What to Know About Beagles

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on May 19, 2022
7 min read

Anyone who ever read the Peanuts comic strips and loved Snoopy probably has a soft spot for beagles. These cheerful-looking dogs, with their floppy ears and wagging tails, are popular house pets. In 2022, they ranked 7th on the American Kennel Club's list of the top 10 most popular breeds.

With their low-maintenance coats and small size, the appeal of beagles is easy to understand. It's also important to understand, though, that beagles are energetic dogs. They need a lot of exercise and a lot of socialization. Without proper attention, they can get restless and destructive.

Learn more about beagles and decide if these adorable dogs are the right pet for your family. 

Beagles are scent-hounds, which means they are dogs that use their noses to track prey. People have used them as hunting dogs for centuries. They are loyal and trainable, which also makes them excellent pets. 

Physical Characteristics

There are two types of beagles. Show-eligible small beagles are under 13 inches at the shoulder. Large beagles who are also show-eligible are above 13 inches but not larger than 15 inches at the shoulder. Of course, beagles can be both larger and smaller than that, though, and many pet beagles are a bit shorter or taller than the ideal size.

Beagles usually have a pattern of white, tan, brown, and black fur. Some have a ticking pattern or freckles as well as large patches of single colors. They have a short, smooth coat that stays tidy without much grooming. Their fur grows in two layers, and they shed all year long. Their shedding increases in the spring when they lose their winter coat.

Like other scent hounds, beagles have medium-sized snouts and long floppy ears. The ears dangle near the end of a beagle's nose when they lower their head to the ground. That helps draw scents to the dog's nose so they can get a good whiff of whatever they're sniffing.

Beagles are very cute dogs, which is one of the factors in their popularity. They have large, expressive eyes and furrowed brows. Their appealing looks and size make them difficult to resist.

Personality Characteristics

The beagle's personality is generally friendly and good-natured. They are pack hounds and do well with other dogs. They like people and tend to be very good with children as well.

Because beagles were bred to go on long hunting trips, they have a lot of energy. They need plenty of exercise every day. They are very playful and enjoy being outdoors.

Beagles aren't aggressively protective, but they will raise the alarm if someone approaches their home. Their signature howling bark is very loud, which is something you should consider before getting a beagle. They are noisy and might disturb neighbors or wake up napping children.

All dogs require basic care, including feeding, exercise, grooming, and medical care. Beagles in particular are generally hardy dogs that thrive with plenty of activity and attention. They can live in a house or apartment, though, as long as they get enough exercise. 

Coat care: Beagles don't need extensive grooming. Occasional brushing and baths are enough to keep them clean. You should clip their nails regularly or have a groomer do it.

Feeding: Most beagles do well on high-quality dog food. Pick a formula appropriate to the age of your beagle. You can ask your vet what they recommend for optimal nutrition.

Exercise requirements: Beagles need a lot of exercise, at least an hour a day when they're young. If they don't get enough activity, they get restless and dig or destroy objects. They may also bark a lot if they're bored or lonely.

Flea, tick, and worm care: Like all dogs, beagles are susceptible to fleas, ticks, and other parasites. Your vet can prescribe a heartworm preventative for your dog. Ask your vet about flea and tick prevention that's appropriate to your region.

Tooth care and nail care: All dogs should get routine dental cleanings. This prevents gum disease. You can brush your dog's teeth at home, as well. Keep an eye on your dog's nails and trim them so they don't grow too long. A groomer can help with that task.

Boundaries: Beagles need to be confined so that they don't roam. They will follow interesting scents and wander far from home if they are unsupervised and loose outdoors. If your yard has adequate fencing, you can let beagles out in the yard for short periods. They can dig under some fences, though, so installing a fence that extends below the ground is a must for beagle owners.

Vet visits: Beagle care should include annual vet exams. These are an opportunity for your vet to look for any health issues developing. If they find a problem, you can plan a course of preventive treatment.

Like many purebred dogs, beagles can be prone to some health conditions, but they are generally healthy dogs. Regular vet care can help detect health problems so you can treat them right away. The life expectancy of beagles is 12 to 15 years.

