The Breed History
The powerful Greek Mollossian dogs gave rise to the Mastiff strain of dogs. Early Mastiff lines were used to produce fighting dogs. The very early original English Bulldog-type was similar to the modern American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, though the Staffordshire muzzles are longer. It is thought that the English Staffordshire Bull Terrier resulted from a bulldog crossed with Fox Terrier, extinct English White Terrier and/or Manchester terrier. First AKC registry occurred in 1936, but the American breed had changed in stature (heavier and taller than English version) and those larger dogs were now called American Staffordshire Terrier instead of Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The increased size may have resulted from outcrosses in those lines. There is considerable confusion regarding the American Pit Bull Terrier (American Pit Bull, Pit Bull Terrier) and this breed, the American Staffordshire Terrier. Some registries separate them (such as the UKC); others such as the AKC do not. In stature, the Pit Bull is generally heavier (10-30 lb) and taller (2") than the American Staffordshire Terrier, though since overall body type and temperament are very close, they can be considered a size variant. Those that separate out the Pit Bull point out that additional fighting bulldog outcrosses may have occurred in those lines, and the Pit Bull is not the older, original breed developed for bull baiting as was the Staffordshire, but a fighter dog of more recent origin developed in the US. Facial features vary slightly between Pit Bull and Staffordshire.
Breeding for Function
Hallmark characteristics for the breed fully reflect his original function as a fighting dog and bull baiter, and include exceptional courage, aggressiveness, lightning quickness and agility, remarkable strength, a very strong tenacious bite and powerful head and jaws with a muscular neck to back it up. In America, the breed was helpful around the farm as hunter and guard dog. In recent years, increased companionability has been stressed in breeding programs.
Height at Withers: female 17-18" (43-45.5 cm), male 18-19" (45.5-48 cm). Weight: 40-50 lb (18-23 kg).
Coat: The short glossy hard coat lays flat and any color or particolored is permitted. All-white or all black-and-tan are not favored.
Longevity: 12 years.
Points of Conformation: A stocky, very muscular dog, the head is deep and broad, with a massive masseter muscle bulge. The high set small ears may be held half prick or lightly folded back (rose). They possess a distinct stop. In America, the ears are often cropped to prick up. Round, small, deep-set eyes are low down on the skull, and they have a dark iris and palpebral margins. The nose is black. The muscular heavy-set neck is slightly arched, not throaty. The thorax is broad and deep, and the rib cage stays deep. The topline slopes gradually towards the rear. The powerful tail is short, tapers, and is low set. Limbs are straight-boned, feet are well knuckled, compact and moderate in size. The gait is springy, but moderate in reach.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed attributes include: Intelligent, adaptable, and with training, are usually suitable with other dogs. Most have gentle temperaments expressed towards their owners if handled properly and given appropriate obedience training. Children should never tease them and they should not be left alone with children. They should be leashed or exercised in enclosures. Owners should not encourage the defensive or offensive aspect of the dog's temperament. When they bite they hold fast with great crushing power. Small pets and cats should not be raised with this type of dog where possible because of the strong terrier chase and prey instinct. They make good watchdogs. They have low grooming needs and low shedding tendency. They tend to dig if bored. They may snore.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 25.7% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 18.0% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 1.2% affected.
Cerebellar Cortical Degeneration/Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (Ataxia, NCL-A): Autosomal recessive disorder causing hypermetria, a high stepping gait, and incoordination. Onset of clinical signs is usually between 4 to 6 years of age (range of 8 months to 9 years), with the majority of affected dogs surviving from 2 to 4 years. Affected dogs identified world-wide. A direct genetic test is available.
Hyperuricosuria (HUU)/Urate Bladder Stones: An autosomal recessive mutation in the SLC2A9 gene causes urate urolithiasis and can predispose male dogs to urinary obstruction. Estimated at a carrier frequency of 3.17% in the breed. A genetic test is available.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 14.6% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 5.52% of American Staffordshire Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
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 4.14% of American Staffordshire Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Retinal Dysplasia: Focal folds and geographic retinal dysplasia are seen in the breed. It is questionable whether focal folds can lead to disease. Identified in 2.41% of American Staffordshire Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cataracts: Location can be anterior, posterior, intermediate or punctate. Cataracts usually develop by one year of age. There is initial opacification of the suture lines progressing to nuclear and cortical cataract formation; complete cataracts and blindness develop by three years of age. A simple autosomal recessive mode of inheritance has been proposed. Identified in 1.39% of American Staffordshire Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any American Staffordshire Terrier with a cataract.
Cranial Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Rupture: Traumatic tearing of the ACL in the stifle, causing lameness and secondary arthritis. Treat with surgery. Reported at an increased incidence versus other breeds.9 Heart Disease: Several polygenically inherited heart disorders are reported to occur at an increased frequency in American Staffordshire Terriers. Congenital heart disorders include Pulmonic Stenosis and Subvalvular Aortic Stenosis (SAS). Later onset disorders include Mitral Valve Prolapse. These disorders should be screened for with Doppler echocardiograms. OFA reports 1.4% affected.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): Inherited retinal degeneration leading to blindness. Early onset PRA is reported to occur in the breed. Undetermined mode of inheritance.
Actinic Keratosis: Affected dogs present with alopecia, erythema, comedones, scales, excoriation, pustules, epidermal collarettes, crusts and scars, with pathologic development of epidermal hyperplasia, parakeratosis, and orthokeratosis. Lesions occur secondary to prolonged UV/sunlight exposure, and may be a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma. Seen at an increased frequency in the breed.
Gastric Carcinoma (Stomach Cancer): Can present with chronic vomiting. Diagnosis by biopsy (endoscopy). Treatment with surgery. Poor long-term survival. Reported to occur at an increased frequency compared to other breeds.
Cleft Lip/Palate, Compulsive Tail Chasing, Cryptorchidism, Cystinuria, Deafness, Demodicosis, Ichthyosis, Patent Ductus Arteriosus, and Wobblers Syndrome are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Sry-negative XX True Hermaphrodite (XX Sex Reversal): Two unrelated male American Staffordshire Terriers were examined. The chromosomal sex was female (XX), and there was an absence of "male" causing SRY or ZFY. XX Sex-reversal is familial in other breeds.
Xanthogranulomatous Inflammation of The Small Bowel: A 12 year old male American Staffordshire Terrier was presented with chronic diarrhea unresponsive to pharmacologic therapy. Disseminated yellow-white nodules 2 to 3 mm in diameter bulging on the serosal surface of the small bowel, as well as on mesenteric tissue, were detected. Lymphangectasia associated with lymphoplasmacytic enteritis was suggested as the cause.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for cerebellar ataxia/NCL-A is available from ANTAGENE and Optigen.
Direct tests for color alleles are available from VetGen. Direct tests for HUU is available from the UC-Davis VGL and the Animal Health Trust.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required tests include hip radiographs, cardiac evaluation by a cardiologist, thyroid profile including autoantibodies, and NCL-A genetic test for ataxia. Optional recommended testing includes a CERF eye examination, and elbow radiographs. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org). Recommend patella evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Pit Bull, American Pit Bull Terrier, AmStaff, Bull-and-Terrier dog (historical). Also historical were street names such as Half and Half, Pit Dog, Yankee Terrier, American Bull Terrier, and Pit Terrier.
- Registries: AKC, UKC (registered as American Pit Bull Terrier), CKC, ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)-here registered as American Pit Bull.
- AKC rank (year 2008): 71 (1,236 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Staffordshire Terrier Club of America: amstaff.org
American Staffordshire Terrier Club of Canada: amstaffclubofcanada.ca
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