The study of over 150 breeds and crossbreeds shows that size matters, as little dogs live longer—and so do those with a medium head shape rather than a flat face.
|The Lancashire Heeler is the longest-lived breed. Photo: hansbenn/Pixabay
By Zazie Todd PhD
We all wish our pet dogs would live longer. New research out of the UK finds that the average dog lives 12.5 years. Contrary to previous research, dogs in this dataset lived slightly longer if they are a pedigree dog, and less long if they are a mixed breed.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, looked at data from over half a million dogs, including over a quarter of a million who were deceased, to investigate the factors that are related to longevity.
The breeds with the shortest average lifespans are large breeds: the Caucasian Shepherd Dog, Presa Canario, Cane Corso, Mastiff, and St. Bernard.
However the top 10 for the shortest lifespan also included some smaller dogs with flat faces: the Bulldog and French Bulldog.
When dogs have flat faces (known as brachycephaly) there are a number of health conditions that often come along with that, including Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome when these dogs really struggle to breathe. This study found an interaction between face shape and the size of the breed, as flat-faced dogs who were medium or large had the shortest lifespans on average.
A long face (dolicocephalic) is associated with a slightly shorter lifespan compared to a medium (or mesocephalic) face.
The breed with the longest lifespan is the Lancashire Heeler. This breed is considered to be vulnerable and at risk of disappearing because of declining registrations, according to the UK Kennel Club. Only 149 Lancashire Heeler puppies were registered with the UK Kennel Club in 2022. However in 2024 the American Kennel Club recognized the Lancashire Heeler as a breed for the first time. Perhaps this data will increase the popularity of the breed.
Tibetan Spaniel, Shiba Inu, Papillon, Lakeland Terrier, Schipperke, Border Terrier, Italian Greyhound, and Miniature Dachshund also all had longer than average lives.
To make sure there was enough data for each breed, the scientists only included breeds where at least 20 of the dogs were still alive in the dataset, and at least 20 deceased. The size of this dataset gives weight to the findings compared to earlier research with fewer dogs.
Half of the purebred dogs belonged to just 12 breed groups, with Labrador Retriever, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, English Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, and Jack Russell Terrier being the most common breeds.
As well as body size and headshape, the scientists also looked at the effects on lifespan of phylogeny, or how the breeds had developed and evolved over the years. Although dogs have a very long history with humans, going back maybe 16,000 years or more, most breeds are very recent, having developed in Victorian times. The researchers found that when breeds were closely related to each other, they also tended to have similar lifespans. It’s the first time this has been investigated.
As in previous research, female dogs live slightly longer than male dogs. Whether the dog was spayed or neutered was not included as a variable in this study.
The data came from a wide range of sources, including veterinary clinics, dog charities, and insurance companies. This helps to avoid some of the biases that might be present with only one kind of data. For example, dedicated pet guardians are more likely to buy pet insurance and perhaps more likely to get veterinary care for their pet right away, so data from an insurance company would reflect this kind of guardian and their dog.
The data does not include information on the causes of death so it’s not known whether they are due to health or behaviour issues.
For crossbreeds, the researchers didn’t have information on the breeds involved. It’s likely that some of these are so-called designer dogs like Labradoodles or Cavapoos, rather than mixes of many breeds. This might explain why in this study mixed breed dogs had slightly shorter lifespan on average.
Previous research has found that keeping your dog at a healthy weight and getting dental cleanings is associated with a longer lifespan.
I spoke to CBC Radio’s The Early Edition about this research on the lifespan of dogs. You can listen here.
Overall, this study is a reminder to make the most of every moment with your dog.
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