The joy of dog ownership is always tempered by one thing — our beloved pets don’t live as long as we do.
But finding dogs with the longest life expectancy isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“All dog breeds are the same species, yet they age at very different rates,” says David Waters, DVM, PhD, professor and associate director of the Purdue University Center on Aging. “We still don’t understand why.”
The rare Mexican breed, the Xoloitzcuintle, has a life span of 15 to 20 years, for example, while the Irish Wolfhound has an estimated 6- to 8-year life expectancy.
There is one concrete piece of advice experts can give people looking for a dog breed with a long life span: think small.
Nearly 40% of small breed dogs live longer than 10 years, but only 13% of giant breed dogs live that long. The average 50-pound dog will live 10 to 12 years. But giant breeds such as great Danes or deerhounds are elderly at 6 to 8 years.
“It’s the weight, not the height, that matters,” Greer says. “Some dogs are short, like the English bulldog, but can still weigh 60 or 70 pounds. They wouldn’t be considered small breed dogs.”
Mark Stickney, DVM, director of General Surgery Services at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, says although it’s not unusual to see a 17-year-old miniature poodle, a 12-year-old Labrador retriever is considered old, and any dog in the giant breeds — dogs weighing more than 100 pounds — is considered geriatric at 6 to 7 years.
“Generally speaking, the larger your dog is, the less time it will live,” Stickney says.
Male vs. Female
Steven N. Austad, PhD, a professor and researcher on aging at the department of cellular and structural biology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, says that, besides looking at small dogs, people looking for the longest-lived dogs also should look at mixed breed dogs and females.
“Female dogs tend to live a bit longer, although it’s not as pronounced as it is with humans,” Austad says.
Health Issues in Purebreds
Many purebred dogs come with a laundry list of health issues that can cut into their life spans. Some issues are specific to just one breed, while others can be a problem in many breeds.
“Mutts haven’t gone through the inbreeding,” Austad says, “so they should live longer, or at least be healthier than purebred dogs.”
Cancer is very common in dogs, and some breeds, such as boxers, golden retrievers, and Rottweilers, have unusually high rates of cancer. It’s been estimated that as many as a third of all Bernese mountain dogs die of cancer.
Cancer is the most common cause of death in older dogs, and nearly 42% of dogs die of some form of cancer. When considering a purebred dog, experts say, it’s a good idea to see what kinds of illnesses run in the breed. Many larger-breed dogs, such as Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and Dobermans, can suffer from hip dysplasia, which can make a dog so lame it has to be put down.
Flat-faced dogs such as Pugs and Shih Tzus, known as brachycephalic dogs, are prone to breathing issues that can cause overheating and even death. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are prone to a heart condition called mitral valve disease, and Cocker Spaniels are susceptible to recurrent ear and eye infections.
Other common medical problems that crop up as dogs age include kidney and heart disease as well as various structural issues, including bone and muscle ailments.
Pet owners looking for dog breeds with long life spans should find a small breed dog they like, research the breed’s health issues, and then find a good breeder who doesn’t have those problems in their bloodline, Stickney advises.
But getting good stock is only part of the battle.
“Owners can play a big part in increasing their pet’s life span,” Stickney says. “Good nutrition, proper exercise, not letting pets become obese, and good care, including regular veterinary care, will help pets live healthier, longer lives.”
Dog Life Span: How Popular Breeds Stack Up
Here is a list of the American Kennel Club’s 20 most popular dog breeds from 2008 and their average life span, according to The World Atlas of Dog Breeds.
Labrador retriever — 10 to 14 years
Yorkshire terrier — 12 to 15 years
German Shepherd — 10 to 14 years
Golden retriever — 10 to 12 years
Beagles — 12 to 14 years
Boxers — 11 to 14 years
Dachshunds — 12 to 14 years
Bulldogs — 10 to 12 years
Poodles — 10 to 15 years
Shih Tzu — 11 to 15 years
Miniature Schnauzers — 15 years or more
Chihuahuas — 15 years or more
Pomeranians — 13 to 15 years
Rottweilers — 10 to 12 years
Pugs — 12 to 15 years
German shorthaired pointers — 12 to 15 years
Boston terriers — about 15 years
Doberman Pinschers — 10 to 12 years
Shetland Sheepdogs — 12 to 14 years
Maltese — 15 years or more