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Everything You Want To Know About The Merle Pit Bull

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

merle pit bull

The merle pit Bull is sure to capture the heart of any lover of the breed. A merle dog has a coat with an alluring swirl of colors of random spots of a dark color over a lighter shade of typically the same hue. The Merle Pit bull’s splotchy look is eye-catching, but you need to know its risks.

The merle beauty is undeniable. However, factors like health, temperament and trainability determine if owning a Merle Pit Bull is right for you. All dogs are adorable but what matters most is the right dog living in the right household, especially for such a controversial breed.

What is a Merle Pitbull?

Merle Pitbulls are pitbull-type dogs that carry the merle gene. This recessive gene dilutes random patches of the coat to make a marbled pattern. They can be red or blue merles. Health issues are associated with this color and it’s possible that merle pitties are not purebred.

History & Origins: Where Does the Merle Pitbull Come From?

But when it comes to where the merle Pitbull comes from, things get tricky and account vary, so we’re going to go through it step-by-step. Firstly, it’s much harder to trace the origins of the merle Pitbull than the red-nosed Pitbull, which has a much clearer history.

When tracing the history of Merle Pit Bulls, remember that Merle Pit Bulls are just normal pits with different coloring, not a different breed. Firstly, there is no single pitbull breed. Pitbull refers to a type of dog rather than a breed, just like a mastiff or hound.

The Pit Bull breeds include:

  • The American Pitbull Terrier (APBT);
  • The American Staffordshire Terrier (Amstaff);
  • The Staffordshire Bull Terrier; and
  • The American Bully.

So “Pit Bull” refers to the bully breed dogs that originated in England in the 1800s from bull-and-terrier fighter dogs.

Now here’s where the controversy with merle Pitbulls starts. It’s extremely unclear how merle pitbulls ever came to be.

You see, the merle coloring only present in certain dog breeds. Such as,

Now, the problem that arises is this. The Pitbull is descended from the Olde English Bulldog, which in turn probably comes from the ancient Molossus. This was a war dog the Romans brought to Europe, and we consider it the ancestor of all modern Pitbull-type dogs and mastiffs.

But of the mastiffs, only one has the merle gene. That is the great Dane. Among the dogs related to the Pitbull, such as the English Bulldog, English Bull Terrier and other breeds descended from the original bear-baiting Bulldog, merle is not a natural color either.

So There are Three Ways We Ended Up with Merles in Pitbull-Type Dogs:

  1. Most Pitbulls that are merles are likely the result of outcrossing to insert the color pattern into the breed. This is why they are not an accepted color for the American Pitbull. Specifically, most merles pitties trace back to the South, where they were crossed with Catahoula Leopard dogs for hunting or the color.
  2. It is rumoured that merle Pits always existed and there are records of them as far back as 1922. Certainly, the first breed standard allowed all colors, including merles. This suggests there may originally have been merle pits. But it is hard to verify this and harder to verify if those dogs were purebred. If there were purebred pitbulls that were a merle color, the color was likely bred out because of the health problems that often come with it.
  3. As more and more Pitbull breeds are developed, we constantly see dogs loosely called Bullies or Pitbulls that no longer fit the original traits of the breed. This means that Pitties are constantly being outcrossed. This results in dogs like this giant 130lbs Merle Bully:

What are the Physical Features of the Merle Pit Bul?

  • Height: 17-19 inches (although can be variable depending on the type of pitbull or Bully breed).
  • Weight: 30 to 85 pounds (this can vary to greater extremes as people have come to breed XXL Bullies or “pocket bullies” that may also be merle)
  • Lifespan: 12 to 14 years (larger dogs may live only 7 to 10 years)
  • Colors: Red and blue merle
  • Eye color: Any shade or brown, hazel, sometimes with one blue eye or both.

Merle Pit Bulls are burly beauties with their impressive marble coats. Merle or dapple coats have random spots of dark color on a lighter base of the same color. The merle gene can affect the eyes or part of the eyes, causing an astonishing mix of colors.

