hyperadrenocorticism
  • Hepatitis
  • Anemia: Reduction in the normal number of red blood cells (RBCs)
  • Lymphosarcoma
  • Deafness: Defined as the lack or loss, complete or partial, of the sense of hearing
  • Invertebral Disk Disease: Neurological deficits caused by degeneration and displacement of the material inside an intervertebral disk
  • Narcolepsy: Disorder of the neurological mechanisms that control sleep – especially the state of deep sleep
  • Cherry Eye: Condition in which the third eyelid falls down or slips out of place
  • Cataracts: Refers to any opacity of the lens of the eye. Dogs of either gender can develop cataracts
  • Hypochondroplasia (short bowed legs; accepted as breed standard)
  • XX Sex Reversal
  • Ear Infections: Simply means inflammation of the ear
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