Breeds

Pit Bull Breed Information Guide: Photos, Traits, & Care

Written by: Benjamin Moore

March 14, 2022

You might be surprised to learn that “pit bull” isn’t a breed of dog. Rather, it’s an umbrella term—sort of like “hound” or “retriever”—that includes various dog breeds, dog mixes, and even dogs that just happen to look like the aforementioned breeds and mixes. Pretty crazy, right? And yet it’s true! The American pit bull terrier, as you might expect, belongs to the “terrier” group.

What Dog Breeds Are Considered Pit Bulls?

Here’s another confusing thing about pit bulls: depending on where you live, you may or may not consider certain dog breeds to be pit bulls. For example, in Great Britain and Australia, “Staffies” (or Staffordshire bull terriers) are not considered pit bulls. But in the United States, they are.

Picture of a pit bull type dog

That said, the following breeds fall under the “pit bull” umbrella somewhere on planet Earth:

  • American pit bull terriers
  • American Staffordshire terriers
  • Staffordshire bull terriers
  • American bullies
  • American bulldogs
  • Bull terriers

Breed Overview

  • Height: 17–19 inches
  • Weight: 40–70 lbs
  • Lifespan: 8–15 years (varies by type)
  • Breed Size: Medium–Large
  • Colors: Black, white, brindle, fawn, tan, grey, brown, blue, red
  • Good With: Kids; other pet tolerance varies from dog to dog
  • Temperament: Affectionate, playful, athletic

Is It Spelled “Pit Bull” Or “Pitbull?”

Pit bull. Two words. Lowercase when not at the beginning of a sentence or in a headline. “Pitbull” is a rapper.

Also Known As…

Pibble, velvet burrito, Lumpasaurus rex, land manatee, pitopotamus, house seal, and more!

What Is The History Of Pit Bulls?

The original pit bulls (also known as “pit bull terriers” and “bull and terrier dogs”) were bred from Olde English bulldogs and a now-extinct terrier for the horrible and inhumane sport known as “bull baiting1.” These dogs were strong, nimble, dexterous, and very human-friendly, a trait that’s been passed down to their ancestors.

Related Article: America’s Dog to Public Enemy #1—A History on Pit Bulls, And Why They’re Making Such A Comeback

From the bull and terrier dog came the bull terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, and most recently the American bully.

How Big Do Pit Bulls Get?

This varies due to the vast number of breeds we typically classify as “pit bulls,” but generally:

Height: 17–19 inches

Weight: 40–70 pounds

How Long Do Pit Bulls (Generally) Live?

The average lifespan changes depending on the type of pit bull we’re talking about. See below:

  • American pit bull terrier: 8–15 years
  • American Staffordshire terrier: 10–15 years
  • Staffordshire bull terrier: 12–14 years
  • American bully: 8–12 years

What Is A Pit Bull’s Temperament & Personality Like?

Regardless of the exact kind of pit bull you have, they’re commonly affectionate, playful, human-loving weirdos who consistently rank near the top of all dogs for temperament testing.

group of pit bull puppies

Good With Kids? Cats? Dogs?

They make wonderful, loyal family dogs that mesh well with kids, and horrible guard dogs (because they tend overall to be a little too friendly to humans and strangers). Like any dog, pit bulls are products of their upbringing, so their ability to get along with other dogs depends on that individual dog. Many pit bulls love the company of other dogs, and some prefer to be your #1 priority. The same is true with cats—many pitties don’t mind having a feline roommate, but other may prefer to chase anything that doesn’t bark.

Pit bulls are individuals, like every dog, and can have all types of personalities depending on their background or upbringing. If you’re looking to adopt, communicate openly with shelter or rescue staff—they usually know their dogs well, and can help you find a pup with the best temperament for your lifestyle.

Do Pit Bulls Need A Lot Of Exercise?

Pit bulls are athletic and energetic, but not so much so that you want to pull your hair out. (We’re looking at you, border collies.) All dogs benefit from adequate exercise, and this breed especially needs an outlet for all those built-up zoomies. They make great jogging partners, and would benefit from a long daily walk, hike, or long distance game of fetch.

Are Pit Bulls Hard To Train?

Many pit bulls are very food-motivated, a trait them makes them eager to please and easy to train. Their desire to spend time with their people means training sessions are just another way to have fun, especially with plenty of treats and positive reinforcement methods.

Related Article: Positive Reinforcement Training For Dogs: What It Is & How It Works

Pit bulls are intelligent dogs with lots of brain power and even more physical energy. Training is a fantastic way to work their minds, prevent boredom, and strengthen your bond.

Do Pit Bulls Have Any Health Issues?

Pit Bulls are generally pretty healthy dogs, especially for being on the larger side. This is due in part to the fact that truly “purebred” pit bulls are few and far between, and research shows purebred dogs are more likely to develop health issues as they age2,3.