Merle Pit Bulls are bulky and muscular in stature with pointy, rose-shaped ears and a wide square-shaped head. These powerful-built dogs have thick necks, well-muscled front and hind quarters, and broad shoulders.

They have a short, single coat that’s easy to groom but needs caution in colder temperatures or extreme heat. Most Merle Pit Bulls have a greyish-blue coat with dark grey or black spots, blue merle. Red Merle Pit Bulls have a reddish coat with lighter spots like white.

How Do You Make a Merle Pitbull?

To get a blue or red merle dog, you need to breed one parent with a dominant merle gene. These dogs usually have a merle coat color, but some dogs may be phantom, hidden, or cryptic merles. In these cases, the pitbull will look like they are a solid color or they may have a very tiny mottled or piebald spot.

But phantom merles still carry the gene, even if you can’t see the coat color.

Regardless, it’s safest to breed one merle pitbull with a pitbull that is not merle. This reduces the chances of the eye and ear health problems that often come with the merle gene. If somebody breeds two merle Pitbulls together, about 25% of the puppies will be what’s called a “double merle”.

Double merle Pitbulls are vulnerable to deafness and blindness and a host of other potential health defects.

General Care of the Merle Pi Bull

  • Hypoallergenic: No
  • Shedding: Moderate to heavy shedding despite their short coats
  • Exercise requirement: At least an hour of vigorous exercise daily. Mental exercises like puzzles are also required.


They do best in homes with securely fenced yards.


Unwaveringly loyal, affectionate, and highly devoted to the owner. They can be reactive when poorly bred, meaning they are not for inexperienced owners.


Pitbulls, especially the more athletic original APBT and AmStaff, are often highly motivated, A-type personalities. They thrive on a challenge and are highly trainable in activities that allow them to use their drive.

Just see this video of the kind of training and activity a Pittie excels in:

Remember that any dog that looks like a Pit generally gets called one. So there can be massive differences between dogs regarding their drive, temperament, and trainability.


Merle Pit Bulls have short coats, easing their grooming requirements. A brush with a pin brush or a good pet grooming brush every other day or at least twice a week should suffice. Occasional baths remove dirt and grime and shouldn’t be done too frequently to avoid stripping the coat of natural oils.

Merle Pits need their nails trimmed about once a month with a good pair of pet nail trimmers. Brush your dog’s teeth at least twice a week to prevent dental issues like periodontitis caused by tartar buildup, and add a dog water additive for teeth to their water bowl. Additionally, ears should be regularly checked and cleaned to avoid infection and inflammation.


Pit Bulls are energetic and athletic dogs who have tons of energy to utilize. They are happy to accompany you for hikes and runs and engage in sports like weight-pulling and dock jumping.


Merle Pit Bulls need at least one hour of vigorous exercise, being high-energy breeds. They need plenty of mental exercises, such as puzzles or sniffing exercises, to cater to mental stimulation.

Their energy and tenacity make Pits one of the most versatile dogs who can engage in sports like agility, herding, rescue, dock and wall jumping, weight-pulling, and many others.

Food & Diet Requirements

Merle Pit Bulls are muscular dogs who thrive on a protein-rich diet. They also need more calories than other dogs their size, but food amounts vary based on age or activity level, with active dogs needing more food.

The best way to determine your Pit Bull’s food requirements is to consult your vet, especially if you opt for a raw diet. The vet will also let you know if your pooch has any medical conditions like allergies that directly affect the diet.

The Health of a Merle Pit Bulls

Merle-colored dogs are at risk of health defects like blindness and deafness, especially when the merle gene is inherited in its homozygous state (double merles). One study showed that dogs with one merle allele have a 2.7% chance of deafness in one ear and 0.9% in both.

