What Is the Leading Cause of Death in Dogs?

Picture of dog sitting by a man on a bench

It has been said that the only bad thing about our dogs is that they don’t live forever. Wiser words have never been spoken. Though advances in modern veterinary medicine and canine nutrition have assisted owners with seeing their dogs live into ripe old age, the unfortunate fact is that at some point our dogs will die.

Understanding the leading causes of death in dogs can help dog owners to identify the root factors behind these diseases and formulate a strategy to try to prevent them from happening. While we cannot turn back the clock on bad habits of the past, extra knowledge can help dog owners adopt precautionary measures to help preserve life expectancy and encourage excellent quality of life.

Does Breed Play a Role?

There are definitely some health conditions that seem to be more prevalent amongst certain breeds. However, conscientious breeders take care to understand their own breed’s genetic predispositions and to do appropriate health screening prior to using the dog in a breeding program. This ensures that if a potential breeding dog is a carrier of a specific disease-carrying gene that safety measures are put in place to prevent producing puppies affected by it. Alternatively, that dog could be eliminated from a future in breeding altogether. This approach to genetic disease has helped to keep problematic disease predispositions at bay.

However, it is a bit more complex when it comes to mixed breed dogs. Most often, mixed breed dogs are of unknown parentage, and little is known about what potential diseases or ailments remain buried within their DNA until they surface. But more than this, there is no database recording what mixed breeds die from. Because of this, it is difficult to track the leading causes of death or genetic disease predisposition of mixed breeds. Mixed breeds are not just the Heinz 57 of dog breeds; they are also a mixed bag of genes, meaning it is impossible to predict what illnesses may await them until they happen.

Of course, life expectancies vary from breed to breed and size to size. They do however form a fairly accurate indication of how many years a dog owner can expect to enjoy with their beloved dog, assuming an accident or one off illness does not interfere with their plans.

What Are the Most Common Diseases in Dogs?

Sadly, as our dogs age, their bodies begin to fail, leaving them prone to a variety of ailments and diseases. For some dogs, this process is gradual. Their eyesight may begin to dim, and their hearing becomes less acute. You may begin to see unsteadiness of gait, and arthritis starts to take its toll.  But other more serious problems also begin to arise in old age.

Research shows that approximately 80-90 percent of all senior dogs will suffer from arthritis to some degree.  Veterinarians also agree that dogs who do not receive a high quality diet are also at a significantly increased risk of developing health conditions that lead to death.

The website Pet Med Express states that the leading causes of death in dogs are:


Cancer scores the highest marks as the number one killer of senior dogs. Unfortunately, nothing is known about what causes cancer in our dogs nor is there any viable treatment to cure it.

Pet Meds Express reports that cancer claims the lives of 37.1 percent of all dogs.


Bloat, or a twisting of the intestines and stomach, is said to affect larger dogs more so than smaller breeds and is also more common in young dogs as opposed to seniors. Dogs suffering from bloat experience a rapid onset of symptoms, and immediate veterinary attention must be sought to properly realign the intestines then pin them back in place. This requires an extensive surgery and is often unsuccessful.

As with cancer, veterinarians have been unable to pinpoint precisely what causes bloat. However, there are precautionary measure that can be put in place to reduce the risk of developing this terribly painful and most often fatal condition.

Studies report that bloat assumes the second position when it comes to leading causes of death at 27.6 percent.

Old Age

While we would like to think that our dogs will pass peacefully in their sleep, this is rarely the case. Most often, our dogs’ bodies begin to shut down one organ at a time. It is heartbreaking for an owner to watch. Since quality of life is absolutely critical, owners must carefully consider their dog’s current state and decide for them when they are ready to pass from this life to the next. It is the hardest and most loving decision any dog owner ever has to make.

Kidney Failure

Over time and with age, our dogs’ bodies no longer function as effectively as they used to. In kidney disease, also known as renal failure, the decline can be gradual and is treatable in its early stages. Unfortunately, damage to the kidneys prior to diagnosis is irreversible; however, it is possible to maintain current kidney function through diet and medications for quite some time.

End stage kidney failure is cruel and incredibly painful. Most owners opt to euthanize their pets to prevent their suffering when it is apparent that the end is near.

Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is a condition that affects the endocrine system of a dog. When the adrenal gland function of a dog is compromised, it takes a powerful toll on your dog’s liver. Medications can help to regulate necessary endocrine function for a time.

Addison’s disease more commonly affects female dogs in the prime of life. Because of its symptoms could be confused for a number of different canine ailments, Addison’s disease often goes undiagnosed until other treatment options for symptoms have been exhausted and proven ineffective.

Heart Disease and Stroke

As with human beings, the hearts of our pets get old and tired and cease to function as well as they once did. Some dogs are born with defects of the heart that are often not discovered until the dog’s quality of life seems to be affected.


Seizures can be the result of many different potential health issues. They are frightening for both you and your dog, and are often indicative a very serious problem is at play… more


While obesity rarely claims the life of a pet, it certainly negatively impacts both quality and length of life. 1 lb of excess weight is akin to 15 lbs of pressure against their joints, leading to fatigue, strain, and even debilitation in our dogs. The wise dog owner ensures that their dog receives the correct amount of daily nutrition to maintain a healthy weight.

Sadly, Fido isn’t going to live forever. But knowing the leading causes of death can help you to formulate a plan to keep him healthy and strong and with excellent quality of life.  Nothing but the best for our most faithful friends!



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