Having said that, the various types of pit bulls are slightly predisposed to hip dysplasia and arthritis as they get older. They also have a tendency to be allergic to the elements (and the rain when it’s time to poop, for some reason).

Pit bull type dog licking owners face

Do Pit Bulls Need To Be Groomed?

Not as excessively as a standard poodle, but a good weekly brushing routine with a brush designed for short dog hair helps keep their coat in tip-top shape. Bathe them when they’re stinky or visibly dirty, clean their ears carefully with a cotton ball or pad, trim those toenails, and establish a tooth-brushing (or tooth-brushless) routine to protect their overall health.

Do Pit Bulls Shed?

Yes! Short hair doesn’t mean no hair on the couch or on your clothes (but embrace it!). Pit bulls tend to have short, coarse hairs, and leave all that “dog glitter” wherever they roam. A high quality diet can improve skin and coat health to keep shedding at a minimum.

Pit bulls are not a hypoallergenic breed.

Do Pit Bulls Drool?

It depends on your particular pit bull variety! Dogs with droopier jowls tend to drool more, but you usually don’t need to follow your pit bull around with a towel, dodging drool puddles along the way. When you’re cooking bacon, that’s another story entirely.

Picture of white pit bull type dog

How Much Does It Cost To Care of A Pit Bull?

Exact cost is difficult to determine, but at a minimum, expect to spend around $1000+ per year.

Food

Aside from the cost to acquire the dog itself, pit bulls are medium-to-large size dogs that eat anywhere from 2–3+ cups of food per day. Expect a quality bag of food to cost around $40–$100+ per bag every month or so depending on how much they eat.

Routine Vet Care (Healthy Dog)

Take into account the cost of maintaining proper vet care as well. The average veterinary appointment will run you at least $50 each visit, not including treatment (vaccines, heartworm tests, etc.) Vets typically recommend a yearly wellness visit, and that doesn’t include treatment that may pop up for issues along the way, like x-rays, antibiotics, or surgeries.

Preventative Medications

Monthly heartworm, flea, and tick medications typically cost several hundred dollars for a year’s worth of doses depending on your pup’s weight.

Grooming

Grooming costs for a pit bull are on the lower end if you choose to groom yourself. You’ll need a dog-friendly shampoo for bathtime, a brush designed for their coat, tooth-brushing supplies, toenail clippers, and an ear-cleaning solution with cotton balls, at minimum. If you choose to have a groomer take care of these tasks, a single session may cost around $40–$90.

Toys, Treats, Beds, & Accessories

Toys, treats, beds, and accessories (leash, collar, bowls, training tools) add up as well, but they’re definitely the most fun to shop for!

A monthly BarkBox, for example, starts at $23/month and includes 2 toys, 2 full-size bags of treats, and a tasty chew (DOUBLE YOUR FIRST BOX FREE!). A tougher, Super Chewer subscription starts at $29 per month with 2 fluff-free, durable toys, 2 full-size bags of treats, and 2 meaty chews (DOUBLE YOUR FIRST BOX FREE!)

Beds cost around $25-$100+ depending on size and style, and walking accessories and training supplies usually clock in around $50 minimum.

Other normal costs associated with caring for a pit bull include:

  • Dog walker (~15–$25/visit)
  • Daycare/boarding (~$25 min for one day of daycare)
  • Training classes (~$200+)
  • Supplements, like hip & joint or skin & coat ($25+/month)
  • Unexpected costs, like emergency care (~$500–1000+)

Related Article: Is BarkBox Worth It? What Comes Inside, Cost, & Everything In Between


What Is A “Pit Bull-Type Dog”?

You may have heard the term “pit bull-type dog” before and didn’t understand what it meant. It’s a term that shelters and rescues often use to describe dogs that look more or less like the aforementioned breeds. If the dogs have larger, blockier heads, slim, muscled bodies, and generally short hair, they’re typically considered to be pit bull-type dogs.

Since very few shelter or rescue dogs have a known provenance—either via DNA testing (too expensive) or breeding papers (usually nonexistent)—there are many dogs out there labeled “pit bulls” through visual identification alone. Unfortunately, that’s a notoriously inaccurate means of identifying dog breed4. DNA tests have their own inaccuracies too, but we’ll leave that for another time.

Why Are There So Many Pit Bulls In Shelters?

The answer to that is way too long and complicated for this post. Besides, we already wrote a whole article about it.

dog having its face pet and squeezed

Which Breeds Are Mistaken For Pit Bulls?

So many! And keep in mind, this isn’t even an exhaustive list. There are way more breeds and mixes we mistake for pit bulls despite having no genetic connection to them.

  • Alapaha blue blood bulldog
  • American bulldog
  • Bullmastiff
  • Preso Canario
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Boxer
  • Cane Corso
  • Olde English bulldog

What’s The Difference Between Staffordshire Bull Terriers & American Pit Bull Terriers?