This number increases to a 10% chance of deafness in one ear and 15% in both ears for double-merle dogs. Due to the lack of proper pigmentation, double-merle dogs can experience skin issues and even skin cancer.

Serious Concerns

  • Hip dysplasia;
  • Patellar luxation;
  • Heart issues;
  • Deafness;
  • Blindness;
  • Eye issues like Microphthalmia;
  • Heart disease;
  • Cataracts; and
  • Cerebellar Ataxia.

Mild to Moderate Health Issues

  • Allergies;
  • Skin infections;
  • Dental issues;
  • Hypothyroidism; and
  • Sun sensitivity.

Occasional Health Concerns in the Merle Pitbulls

  • Bloat

The Lifespan of a Merle Pitbulls

Healthy American Pit Bull Terriers have a lifespan of 12 to 14 years.

Temperament & Trainability of a Merle Pitbulls

Merle Pit Bulls are people-oriented, devoted companions whose sweet nature betrays their muscular physiques. They are really tolerant with kids, so much so that their Staffordshire Bull Terrier cousins earned the name “nanny dog.” They’re still powerful dogs who must be supervised around kids.

Despite our vote of confidence, Pit Bulls have long garnered a bad rep mostly because of their bloody fighting history. Evidence suggests that many owners are criminals and bad owners and have more to do with aggressive Pits than bad genetics.

However, we don’t deny that Pits can get aggressive and have a 10% mortality rate, accounting for most dog-related deaths in the US. They also have a reputation for not letting go after biting, falsely making people believe they lock their jaws.

Merle Pit Bulls are devoted and eager to please, making them easy to train. Start training and socializing your Merle Pit from puppyhood, using treats and praise as motivation.

Sociability with Other Pets

Unfortunately, Merle Pit Bulls are often not good with other pets. Most Pitties have inherited the gene from their dark fighting times and may have reactivity issues around other animals, especially dogs. However, proper training and socialization with other animals from a young age enables Pits to react better to other animals.

There are Pitbulls that are very social, but there are many that may never be safe around other animals, regardless of how well they are socialized.

Your pit will likely be okay around people, even when aggressive to other animals. This is because they were bred to fight other dogs and animals ferociously, all while never biting their owner or a human.

A Suitable Home for the Merle Pitbulls

  • Not good for homes with allergies

Merle Pit Bulls shed moderately and are therefore not hypoallergenic. If you’re allergic to dogs, consider getting a hypoallergenic breed like the Poodle or Bichon Frise.

  • Highly active individuals

Pits are energetic dogs that need intense exercise for at least one hour daily. The dogs are suited to owners that can meet this energy requirement.

  • Experienced dog owners

Due to their high prey drive and reactivity to animals, Pitties can be a handful for new dog owners. Additionally, the dogs get hurtful comments from people who don’t know better and need an owner that can mentally handle the pressure.

  • Warmer Climates

The Pit’s thin coat doesn’t provide enough insulation against the cold, making they do better in warm areas.

How Much Should I Expect to Pay for a Merle Pit Bull?

Pitbull can charge eye-watering prices of up to or above $10000 for top-of-the-line merle puppies. As this color is extremely rare, it is often bred into very expensive Bully-type breeds. So in the XL and XXL bully lines, you can expect to pay around $7500.

The merle pattern in pitbull puppies is so valued that one breeder has advertised puppies for $35,000. In the more traditional APBTs, you likely will not have to pay as much since it is not an accepted color in the breed.

Final Thoughts

Merle Pit Bulls are beautiful but controversial dogs. Merle Pit Bulls are just normal Pits with a gene that causes a marbled coat. Single allele merle dogs can lead a perfectly normal life like no merle dogs. Double merle pits can suffer from serious health issues like deafness and blindness.

It’s important to purchase a Merle Pit from a reputable breeder who performed genetic tests to ensure the puppy is healthy. Pit Bulls need rigorous training from an early age, particularly if you have a multiple-pet household.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.