Orthopedic Problems:

  • Steroid Responsive Meningitis (SRM): Sometimes called "beagle pain syndrome," this condition is a combination of meningitis and polyarteritis. It causes painful inflammation in a dog's body, often in their neck and back. It's most common in dogs under a year old. You might notice stiffness, weakness, a hunched posture, and behavior changes. Your vet can prescribe steroids to treat the condition.
  • Patella luxation. Some beagles are susceptible to a condition where their knee caps can become dislocated. This can affect their ability to walk. Your vet might recommend surgery to correct the issue and prevent permanent joint damage.
  • Hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition where your pet’s hip joint develops improperly. Over time, this can cause mobility issues. Your veterinarian may recommend limited exercise, joint supplements, anti-inflammatory medications, and weight control early in the course of treatment for hip dysplasia.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Some beagles develop irritable bowel syndrome. You might notice that your dog has symptoms such as gas and chronic diarrhea. If so, your vet can prescribe special food to minimize symptoms. Stress can make the condition worse, so keeping your dog relaxed will help them feel better.

Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism causes your dog's thyroid gland to function less efficiently. Older dogs are more likely to have this condition than younger dogs. You may notice fur loss, weight gain, or a lack of energy. Your vet will conduct blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. They can prescribe synthetic thyroid hormones to return their levels to normal.

Seizures: Beagles are prone to seizures, though the cause isn't always clear. Epilepsy is the most common reason for seizures. Some dogs have idiopathic seizures, meaning there is no diagnosable reason for them. They usually begin when a beagle is about two years old. There are medications to treat epilepsy, though, and some dogs have fewer seizures after they switch to hypoallergenic dog food. Researchers are exploring other diet therapies that may help dogs in the future.

Allergies: Beagles can be susceptible to allergies. They may have dry skin, hair loss, or excessive scratching or chewing of itchy skin. The beagle may cough, sneeze or become short of breath. You may notice eye redness or discharge. Some beagles have stomach problems as a result of allergies. Your vet can tell you how to get your pet tested for allergies so you can treat the condition.

Eye and ear problems: Some beagles develop eye problems, especially as they get older. They can get cataracts, dry eye, or a condition called "cherry eye" that causes their third eyelid to prolapse. Vets can treat cherry eye or cataracts with surgery, which may be complicated. Eye drops, meanwhile, will ease the symptoms of dry eye. Some beagles are prone to ear infections. Symptoms include pawing at the ear or shaking their heads. They may have discharge from the ear as well. Your vet can prescribe appropriate medicine for ear infections. Keeping a beagle’s ears clean and dry may help prevent infections.

Beagles are naturally inclined to hunt in packs, and they thrive in group environments, including in families with children. They like living with other dogs, and they can get along with cats if you introduce them properly. Be careful if you have small pets like hamsters or guinea pigs, though. Beagles have strong hunting instincts and might harm smaller animals.

Beagles are scent hounds. Their sensitive noses made them ideal hunting dogs because they could track prey. Tracking a tantalizing scent can become an irresistible temptation. A beagle who latches onto a smell might leave their yard and keep following their noses until they're far from home. Beagle owners, therefore, need to be careful to keep their pets safely confined to their house or yard.

The exact origin of beagles is unclear. They may be the descendants of small hounds that hunters used in England before the Roman invasion in 55 BC. There are records of hunters in England using packs of hounds to track prey, though those dogs were smaller than modern beagles.

Over time, beagles grew in popularity because they were useful for people who hunted on foot. Other hunting hounds were fast-moving dogs meant to accompany hunters mounted on horses. The smaller beagle could accompany hunters who didn't hunt on horse.

Beagles lived all over Europe and the British Isles. Their name might come from the Gaelic word "beag," which means little. Another theory is that the word beagle comes from the French term for the sound beagles make while hunting: be'geule.

Beagles came to America after the Civil War. They were valued as rabbit hunters, but their appealing good looks made them popular as companions. People today still use them for hunting, but they are also frequently family pets.

If you are thinking of adding a beagle to your family, talk to your vet about how to best prepare for your new pet.