Merle Bully (Acceptable In The American Bully Breed?)

Are you entranced by the beautiful patterns of the Merle Bully? You may have noticed that Merle Bullies are controversial.

What’s all that about? Is it just a fuss and bother by the people who develop breed standards, or are there real reasons why you should be cautious about buying or breeding a Merle American Bully

The Merle Bully

Find out about the origin of Merle Bullies, breeders’ approaches to Merles, and the reasons why most kennel clubs are trying to eliminate this gene by naming it as a “disqualifying factor” for show dogs. But first, a little clarification for those who are new to the breed.

American Bully Basics

The American Bully is a relatively new breed that’s only recognized by a few kennel clubs but that is nevertheless becoming very popular with the dog-owning public. It’s easy to see why.

This combination of the American Pitbull, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and a variety of Bulldog-type breeds is not only good-looking, but a real charmer! 

These heavily-built, muscular dogs come in a range of shapes, sizes, and colors. In fact, American Bullies can be just about any color you can imagine a dog to be.

Since each color has its own “fan club,” those who are new to the breed can be pardoned for thinking that each one is a sub-breed on its own.  

Merle Bully Genes

Bully owners will be happy to tell you about their Tricolor Bullies, Blue Bullies, and of course, the Merle Bully, but these are just coat colors rather than dog breeds.

We could even take this a step further by noting that not all aficionados even regard the American Bully as a breed. Instead, they see it as a type of cross-breed. 

In practice, though, it’s safe to say that the American Bully has “arrived.” And whether it’s accepted or not, just about any person who knows anything about dogs will know exactly what you mean when you say “American Bully.” 

These attractive, (mostly) mid-sized dogs have an unmistakably muscular build, a broad head, and a short-haired coat.

They were bred to be great pets rather than anything else, and when they’re well-managed by their owners, that’s just what they turn out to be!

They’re friendly, playful, loyal, loving – but a little high maintenance since they love company and soon get bored and “naughty” if they’re left alone, are poorly trained, or don’t get enough exercise.  So, why the fuss about Merle Bullies? 

The Merle Bully: Unique And Beautiful, But…

“Merle” refers to a special type of color combination that’s brought about by a genetic mutation. The Merle gene causes loss of pigmentation in the skin and coat, leading to lighter patches of fur and a unique pattern of markings. 

The way in which these lighter markings match the other color of the coat is easy to explain. They’re simply “washed out” shades of what would otherwise be a perfectly ordinary, solid-colored coat. 

Beautiful? Undoubtedly! Unique? The chances of finding two MerleBullies with exactly the same pattern of markings is extremely slim.

Merle Bullies

But there’s an uncomfortable truth behind the Merle Bully’s Markings. That genetic mutation is linked to a whole slew of health issues and that’s why it has become so controversial. 

But since those colors are so attractive, there are still breeders who will actively try to produce Merles.

They market them as rare and beautiful animals (which they are) without being honest about the drawbacks associated with the Merle gene and without recommending that they be spayed or neutered to avoid perpetuating the misery that could go with that pretty coat. 

What Health Problems Can You Expect From A Merle Bully?

The first thing to know is that a Merle American Bully won’t necessarily have a whole bunch of extra health issues. But sadly, there’s a greater chance of them developing the problems associated with the gene. 

If you were to get a “double Merle,” that chance increases exponentially and there’s a high probability of getting a dog who will have a shorter lifespan with an unpleasant collection of health problems. 

Before we look into the difference between Merles and Double Merles and why neither should be used as breeding stock, let’s take a look at the health problems associated with the gene.

Some of them are directly related to the lower pigmentation level of Merle Bullies and they’re very similar to the issues that Albinos have. 

Eye and ear problems are among the saddest of these, with poor hearing and eyesight or even deafness or blindness as their results.

Skin cancer is also more prevalent when the skin doesn’t have much pigment, but unfortunately, that’s not where it ends. It’s also believed that Merles are more likely to develop skeletal problems and heart issues. 

As you can see, there are good reasons why Merles aren’t bred by ethical dog breeders. But since there’s a demand for dogs with rare and interesting coat colors and patterns, there are those who will charge top dollar for these dogs as rarities. 

Merles also sometimes crop up “by accident,” and unfortunately, some dog breeders will have them destroyed rather than let it be known that their breeding programs throw up the occasional Merle. Since these pups might still have a good life despite their genes, it’s a sad and rather brutal reality. 

What Are Merles And Double Merles? Doggie Genetics

All creatures carry a pair of genes for various characteristics. One member of the pair is inherited from the mother, and the other from the father. When the ovum or sperm develops, the genes of the parent are split up. 

So, a living animal carries genes arranged in pairs, but the ovum or sperm carry only half the genes of the creature who produced it.

