The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), more commonly known as the Pit Bull, Pitbull Terrier, or Pit is banned in the UK. It is considered a dangerous dog breed under The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and, until the law was revised in 1997, Pit Bulls were subject to a mandatory destruction order. But do these dogs deserve their negative reputation? Find out all about the breed below.

A Brief History

The Pit Bull is a relatively old breed. It is the direct descendant of the British Bull-and-terrier, a cross between the Old English Terrier and the Old English Bulldog (both now extinct), which was selectively bred for the gameness of the terrier and the strength and agility of the bulldog. The Bull-and-terrier breed was originally used for bloodsports, such as bull- and bear-baiting and, later, dog fighting. The breed was exported to the US in the mid 19th century, where it continued to be used for dog fighting. In 1898, the breed was recognised as the American Pit Bull Terrier by the United Kennel Club (UKC). Although there were many attempts to change public opinion and introduce the Pit Bull as a working dog, fighting remained the main function of the breed until 1976, when it was outlawed across America. Unfortunately, dog fighting still occurs behind closed doors in both America and Britain, hence the Pit’s reputation as an aggressive fighting dog.

Around the world, the term “pit bull” is often used to refer to a whole category of dogs, including the American Staffordshire Terrier, the American Bully, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier or Staffie. In the UK, however, the term is generally used as an abbreviation for the American Pit Bull Terrier. Moreover, experts and APBT breeders argue that the American Pit Bull Terrier is the only “true” pit bull and that the name should be used as such. The breed is not officially recognised by The Kennel Club, the American Kennel Club, nor the FCI. Additionally, under The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, it is forbidden to own or breed Pit Bulls in the UK. These days, if you are found owning a Pit in Britain, you must appeal to the Crown Court to register it on the Index of Exempted Dogs, which constitutes a list of dogs the court does not consider to pose a risk to the public.

Physical Characteristics

The Pit Bull is a medium to large dog, recognisable for its strong, imposing build. It is quite a bit larger than its closest relative, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. There is a slight difference in the height and weight of male and female Pits. An adult dog measures between 45 and 53cm and weighs between 15 and 27kg, while a bitch measures between 43 and 50cm at the withers and weighs between 13 and 22kg.

The Pit Bull is not recognised by The Kennel Club, so does not have a classification.

Body: The body is short but has impressive musculature, which betrays the power of the animal.

Head: The head is medium in length with a flat skull and broad at the ears. From the front, the head appears round.

Ears: The ears are medium, straight, and half erect.

Eyes: The eyes are round in shape and uniform in colour.

Tail: The tail is short and thin at the end.

Coat: The hair is very short and stiff to the touch.

Colour: All colours and patterns of coat are accepted by the canine federations that do recognise the Pit Bull breed. Only two colours are excluded: merle and albino.

Pit Bull Temperament

The Pit Bull is preceded by the sulphurous reputation of an aggressive, killer dog. Yet this ill repute, like many prejudiced opinions, is largely false; the temperament of the Pit Bull is very different from that which the media suggests. In actual fact, Pits are loyal and eager to please, and get very attached to their owners. They are extremely friendly and, contrary to popular opinion, aggressive behaviour towards humans is not characteristic of the breed. The Pit Bull can be protective of its family if threatened, which, in addition to its imposing appearance, makes for an excellent watchdog. This dog breed is gentle with children, but should not be left alone with them unsupervised, as is the case with all dog breeds.

Do Pit Bulls Get Along Well with Others?

Provided they have been socialised properly from a young age, Pit Bulls have no trouble getting along with other animals, such as cats or exotic pets. This breed has no hunting instinct, having only been used to stop predators such as wolves, coyotes, and foxes when employed as a farm dog. On the other hand, male Pit Bulls are known for fighting with other male dogs, so care must be taken to prevent this.

Is a Pit Bull the Right Dog for Me?

The Pit Bull is not suitable for everyone for two main reasons. Firstly, it is currently still illegal to own a Pit in the UK and, if the police believe that your dog is a Pit Bull, they may seize it and charge you with a criminal offence. In this case, your dog will be placed in a police-appointed kennel while the case is brought against you. You must then prove to the Crown Court that your dog is not a danger to the public. These days, thankfully, you have a relatively good chance of winning the case; the number of dogs registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs has quadrupled since 2010.

