Many people say that the only bad thing about dogs is that they don’t live as long as we do. This can be especially true with some breeds that are known for having shorter lifespans. In many cases, giant breeds have shorter lifespans than small dogs, though there are exceptions. Dog breed registries, pet insurers, and other researchers are good sources for this information. You can see the 10 breeds we identified as having the shortest lifespans below.
(If you’re curious, you can find figures for the UK in this article)
The lifespans given here are only breed averages. If you have one of these breeds it doesn’t mean that your dog will necessarily have a short life. A good diet, regular exercise, and proper veterinary care can do wonders to help your dog live a full, healthy life. In some cases a dog may have a shorter lifespan because of genetic health problems in the breed so it’s a good idea to talk to breeders before you get your dog. Make sure the breeder does all of the recommended health testing for the breed. Not every dog in a breed with have these health problems. Cancer is the number one killer of larger dogs but no one knows why bigger dogs are more prone to developing cancer than smaller dogs.
The average lifespan for dogs in general is 12.8 years in both the U.S. and Europe. Female dogs typically live a year or two longer than males. Again, these are only averages.
The Scottish Deerhound
The Deerhound is known as the Royal Dog of Scotland because of its ancient association with the Scottish aristocracy. At one time you had to be at least an earl to own one in Scotland. Their numbers have always been rather low and they remain relatively rare today. Deerhounds have a strong prey drive, as you would expect in a hound able to chase down large deer in Scotland. Puppies have lots of energy and it takes several years for these dogs to reach maturity. However, after they become fully grown, around 3 to 5 years of age, they slow down considerably and enjoy gracing your couch.
The Rottweiler is one of the most popular and well-known breeds today but they are large dogs and they can be subject to some health problems such as bloat. At least one pet insurance company reports that Rotties are the most expensive dog to own based on their health issues. The American Rottweiler Club and others are working on research to identify long-lived Rottweilers to try to help the breed live longer.
Saint Bernards are another very large breed. Developed in Switzerland by monks, Saint Bernards can weigh up to 180 pounds, or more. They have a well-earned reputation for rescuing humans who became lost in the Alps. Gentle giants, Saint Bernards are known for being calm, patient, and sweet dogs despite their large size. Like some other giant breeds, such as the Newfoundland, they are sometimes recommended as a good dog for children with autism.
Newfoundlands were developed in Canada in the 19th century. They are likely a cross between Portuguese dogs used by fishermen of the time, St. John’s Dogs, and some large shepherd dogs such as the Great Pyrenees. Another giant breed, the Newfoundland is known for being gentle but they are also very strong dogs. In times past these dogs could haul in fishing nets loaded with fish. They are also famous for water rescue work. They have a natural love of water.
The Bullmastiff may look menacing but they are not usually very high energy dogs. They were often a gamekeeper’s best friend in 19th century England, used to guard estates and scare off potential poachers. The Bullmastiff is related to the Mastiff but not as large. They can still weigh up to about 130 pounds so they command respect. Strong, powerful, and quick, the Bullmastiff makes a good guard dog.
The elegant Great Dane is another giant breed. Today these dogs may hang out in the home but they were originally bred to hunt wild boar and other large game. They have playful, sweet, loyal temperaments but they can be prone to bloat and some musculo-skeletal problems.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
The large Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is one of the Sennenhund or Swiss mountain dogs of the Alps. These dogs are descended from molosser or mastiff-type dogs probably brought to the area by the Romans about 2000 years ago. Over the centuries they were bred with local farm dogs and became outstanding shepherd/mountain dogs used for herding and guarding flocks and doing general farm work. All of the breeds have a tri-color coat though some have longer hair and there are other breed differences.
The Mastiff is one of the root breeds for all dogs, especially for the molosser-type breeds. Often weighing over 200 pounds, the Mastiff is big and usually looks scary. He has often been used as a guardian, and sometimes as a war dog. Unfortunately, his very large size may contribute to his shorter lifespan.
A close relative of the Scottish Deerhound, the Irish Wolfhound is the tallest breed in the world. Gentle, sweet, and fun-loving, the Wolfhound is an ancient breed, present in Ireland for several thousand years. At one time they were used in war but they were primarily used by the Celts and others to hunt wolves and other large animals. By the 19th century the breed was virtually extinct and it took an enormous effort from breeders, along with a little outcrossing, to revive the breed. Today the breed’s lifespan is very short with bone cancer being the top killer.
Bernese Mountain Dog
The Bernese Mountain Dog is another Sennenhound or Alpine farm dog similar to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. Intelligent, affectionate, eager to please, with a wonderful temperament, people often fall in love with the Berner. This is a large, versatile breed with a long coat. Based on surveys, nearly half the Bernese Mountain Dogs in the U.S., Canada, and the UK die from cancer. This is compared to about 27 percent of dogs dying from cancer in the general canine population. Other health problems can also occur in the breed.
There is research underway to study health problems in all dogs, including the breeds mentioned here. The Morris Animal Foundation, the AKC Canine Health Foundation http://akcchf.org/, universities, and other groups award grants to researchers to study canine health so dogs can live longer.