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Why Do Little Dogs Live Longer Than Big Dogs?

We hear all the time that people hesitate to get a large breed dog because their life spans are so short. After all, no one wants to lose their best friend after a short period of time!

To a certain extent, this is a reasonable and valid concern. However, you may be pleasantly surprised to find out that the short life span you’ve always heard about may not be as short as you think.

It Comes Down to Size

Most people who love large dog breeds know that they have shorter lifespans than their small breed counterparts. A lot of folks wonder why that is.

The bottom line is that it comes down to the size of the dog.

This seems a little counterintuitive. Typically, larger animals live longer than smaller animals, but within a species, smaller individuals have a longer life span on average. That’s why large breed dogs don’t live as long as small breed dogs.

Of course, this is an average. Sometimes a specific large breed dog will live longer than a specific small breed dog.

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine dogs that are bigger simply age faster. That’s the reason for the shorter lifespan.

“We conclude that large dogs die young mainly because they age quickly.”

High Growth Rate = More Diseases

In addition to aging quickly a comparative study published in 2007 also concluded that because breeding programs encouraged dogs to grow big quickly, they are more prone to developmental diseases.

You see this type of developmental disease in large breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia or cancer.

This seems dire, but it’s not all bad news.

The difference in lifespan for our small and large furry companions is probably smaller than you think. Also, you can influence the lifespan of your large breed dog.

The Real Difference in Lifespan

Many people believe that there is a big difference in lifespan between large breed dogs and small breed dogs. The general wisdom is that little dogs live 12 to 15 years and big dogs live 9 to 12 years.

But the difference in lifespan is much smaller than what most people think. Plus, some large breeds are simply healthier overall than others.

According to a study from the University of Washington, the difference in lifespan is only about a year and a half between large breeds and small breeds. The median lifespan by breed size is:

  • Small breeds = 14.95 years
  • Medium breeds = 13.96 years
  • Large breeds = 13.38 years

This means that if you love large breed dogs, they might not live as long on average as their small breed counterparts, but you will still get to enjoy their companionship for a long time.

Other Factors That Affect the Lifespan of Your Large Breed Dog

In addition to the size factor, there are other things than can influence the lifespan of your dog. From breeding, to dental care, to measuring your dog’s food intake, there are many ways that you can help your big dog live its longest possible life.

Good Breeding

Bad breeding can cause a lot of health problems, especially if the breeder is inbreeding their dogs.

If you have a mixed breed dog, you will likely avoid inbreeding problems. Some of the “doodle” breeds (e.g. Labradoodle, Goldendoodle) and other very popular mixed breeds can be the exception to this because of how aggressive the breeding programs can be. But overall, mixed breeds have higher levels of genetic diversity and as a result are generally healthier.

If you have a purebred dog, then you want to make sure there is a low inbreeding coefficient in your dog’s line in order to give them the best shot at a long lifecpan.

Teeth Cleaning

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Another factor that can affect the overall longevity of your dog is teeth cleaning.

Dr. Urfer, the researcher who discovered this, isn’t sure why dogs that have their teeth cleaned annually have a lower death risk by almost 20%, but they do.

It’s possible that dogs who get their teeth cleaned are in households with more resources and can get better medical care and higher quality food.

It’s also possible that, like humans, regular dental care helps to prevent the type of gum inflammation that can drive disease. It may be a combination of these factors.

Healthy Weight

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If you control your dog’s food intake and keep them at a healthy weight, they are more likely to have a longer lifespan than a dog that is overweight.

In a study from the University of Liverpool in the UK, they showed that being overweight can cause a dog to have additional health problems such as breathing issues, joint disease, and some kinds of cancer.

The key here is to be careful with “treats” and table scraps. They can add up fast and pile on the pounds for your dog.

Making sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise can also help them maintain a healthy weight.

Helping Your Large Breed Dog Live Longer

There are no guarantees on the lifespan of any animal, including dogs. However, there are things you can do to help your large breed dog live as long as possible.

Here are 7 things you can do to help your dog live as long as possible.

  1. Pay attention to them – Dogs are social animals and need lots of attention, love, and affection.
  2. Keep them out of the street – Keeping your dogs from running in front of cars can help them to live the longest life possible.
  3. Exercise – Dogs love to walk and exercise. Making sure your dog gets enough exercise can promote good health.
  4. Good diet – Like humans, dogs need a high-quality diet to thrive.
  5. Veterinary care – Taking your dog for regular vet checkups, including dental care can help to catch any problems before they become serious.
  6. Preventative care – Parasites like fleas, ticks, and heartworms can wreak havoc on your dog’s health. Using preventative measures to minimize these risks can extend your pet’s life.
  7. Keep them engaged – Working breeds get bored easily, but all dogs need to be engaged in their environment in order to be happy and keep their stress hormones low.
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