Secondly, due to its temperament and powerful physique, the Pit Bull requires a firm, naturally authoritative owner with good prior knowledge of dog training. As such, the Pit Bull is not recommended to first-time dog owners.

Pit Bull Health Issues

The Pit Bull has an iron constitution. The average lifespan of an American Pit Bull Terrier is between 11 and 13 years, and the breed is little affected by hereditary and genetic diseases. As with all medium and large dogs, however, care should be taken to prevent the onset of joint disorders, such as hip and elbow dysplasia. The Pit Bull is rather sensitive to high and low temperatures due to its short coat. It is, therefore, necessary to avoid leaving your Pit outside when temperatures rise or fall. The breed is also affected by skin problems, such as allergies, and dermatitis.

Ideal Living Conditions of a Pit Bull

Although most dog breeds can adapt to apartment living, we don’t recommend it for the Pit Bull. These are very energetic dogs who need a lot of exercise. They will therefore be much more comfortable in a house in the countryside with a large garden where they can run freely. You must also take into account the constraints involved in owning a Pit Bull: they must be muzzled and kept on a lead. As such, if you have a Pit Bull in an apartment, legally, your dog will never be able to be free and run off lead.


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Pit Bull Training

Training your Pit Bull is something to be taken very seriously and embarked upon as early as possible. Set boundaries right from the start; put specific rules in place and stick to them. You need to be authoritative with your Pit Bull pup, but violence should be avoided at all costs. Favour rewards, in the form of a healthy dog treat or a cuddle, and avoid punishment of any kind, be it physical or verbal. It’s essential to gain your dog’s trust and this kind of violent shortcut would stop you from doing so. Pit Bull training should be entrusted to someone who has a solid understanding of the breed, but also of dogs in general, and who fully comprehends the principles of dog training and socialisation. Never hesitate to call on a professional dog trainer or behaviourist to help you with this task.

Diet: What to Feed Your Pit Bull

The Pit Bull needs a healthy, well-balanced diet. It plays a vital role in their health and, as such, must be able to meet all their nutritional requirements and energy needs. Also, take into account the fact that your dog's dietary needs are likely to change over time, depending on their age and health condition. Choose products made from high-quality protein, majoritively derived from animals. Remember that dogs are opportunistic carnivores and only animal proteins contain all the amino acids essential to their well-being. A small amount of vegetable protein is fine, but your dog’s diet should not be based on it. 

Learn how to decipher product labels to understand exactly what you're feeding your pooch and be sure to choose a healthy composition, without added preservatives or sweeteners. One of the golden rules of dog food is to avoid the industrial dog food found in supermarkets, as much as possible. This is because it tends to be very low in quality and made using primarily plant protein. Poor-quality dog food will inevitably have repercussions on your Pit’s health in the long term. Good-quality dog food does not necessarily have to cost more than shop-bought dog food, however. If you want to avoid industrial dog food altogether, opt for a tailor-made service like Hector Kitchen.

Alternatively, if you have the time and want to control all the ingredients in your Pit Bull's dog food you can try feeding them homemade dog food or a BARF diet. Homemade dog food uses cooked meat and vegetables, while the BARF diet uses raw meat and some cooked vegetables. Always seek advice from your vet or an animal nutrition specialist before embarking on a change in your dog’s food. Also, make sure you’re familiar with the list of human foods that are toxic to dogs. Finally, you can also use food supplements for dogs to target specific health issues, upon advice from your vet. 

Pit Bull Care and Maintenance

  • Vaccines: between £30 to £60 for the first injection series, plus annual boosters

  • Dog food: from around £50 per month for high-quality dog food

  • Monthly budget: minimum £100 per month

Caring for a purebred Pit Bull is relatively straightforward. Thanks to their short coat, you only need to brush your Pit once or twice per week. During moulting periods in spring and autumn, dogs shed more, so you will need to give your Pit Bull one quick brush a day to get rid of any dead hair, dirt, or debris. Supplement dog brushing with one or two baths per year.  Avoid washing your dog too often to prevent skin problems, unless, of course, your pooch gets extremely dirty! Also, don't forget to brush your dog's teeth, clean their eyes and ears, and trim their nails regularly. Teach your pup to accept this type of care and maintenance from an early age. Keep all your dog's vaccines up to date, as well as deworming and antiparasitic treatments to combat ticks and fleas. Finally, be sure to schedule regular vet check-ups for your pooch, especially as they start to get older.

