How Long Do Pet Dogs Live?

The average lifespan of American pet dogs, and the effects of spay/neuter surgery, breed, and size, according to research.

How long do pet dogs live? Photo shows a happy senior dog
Photo: InBetweentheBlinks/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

All dog guardians can agree on one thing: dogs don’t live long enough. But how long does the average dog live? New research by Dr. Silvan Urfer and colleagues at the Dog Aging Project (University of Washington) and published in Canine Medicine and Genetics looks at the lifespan of pet dogs in the US. The dog aging project is investigating factors that contribute to longevity and health in pet dogs - something we would all like to know more about.

Three private veterinary hospitals took part in the study, including one large urban clinic, a mid-size surburban one, and a small rural clinic. Data was obtained for every dog that visited one of the hospitals at least once in the space of a year, which was almost 21,000 dogs. Of those dogs, 1535 died during the course of the year (7.3%) and were included in the lifespan study.

The average lifespan was calculated as the median survival time (the median is the mid-point or middle value). Overall, the median survival time was 15.4 years – meaning that the average pet dog lives for just over 15 years. For female dogs, it was 15.6, and for male dogs, 15.2.

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Lifespan and breed of dog

The median survival time was calculated for the 10 breeds that were most common in the dataset.
Of these breeds, the longest lived was the Yorkshire Terrier, with an average lifespan of 18, the Shih Tzu, with a lifespan of 16.5, the Dachshund with an average lifespan of 16.3, the Beagle with a lifespan of 16.1, and the Chihuahua, with a lifespan of 16.

The Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever were the most common dogs in the dataset and have an average lifespan of 14.3 and 14 respectively.

The Greyhound had an average lifespan of 14.3, the German Shepherd 13.4, and Boxers 13.2 years.
Around 62% of the dogs in the study were purebred. Analysis of AKC and ancestral breed groups shows that purebred dogs from the Mountain ancestral group do not live as long. Of course this kind of breed tends to be larger (see the next section), but this effect was still found even once the size of the dog was taken into account. The reason these breeds have a shorter average lifespan is not known and could reflect genetics and/or husbandry. More research is needed to understand this.

A graph of a survival curve for dogs, showing how long pet dogs live
The Kaplan-Meier survival curve for all pet dogs shows that a few live a very long time. Reproduced from the paper under Creative Commons license.

Lifespan and the size of a dog

Not surprisingly, the results showed that smaller dogs tend to live for longer than large dogs. The scientists grouped the dogs into four classes according to their weight when they were 18 months old: small, medium, large, and giant. Small dogs lived on average for 16.2 years, medium-sized dogs for 15.9 years, large dogs 14.3 years, and giant dogs only until 12 years old. This is consistent with other research which shows smaller dogs live longer lives.

Do spayed/neutered dogs live longer?

The results showed that spayed female dogs lived longer than intact females, and neutered male dogs lived longer than intact males. Both of these results still held when the size of dog and the clinic they attended were taken into account.

Dogs that are spayed/neutered have to have survived to an age where the surgery can take place. When the scientists only looked at dogs that were 5 years or older, spayed females still lived longer than intact females, and this effect was also still there when looking at dogs that were at least 8 years old. But looking at male dogs that were 5 years or older, there was no advantage to neutering once weight and the clinic they attended were also taken into account.

The scientists write,
“Our findings confirm that lifespan inversely correlates with body size in dogs and identify differential associations with lifespan between male and female gonadectomy. Specifically, our results suggest that while gonadectomy is associated with increased lifespan in both males and females, we find a significantly greater effect in females.”
It has to remembered that all of the results from this paper are correlational and do not prove causation. The decision of whether and at what age to spay or neuter a dog is a complicated one given the health risks and benefits. Another recent paper has some guidelines to help with deciding about the best age to neuter 35 different breeds.

Do purebred dogs live longer?

In this study, purebred dogs did not live significantly longer than mixed breed dogs or crosses of two purebreds (called F1 hybrids in the paper). However, the results do show that breeds with low levels of inbreeding tend to live for longer, as well as breeds with larger populations. This is likely due to greater genetic diversity in those breeds.

Causes of death of pet dogs

The scientists looked at cause of death in terms of both the organ system affected and the disease process. Disorders of the nervous system were the most common cause when looking at the organ system. Tumours (neoplasia) were the most common cause of death when considering the disease process.

Summary

According to this study, the average lifespan of a pet dog in America is 15.4 years. This is longer than found in some other studies, including another study by the same lead author which put the average dog’s lifespan at just over 14 years. The difference is probably because of differences in research methods. While the scientists say the methods they used in this study are likely more accurate, they are not necessarily representative of American pet dogs as a whole. The paper is open access (link below) so if you want to read more about the methods, you can.

You might also like: overweight dogs don’t live as long and the lifespan and health conditions of French Bulldogs and Labrador Retrievers.

As well, if you would like to nominate your dog to take part on research on aging as part of the dog aging project, you can do so here.



Zazie Todd, PhD, is the best-selling author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

Useful links:
Reference
Urfer, S. R., Kaeberlein, M., Promislow, D. E., & Creevy, K. E. (2020). Lifespan of companion dogs seen in three independent primary care veterinary clinics in the United States. Canine Medicine and Genetics, 7(1), 1-14. https://cgejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40575-020-00086-8

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Comments

  1. These figures are quite different to other studies I've seen which generally put the median longevity at 10.5 years across all breeds. The weighting of dogs selected vs their representation in the actual population will have a lot to do with this.

    For readers: the dog aging project only accepts those living in the US - which they don't tell you until you've gone through several screens of them collecting information about you (naughty!)

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  2. I'm glad there's some science to back this up! I'm so used to hearing about how dogs don't make it over the age of ten that my dog making it to the upper-end of 14 is quite a shock.

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