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Merle Chihuahua registrations banned -
Chihuahua breeders applaud KC’s decision

The Kennel Club last week approved a ban on the registration of Long or Smooth Coat Chihuahua puppies sired or whelped from a merle parent.

Merle ChihuahuaThis follows representation from the British Chihuahua Club and will be effective from 1st March 2009, meaning no puppies from matings which take place on or after this date which involve a merle parent will be accepted.

This announcement is in addition to a statement issued in July 2007, where it was agreed that merle puppies would no longer be registered due to the possible health problems that are associated with this colour, which does not exist naturally in the breed.

Sylvia Fresson of the Tiocali Chihuahuas, is delighted with the ban, and told OUR DOGS: ‘The merle gene, which occurs naturally in some breeds, for example in Shelties and in Dachshunds (where it is called “dapple”), and produces a distinct colour pattern, is not carried naturally by Chihuahuas and it is thought that it was introduced into the breed some 15-20 years ago in the USA, as a result of cross-breeding with a dachshund or sheltie and falsifying the registration.

‘Unfortunately the merle gene, sometimes referred to as a “lethal gene” (Hilary Harmar’s book The Complete Chihuahua Encyclopaedia) has serious health risks, producing blindness and deafness in puppies, particularly if merle is bred to merle to obtain a stronger pattern. Dr Malcolm Willis’ Article “Merle Chihuahuas, Time to Call a Halt”, published in Our Dogs (17th Feb 2005) gives a further complete insight into this.

Designer colour

‘As merle in the Chihuahua was being popularised in the USA and Europe as a new “designer” colour, the majority of Chihuahua Breed Clubs in the UK approached the Kennel Club at the beginning of 2007, asking that the registration of merle Chihuahuas be banned and the breed standard changed to exclude merle/dapple. In July 2007 the KC issued a Press Release to this effect, on health grounds and the Chihuahua Breed Standard was subsequently changed later in the year.

‘However, it was later confirmed by the American Company, Genmark, that the merle colour pattern does not necessarily show up in certain colours, usually fawn, red, gold and cream. Sometimes it can be apparent in young pups at birth and fade later, or even never show, except perhaps in one tiny patch or spot that would not necessarily be identified as merle. Such dogs are known as cryptic or hidden or phantom merles and can carry the merle gene without displaying its colour pattern.

‘The British Chihuahua Club brought this to the attention of the KC, resulting in the Press Release issued on the 6th January 2009 that, with effect from the 1st March 2009, no puppies from matings where one of the parents was described as merle would be registered.

‘Unfortunately, as the KC July 2007 Press Release could not be applied retrospectively, three merle sires had been previously imported from the USA and registered by the KC. One breeder had imported 29 animals, including two merle sires, resulting in the registration of 124 puppies, four of which had the colour description of “merle”, between April 2007 and December 2008. The other had imported one merle sire and produced nine puppies, none described as merle. Two other UK breeders have since registered puppies bred from these imported merle lines, none described as merle.

‘The KC is to be applauded for its decision and it is to be hoped that further health threats to the breed from the merle gene will have been prevented.

‘A database of all KC registered merle lines has been compiled from the KC Breed Record Supplements and will be regularly updated. It can be made available, upon request - email:-

Previous information relating to the merle colour indicated that this colour could only be produced as a result of a dominant gene. Therefore, the merle colour could not be carried without it being exhibited in the dog. However, the British Chihuahua Club provided evidence from Genmark, an American company confirming that ‘cryptic’ merles exist, whereby a dog could show no outward appearance of being merle but could still be carrying merle.

Graham Foote, Chairman of the British Chihuahua Club and a breeder of Chihuahuas for the past 48 years, commented: ‘I am very pleased that at last, after lots of prodding by the British Chihuahua Club, the Kennel Club has finally completed the action requested by the majority of U.K. Chihuahua Clubs early in 2007. The request to ban the registration of merle Chihuahuas was made because we were concerned that it was not a colour that existed naturally in the breed and that there can be an increase in health risks associated with the merle gene. At the time, we had been advised by breeders in the States, that large numbers of merle coloured Chihuahuas were being produced, mainly on puppy farmsp as ‘designer’ dogs that fetched high prices. It was said that the puppy farmers had introduced the colour to our breed by crossing Chihuahuas with Shelties and Daschunds.

Great help

‘When representatives of the Clubs had a meeting with Dr Jeff Sampson, of the KC, in April 2007, research showed that only three Merle coloured Chihuahuas had been registered in the U K, in the previous 23 years. We thought that two of these were probably unusual colours such as black flecking on light fawns (Pepper & Salt) and not true merles. The third was a fairly recent import from the States. Dr Sampson was a great help to us in putting our case forward and we were delighted that as early as July 2007, the Kennel Club issued a press release, stating that they had “decided not to register merle (dapple) Chihuahuas (Smooth or Longcoat) in order to avoid future possible problems.’

‘You can imagine our anger, when in the July/Sept 2007 Breed Records Supplement, two Merle dogs and eight litters totalling forty seven pups, sired by these dogs, had been accepted for registration. We contacted the K.C. and were told that the two males had been accepted for registration before the 27th. of July and that the litters were conceived before that date. We reluctantly had to accept this.

‘In the Oct/Dec 2007 issue of the BRS, a further five litters with a total of twenty-six pups by the same merle sires were registered, four of these litters were conceived well after the 27th of July, so we contacted the KC again. This time we were told that it was only merle coloured pups that would not be accepted for registration. Non merle pups from a merle sire were still acceptable as in their opinion merle colour was dominant and non merle offspring could not produce merle offspring. This was despite the fact that at our meeting on the twenty seventh of April, in answer to a specific question, as to whether pups from the merle already registered with the K.C. would be accepted for registration, the answer from the K.C. expert, Dr Sampson, was that they would not be accepted.

‘I am glad that the correct decision has now been agreed, but angry that from probably having only one dog in the gene pool that could possibly produce merle offspring we now have in the region of one hundred and fifty and probably even more as the recent decision still allows merle matings to continue until the 1st of March. Offspring from these will be accepted for registration.’
The registration of the merle colour in the breed has already been banned in Australia and New Zealand whilst in Germany merles cannot be shown or bred.

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