Pit Bull Price

It is illegal to own or breed a Pit Bull in the UK under The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. You will therefore struggle to find a breeder in Britain. Importing a Pit Bull is also illegal and we do not recommend buying a dog on the black market, either. However, it may be possible to find a Pit Bull in a dog shelter or rescue centre, but you would still be subject to having charges brought against you by the police if discovered.

Pit Bull Sleep

Despite their robust constitution, Pit Bulls are quite sensitive to the cold and the heat. They can sleep outside, but only when the weather conditions permit. Avoid leaving your Pit out in the garden when temperatures are extreme, for example. If you do put your dog to sleep outside, make sure they have a high-quality kennel available to them. Choosing the right kennel for your dog is essential; it should be neither too big nor too small. Most kennels on the market are made of plastic or wood. Ideally, opt for a wooden kennel as these offer better insulation and tend to be much sturdier and constitute a great long-term investment. 

Inside, place your dog’s bed in a quiet area with little foot traffic. Your Pit Bull should be able to rest undisturbed by your children if you have any. Avoid having your dog's sleeping area in your bedroom, at least initially. In terms of material, you have the option of plastic dog beds, which are strong and easy to clean, or fabric and leather dog beds, which are more fragile but also more comfortable. Avoid wicker baskets, as these are easily destroyed and may present a choking hazard.

Games and Physical Activities for Your Pit Bull

To be perfectly happy and fulfilled, your Pit Bull needs lots of exercise each day. This is an athletic and energetic dog breed; inactivity and boredom will quickly take their toll on their morale. If you live in an apartment and don’t have enough time to take care of your four-legged friend, we don’t recommend that you adopt a dog at this time. The Pit Bull needs at least one long walk a day, during which it must be kept muzzled and on the lead. Avoid very public places or dog parks, where your Pit may be tempted to fight with other dogs. Unfortunately, this is an additional constraint for a Pit Bull owner.

At home, make sure you have enough games and toys to occupy your pooch in your absence. If bored, dogs can very quickly develop problematic behaviours, such as repetitive barking and chewing the furniture. Choose sturdy toys which are strong enough to withstand the Pit Bull's powerful jaw.

Pet Insurance: Protecting Your Pit Bull

In the UK, it is a legal requirement for Pit Bulls to have third-party liability insurance, as a provision of The Dangerous Dogs Act. As the owner of a Pit Bull, you would be held responsible for any damage caused to a third party by an accident, be it material damage or bodily harm. The Pit Bull is an energetic breed, known to be aggressive with other dogs, and accidents can and do happen. This is where pet insurance comes in. Most home insurance policies offer the option to include animal liability insurance. Additionally, there are four main types of pet insurance available in the UK, which cover your pet in the event of accident or illness: Accident-Only, Time-Limited, Maximum Benefit, and Lifetime insurance. It should be noted, however, that conventional insurance companies often do not wish to insure dangerous breed dogs, given the risks this could entail for them. In this case, you would have to take out special insurance. Warning: If you let your Pit Bull off the lead or they were not muzzled at the time of the incident, your insurance company would be entitled to deny you any reimbursement, instead blaming the accident on your negligence.

Although the Pit Bull is a pretty robust dog breed in general, it is still susceptible to some health issues. Although pet health insurance is not compulsory, getting your dog insured from an early age guarantees them the necessary care they need at every point throughout their life. Health insurance for your Pit Bull works the same way as it does for you: you pay a monthly premium to an insurance company and, in return, they reimburse you for any veterinary expenses. Veterinary costs are not standardised in the UK, which means they can be very high and vary substantially. So, don't wait for your Pit Bull to get sick or old before taking out pet insurance or you may risk them not being properly taken care of; we always recommend getting your dog insured from an early age. In any case, before deciding on a contract, take the time to shop around for quotes and assess the terms and conditions that best suit your circumstance.