Canine Longevity: What Determines How Long a Dog Will Live?

Canine Longevity: What Determines How Long a Dog Will Live?

Three dogs who lived to be 29 years old are ranked as the oldest dogs in the world.

Max, a Beagle/Dachshund/Terrier mix who was born on August 9, 1983, lived to be 29 years and 282 days old. Bella, a Labrador Retriever mix, was reported to be 29 years old as well, but there's some who dispute her title as the second oldest dog. She was adopted from a shelter at the reported age of three years old. Her age at 29 might be plus or minus a few weeks or months, but even with the dispute, Bella lived a long life. Bluey, an Australian Cattle Dog, holds the number three spot as the world's oldest dog. He was owned by Les Hall of Victoria, Australia, who got Bluey as a puppy in 1910. Bluey was a working ranch dog for nearly twenty years before retiring. He was euthanized on November 14, 1939, at the age of 29 years and 5 months. That's a long, productive life. Most of my dogs, Australian Shepherds, have lived to thirteen and 14 years of age, which is fairly typical and a good age for the breed. My oldest dog now, Bashir, is 11 and a half, and I'm hoping he might live a few years longer than his father who lived to be 16 and was healthy and happy up to the end. Genetics, however, is only one factor in whether a dog will live a long time; many different factors are involved.

Breed and Size Do Matter

As a general rule, smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger dogs. Some small breeds—including Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers, Manchester Terriers, and Rat Terriers—often live to be 15, 16 and even up to 20 years old. Medium sized breeds such as my Australian Shepherds, usually live to be 12 to 15 years of age. Other breeds in this size group with similar lifespans include Border Collies, English Springer Spaniels, and Brittanies. Some slightly larger breeds live to be 10 to 13 years old, on average, and include Airedale Terriers, Alaskan Malamutes, Beaucerons, and Doberman Pinschers. The larger breeds and those considered to be giant breeds rarely live as long as their smaller canine cousins. Bullmastiffs, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Neopolitan Mastiffs, and Scottish Deerhounds generally live 8 years and sometimes to 10. The Dogue de Bordeaux, Irish Wolfhound and a few other giant breeds average 7 years. There are always some exceptions, of course. Bella, as mentioned above, was a Labrador Retriever mix and lived to be 29 years old. That is far past the average lifespan of any Labrador, which is generally 10 to 12 years old.

Purebred or Mixed Breed

The common belief that mixed breed dogs are healthier than purebreds and therefore will live longer too is a hotly debated subject among those who work with or love dogs. Unfortunately, much of the information shared is anecdotal and passionate rather than scientific. However, companies who provide pet health insurance have in the last several years begun tallying statistics as to longevity, health and breeds (or mixes) and in the future, we might see more information from those sources. Perhaps, too, someday, there will be enough finances available so that a scientific study can be funded so that the lives of large numbers of dogs, both purebreds of various breeds and mixes, and not just dogs who are covered by pet health insurance but dogs from all walks of life, can be examined. Until that happens, all we know is some purebreds are healthier and live longer than others, and the same holds true for mixed breed dogs.

Nutrition and Obesity

Good food is necessary for good health and good health leads to a longer life. Bluey, who lived in the early 1900s on a ranch in Australia, didn't eat any of the commercial pet foods available today but obviously, his nutritional needs were well met. He probably ate what his owner ate. My grandfather, who was a lifetime dog owner and worked a farm in the midwest, said his dogs ate what he ate every day of their lives and most of them (who were setters and spaniels) lived to be 13 to 15 years old. Today, a variety of commercial dog foods are available. My dogs today, as well as my last several dogs, all eat The Honest Kitchen foods and they thrive on it. What is important when choosing food for your dog is the quality of the ingredients, the right ingredients, and whether the recipe provides complete and balanced nutrition for your dog. The amount of food fed to your dog is also important. Just as obesity rates for people have been rising, so too, have obesity rates in dogs. Veterinarians have stated that in some practices, from 30 to 50 percent of the dogs seen in the clinics are obese. Dogs who are obese are at higher risk of many health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, joint problems, and other issues all of which lead to a shorter lifespan.

Exercise and Play

Dogs who keep moving, who play with their owners often, and who get regular exercise, tend to be healthier than dogs who are sedentary. There is no set amount of exercise needed, although most veterinarians recommend daily exercise, as each dog is different. My 3-year-old English Shepherd, Bones, gets 3 to 4 hours of running, playing and training four days a week. Two days a week he gets long, steady walks. One day each week is a rest day so his body can recuperate. Bones are strong, fast, fit, and healthy. Although this schedule is great for him, it's not right for every dog. Provide your dog with enough exercise so that his muscles are strong and his body is fit. If you have any questions as to what is appropriate for your dog, talk to your veterinarian. If you're just beginning an exercise routine for your dog, start slowly. Sore muscles are no fun. Play can be exercise but it's also relationship building for you and your dog. Play is fun, makes you laugh and when you laugh, your dog is happy too. Play also relieves stress and is important for good physical and mental health.

Regular Health Care

Regular health care is just as important for your dog as it is for you. Health care includes brushing and grooming your dog, checking for fleas and ticks, removing burrs and foxtails, trimming toenails, cleaning the teeth and all of the other things that your dog needs to remain healthy. Ideally, you should run your hands over your dog from nose to the tip of the tail at least once per day. By doing so, you will learn what your dog feels like; your hands will become accustomed to the normal feel of him. Then, if you feel a lump, bump, scab or anything else that isn't normal, you can check it out. Although your sense of touch is important in caring for your dog, use some of your other senses too. I also sniff each dog's ear regularly because by knowing what the normal ear smells like, I can catch a budding ear infection before it grows into something larger. I also watch each dog, looking for an uneven gait when walking or running. And I listen for a whimper or cry that might signal an injury. By paying attention, I hope to catch any problem early so that my dog can be taken care of before the problem escalates into something worse. Annual examinations at the clinic can also help your dog remain healthy and live longer, especially as he grows older. What happens during that annual exam depends on your dog and your veterinarian but may include a physical exam, vaccinations and perhaps blood work to check your dog's overall health.

Luck Plays a Part, Too

Many well-loved dogs who come from responsible breeders are fed great foods, get the best veterinary care, are exercised routinely and played with often, do not, unfortunately, live long lives. Some dogs get injured or sick, and cancer strikes far too often. Thankfully, though, many dogs (and their owners) do get lucky and a well loved dog will live a long time, growing old, healthy and happy.
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