Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Is Hybrid Vigor Real? Maybe but it May Not Be What You Think….


Hybrid VigorHave you heard of Lars Olov Bygren? He’s a Swedish professor who grew up in a town with a very harsh climate and very good records. He studied those records and he discovered some amazing things. He found that if your father had starved a winter between the age of 9-11, then YOU are much less likely to have heart disease or diabetes.

Push that one through your mind a few times. That your father’s eating history directly impacts your health. In fact, Bygren found out that your grandfather’s feast-or-famine history impacts your health, as well.

Picture my head exploding.

Now, inhale these two quotes from the Time Magazine Article about his research: Why Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny

“Bygren’s research showed that…boys who enjoyed those rare overabundant winters — kids who went from normal eating to gluttony in a single season — produced sons and grandsons who lived shorter lives.”

“To put it simply, the data suggested that a single winter of overeating as a youngster could initiate a biological chain of events that would lead one’s grandchildren to die decades earlier than their peers did.”

So, our genes appear to be more interactive than we previously thought and that is explained through epigenetics (the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.) Don’t glaze over. Picture genes like a vast advent calendar. Something happens to a maturing pup and some of those genes pop open or others may lock tight. And they get passed along to the next generation in that position.


This might be a hint on why studying pedigrees never seems to give a complete picture of a litter’s health and how things can crop up in dogs “out of the blue.”

Maybe what has been called “hybrid vigor” is really a stab at explaining why some mixed breed dogs who have lived, and whose ancestors have lived, a pretty hardscrabble life have long, relatively healthy lives where some of our carefully-raised and optimally-nourished purebreds can heartbreakingly crop up with unanticipated health issues.

To everyone who has ever bred a litter for a purpose, this concept should be both incredibly exciting and gut-wrenching.

Now, I am not saying to starve your dogs! I am saying, we may want to take a serious look at how we rear our dogs. Myself, I believe that nature has the final say. Always. So I would start by looking at what wild canids eat as they mature. How much and how often. My guess is that they are low-man-on-the-totem-pole at some point in the young adult period; getting the left-overs from the adults. They may be lanky and lean at that age. Could that serve their future pups well?


I do not know but it sure has me thinking!

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