When sperm and ovum unite, we once again have a pair of recombined genes that determine the inherited characteristics of the offspring. 

When a gene is dominant, it overshadows the expression of the recessive gene. The Merle gene is a dominant gene. So, a regular Merle Bully will have a color gene and a Merle gene.

Since the Merle gene (M allele)  is dominant, it generally affects the expression of the color gene resulting in the beautifully matched blotching of the coat. 

Double Merle Bully

Just to make things a little more complicated, the “size” of the M allele or gene determines the markings, and some dogs may seem to have normal coats but still carry the merle gene.

That’s why breeders occasionally get “surprise” Merle Bullies even when they thought they were breeding non-Merles. 

When two Merle or Double Merle Bullies are bred, some or all of their offspring will be double Merles. This means that instead of having a color gene and a Merle gene, they have two Merle genes. 

As you’d expect, double Merle Bullies have even less pigment than regular Merles, and they’ll either be all-white or mostly white, often with beautiful (but very sun-sensitive) blue eyes.

As we already mentioned, these Bullies are the most prone to health problems, especially ear and eye issues

That’s why Merles aren’t meant to be bred and why Merle is not accepted in the breed standard.

Even if they only carry one Merle gene in the pair, a cross with another dog with a Merle gene may well result in a puppy who will suffer from a long list of health woes throughout its life. 

Merle Bully Colors

Tales of woe aside, you might like to know what Merle Bully colors there are. Here’s the full range.

Blue Merle

Blue merles are a very soft, light gray in color with darker patches. There’s a bluish tinge to the gray in the right light, and that’s how they got the name. Blue Merle Bullies may have white patches, especially on the chest, and they may have white paws. 

Some people mistakenly think that Blue Merles with white markings are tricolors. Although the darker and lighter shades plus the white makes for three colors, dogs like this aren’t tricolors unless they have tan “points.” 

When a Blue Merle has tan markings, especially on the eyebrows, muzzle, legs, or under the tail, he may be a Blue Merle Tricolor. That’s because he has the tan point gene – a requirement for Bullies to be officially termed “tricolor.”

Red Merle Bully

Much as the Blue merle Bully isn’t really blue, the red isn’t a color you would ordinarily call red either. Instead, it’s a reddish-tan color with darker markings. Sometimes, those markings are very dark – almost black. 

Red Merle Bullies are extremely rare, and so beautiful that many people are willing to pay more for them. Please don’t do so however! More on this later.  

Cryptic Merle Bully

The existence of Cryptic Merle Bullies is one of the reasons why people sometimes inadvertently breed Bullies that they thought weren’t Merle, and end up with a percentage of Merle puppies. 

A Cryptic Merle carries the Merle gene and can pass it on to its puppies, but doesn’t actually exhibit the characteristic mottling of the coat.

They’re reasonably rare, not because of their color, but because the Merle gene, which is usually expressed in the markings of the coat, doesn’t exhibit its dominance in the expected way. 

Double Merle Bully

Double Merles result when the Merle gene comes from both parents. They can be almost all-white or mainly white with darker markings. 

Sadly, double Merles are the likeliest of all Merle dogs to experience health issues owing to their lack of pigmentation. Other bully health issues may also be more prevalent. 

Merle Bully Eye Colors

Apart from their attractive coat colors, eye color can also be a big attraction for unwary Bully buyers. After all, there’s no denying that blue eyes are striking, and Merles can have blue eyes. 

There’s also a chance that a Merle Bully will have one blue eye and one brown – another attractive feature that bears the potential for future health problems, since blue eyes have less protection from the sun. 

Finally, there are merles with eyes in just about any shade of brown.  

Why Kennel Clubs Don’t Recognize The Merle Bully

As we’ve already seen, Merle Bullies have a greater chance of developing health issues – especially if they are Double Merles.

What this means is that these dogs will never get their pedigree papers, so breeders (theoretically) can’t sell them at high prices. By taking away the money motive, kennel clubs hope to discourage their breeding. 

But there are a couple of problems with this all the same. Because Merles are rare and beautiful, some people are actually willing to pay more for them.

Perhaps, many of them don’t even realize that by buying a Merle, they’re perpetuating genes that can cause dogs to suffer. 

Merle Bully Kennel Clubs

On the other side of the spectrum, there are breeders who won’t sell any Merle puppies because it will give them a bad name.

If a Merle unexpectedly crops up, they’re eager to hide this fact, and will have the puppies destroyed or else will send them to shelters. Here, their chances of being adopted can be slim.

The take home message for prospective dog owners is not to buy Merles at inflated prices because this encourages unscrupulous breeders to actually target Merle genes as money spinners. 