Size, basically. A Staffordshire bull terrier weighs between 24–37 lbs and is about 14–16 inches tall. American pit bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers, on the other hand, are between 30–60+ lbs and 17–21 inches tall.

What’s The Difference Between American Pit Bull Terriers & American Staffordshire Terriers?

This is another one of those weird pit bull complications. American Staffordshire terriers were brought into existence when, uhm, well, the AKC just decided they didn’t like the name American pit bull terrier anymore. So they changed it—first to Staffordshire terrier in 1936, and then to American Staffordshire terrier in 1969 to differentiate from their English counterparts.

Today, American Staffordshire terriers and American pit bull terriers are considered two distinct breeds, though they’re impossible to tell apart visually (even experts are often incapable). And a DNA test for an American pit bull terrier will come back as American Staffordshire.

Do Pit Bulls’ Jaws Lock?

Nope, that’s an ugly myth. In fact, pit bulls don’t even rank in the top five for breed bite strength. (Not that that sort of thing matters anyway.)

Are Pit Bulls Dog Aggressive?

It’s certainly not uncommon for pit bulls to exhibit some degree of reactivity to other dogs, but it really just depends on the individual dog. Some are incredibly dog-friendly. Some are dog-selective. And of course, there are those pit bulls who should probably live in one-dog households.

Are Pit Bulls Dangerous?

All animals are capable of inflicting harm upon humans. But the majority of dogs, including pit bulls, have never and will never cause any such harm.

Like any dog, they need love, training, and to be fully incorporated into their human family. If you fulfill a pit bull’s needs and take care of them the way they deserve, they make wonderful companions. There’s a reason that many first-time pit bull adopters become pit bull lovers for life!

The causes of dog bites in particular are due in large part to co-occurring factors of the event, rather than the breed itself. These factors include5:

  • Whether the dog is spayed or neutered
  • Circumstances of their upbringing (i.e. abuse or neglect )
  • Whether they are used for breeding or protection vs. as family dogs
  • Whether the dog is properly socialized
dog being cuddled by its owners

Dog attack statistics, it should be noted, are extremely faulty and based primarily on sensationalist (oftentimes inaccurate) news reporting5. As we said before, it’s very difficult to visually identify a pit bull or pit bull mix. Studies show that visual identification of these guys is extremely difficult, even by experts4.

It’s also worth pointing out that in countries, provinces, and cities that have banned pit bulls, dog attacks have not generally decreased4,6. This would seem to indicate that dog attacks are more dependent on the human beings than the dogs involved6.

What Kind Of Toys Do Pit Bulls Like?

A better question: what kind of toys don’t pit bulls like? These guys have a zest for life, so obviously they’re going to enjoy their dog toys on the regular.

Most pits love a good squeaky toy, but because pit bulls are often athletic and energetic—on top of being vigorous chewers—you might want to look into more durable toys (especially ones that work their brains).

Get double the toys, treats, and chews in your first BarkBox or Super Chewer box, FREE!

What Type Of Food Should Pit Bulls Eat?

Pit bulls do well on high quality, protein-rich diets to fuel their zoomies and keep them healthy from the inside out. They’re not usually picky eaters, but monitor your dog closely when transitioning diets to ensure they don’t experience any allergic reactions, like itching, paw licking, or loose poops.

If reactions continue to occur with foods containing common proteins (chicken, beef), try a novel protein as the first ingredient, like turkey, bison, or venison. When in doubt, talk with your vet about an elimination diet to determine the trouble-making ingredient.

Hip and joint, skin and coat, and probiotic supplements do wonders for pit bulls’ overall and long-term health, too!

Related Article: Gut Health & Probiotics For Dogs: Supplements, Challenges, & Benefits


Sources

1Alchin, Linda. “Elizabethan Bear & Bull Baiting.” Elizabethan Bear & Bull Baiting, 2017, https://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-bear-bull-baiting.htm. 

2Oberbauer, A. M., Belanger, J. M., Bellumori, T., Bannasch, D. L., & Famula, T. R. (2015). Ten inherited disorders in purebred dogs by functional breed groupings. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40575-015-0021-x

3NCBI. (2018, May 30). Study reveals genetic diseases of mixed-breed, purebred dogs. American Veterinary Medical Association. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2018-06-15/study-reveals-genetic-diseases-mixed-breed-purebred-dogs

4Duberstein, A., King, B., & Johnson, A. R. (2021). Pit bulls and prejudice. The Humanistic Psychologist. https://doi.org/10.1037/hum0000259

5Weaver, H. (2021). Bad dog: Pit bull politics and Multispecies justice. University of Washington Press.

6Reese, L. A. (2022). Animals in the city. Routledge.

Written by: Benjamin Moore

March 14, 2022