If a breeder offers you a Merle, it should be at a lower price because it can’t be registered and will need extra veterinary care.

They should insist that you have your Merle Bully neutered as soon as it is old enough, and they should be open about the possible health problems your Bully might develop.

Pet Dog’s Not Breed Dogs

Although Merle Bullies aren’t allowed to be registered, kennel clubs never intended them to be destroyed out of hand. After all, they can still enjoy life for years to come.

The UKC, for example, won’t register Merle Bullies, but has recommended what should be done with them.

Quite simply, to limit the chances of Merle genes from being passed on within the wider American Bully population, the UKC recommends that they should be neutered and kept as household pets. 

So, if you already have a Merle Bully, find one at a shelter, or are offered one at a reasonable price, there’s no need to feel as if just owning a Merle amounts to animal cruelty. 

By taking extra care of your Merle’s health and knowing when to call it quits (a tough decision that veterinarians can help with) you’re at least giving your Merle Bully the best life he could possibly have.

Why It’s OK For Some Breeds Of Dog To Have Merle Coats – But Not Bullies

Some breeds of dog don’t experience as much of a “curse” from the Merle gene as bullies do. Others may well develop similar health issues. The key to this seems to be the amount of sun protection a dog gets from his coat. 

So, a Merle Collie, for example, has some extra sun protection in the form of a thicker, longer coat. Apart from this, the shape of the head can offer some protection from the sun, but unfortunately, this isn’t true of bullies. 

Despite having better natural sun protection with longer coats, Double Merles of breeds other than American Bullies will also be more prone to health issues.

Single merles who inherited the gene from only one parent are far likelier to remain healthy, but especially in short-coated breeds, pet owners will have to take extra care. 

Can Merle Bullies Be Kept Healthy?

It’s not impossible to keep a Merle reasonably healthy, especially if it’s not a double Merle. Even when it is a double, there’s a chance that it will have some years of healthy life, especially if you take extra care of it. 

A dog with one Merle gene has a 2.7 percent chance of going deaf in one ear and a 0.9 percent chance of losing hearing in both ears.

Admittedly, that’s not a very big chance, but a Double Merle has a 10 percent chance of hearing loss in one ear and a 15 percent chance of losing their hearing altogether. 

As for eye issues, the level of pigmentation provides some hints as to how prone a particular Merle will be to vision problems.

If the eyes are blue, the chance is very high indeed. If one eye is blue and the other brown, the blue eye is the likeliest to develop problems. 

Brown-eyed Merle Bullies have more pigmentation and less chance of vision problems, but you should still take extra care of them because they probably don’t have as much skin and eye pigmentation as a non-Merles. 

You can reduce the chance of problems or delay their onset by taking extra care of your Merle Bully.

Sunlight is their enemy, so you should keep them indoors or in a well-shaded area during the day. When you go outdoors with your dog, use a special sunscreen that’s approved for use on dogs. 

Try to avoid letting your dog be in the bright, hot midday sun as much as possible, limiting walks and outdoor play times to the early morning or very late afternoon.

If they do need to go out in the heat of the day, remember that sunscreen and protect your Merle Bully’s eyes by keeping the time during which there is strong sun exposure to a minimum. 

If you notice eye inflammation or signs of skin problems, consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. Interestingly, many dogs with light-sensitive eyes become photophobic. They don’t want to go out into the sun. 

Pay attention to this, since trying to force any dog to do something that may hurt them or that they fear can result in aggression. Perhaps this is where the urban legend that blue eyed dogs are more aggressive comes from!

Work with your veterinarian to keep your Merle Bully healthy for as long as possible, and if health issues become too bad, be ready to spare your dog from prolonged suffering. 

Merle Bully: Conclusions

Merle Bullies are prone to a range of health problems, and the likelihood of ear, eye, and skin issues occurring increases if the dog is a Double Merle.

Although a Merle Bully is a beautiful animal, breeders should not be encouraged to sell them at inflated prices just because they’re rare. You can help by refusing to pay more for a Merle Bully. 

If you would like to breed Bullies, never breed dogs with Merle genes. You can find out whether your dogs carry the Merle gene through genetic tests.

More and more people are becoming aware of the reasons why Merle is considered to be a “breed fault” rather than a pleasing rarity, so it’s hoped that the practice of selling Merles for more will die out soon!


Hi there, my name is Blake and I have an American Bully named Rocky. I fell in love with the breed around ten years ago after seeing some of my friends adopt a Bully. I love the combination of the muscular physique and calm, loyal companionship that the American Bully breed has to offer. My enthusiasm for the breed has led me to train as a dog behavioralist and trainer. Over the last ten years, I have supported many households in raising their American Bully and maximizing the potential of the breed. I’m delighted to share my knowledge and expertise on this site.

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