How can your dog do better than the average lifespan? Of course, avoiding risks & good veterinary care have a lot to do with it. But there’s also a lot you can do to improve their chances.
I’ll talk both about the evidence, and then my personal impressions.
1. Evidence For Lifespan Extension In Dogs
Here’s what the science says we should do to give our dogs longer lives.
Study after study shows that as dogs gain weight, their expected lifespan reduces. The closer you can keep your dog to his or her ideal weight, the slower they seem to age. For example, Kealy et al (2002) put 48 Labradors into two groups and fed 25% less food to one group than the other.
The diet-restricted group lived on average 1.8 years longer. The causes of death were not different between the two groups, just that the onset of disease was later in life in the dogs with normal body weight.
Desex or Neuter
Female dogs live on average one year two months longer if desexed (Michell, 1999) and desexed males also live longer if not overweight (Kraft 1998; Greer et al. 2007). Read more in The science behind desexing male dogs.
Very few studies have tried to look at this, but one that did found that Scottish Terriers had a lower risk of bladder cancer (common in the breed) if they had at least three serves of vegetables per week (Raghavan et al, 2005). These findings, are likely to be valid for other cancers as well. That’s why our feeding guide for dogs includes a recommendation to include some raw fruit or vegetable every day.
Feed A Balanced Diet
Feeding home made diets and giving a high red meat intake have been linked with an increased risk of mammary tumours and dysplasias (Alenza et al, 1998). This isn’t necessarily a criticism of home-made diets; in this study the home made diets were suspected to be poorly designed and included table scraps and treats. Read how to make home made diets better for dogs here.
Home made diets can be a healthy choice for dogs but they sometimes have very high levels of meat and fat. If you want to make food for your healthy non-breeding adult dog at home, there is a simple homemade dog food recipe on this page.
However, there is still the chance of a nutritional deficiency or excess. Good quality commercial diets almost eliminate the risk, which is why vets recommend them.
Know Your Breed
If you are still choosing a dog, have a look at our list of published lifespans for different dog breeds. While the numbers may be a little low, the comparison between breeds is valid.
If (like most of us) you already have your breed chosen, check out the list of genetic diseases of your dog’s breed. In many cases you’ll be able to take preventative action or be alert to the early signs.
This is an odd one. There is evidence to suggest that the stress of living with a fear or anxiety disorder can have negative effects on health and lifespan in the domestic dog. In Dreschel (2010), fear of strangers was found to be related to a significantly shortened lifespan. King et al (2016) found that anxiety was associated with premature greying.
It’s also a major quality-of-life issue. Anxiety prevention can be easy. Anxiety management is hard but very achievable if you work closely with a vet and an accredited behaviourist.
Leash & Fence Well
We all love our dogs to run free, and thanks to enclosed dog parks like those in this list, now we can do it safely.
One of the biggest shifts in the daily vet workload over the past 40 years has been the dramatic reduction in fracture repairs. From often one a day, we are down to doing three or four a year. Nearly every one has been hit by a car. Many others do not survive the impact.
Why has this changed? Fewer stray dogs, better dog training, widespread use of leashes but especially, better fencing.
We still have a long way to go. In Sweden (a country much like us for dog care) car accidents are still the most common single cause of death up to 10 years of age (Bonnett et al, 2005). For a local perspective, read the posts on Lost Dogs Of Adelaide.
2. What May Also Increase Dog Lifespans
These extra ideas are just my unfounded observations, but a lot of vets will strongly agree.
It’s logical that daily exercise should improve lifespan. Just very hard to test. Read our three vets’ thoughts on exercising dogs.
When you see the infected gums of many old sick dogs, you can’t help feeling they must make a difference. Here’s how to prevent dental disease in dogs.
Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits. I give dogs fish oil every day at a dose of one gram per 5-10kg as long as their gut tolerates it. It doesn’t have to be a medicine.
I’d love to hear your questions or thoughts as well. Studies on dog longevity are very hard to do well and not common, so there’s no doubt a lot more knowledge to come.
Alenza, D. P., Rutteman, G. R., Peña, L., Beynen, A. C., & Cuesta, P. (1998). Relation between Habitual Diet and Canine Mammary Tumors in a Case‐Control Study. Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 12(3), 132-139.
Bonnett, B. N., Egenvall, A., Hedhammar, Å., & Olson, P. (2005). Mortality in over 350,000 insured Swedish dogs from 1995–2000: I. Breed-, gender-, age-and cause-specific rates. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 46(3), 1.
Dreschel, N. A. (2010). The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 125(3), 157-162.
Greer, K. A., Canterberry, S. C., & Murphy, K. E. (2007). Statistical analysis regarding the effects of height and weight on life span of the domestic dog. Research in veterinary science, 82(2), 208-214.
Kealy, R. D., Lawler, D. F., Ballam, J. M., Mantz, S. L., Biery, D. N., Greeley, E. H., … & Stowe, H. D. (2002). Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 220(9), 1315-1320.
King, C., Smith, T. J., Grandin, T. & Borchelt, P. (2016). Anxiety and impulsivity: Factors associated with premature graying in young dogs. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci.
Kraft, W. (1998). Geriatrics in canine and feline internal medicine. European Journal of Medical Research, 3(1-2), 31-41.
Michell, A. R. Longevity of British breeds of dog and its relationships with sex, size, cardiovascular variables and disease. The Veterinary Record 145.22 (1999): 625-629.
Raghavan, M., Knapp, D. W., Bonney, P. L., Dawson, M. H., & Glickman, L. T. (2005). Evaluation of the effect of dietary vegetable consumption on reducing risk of transitional cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder in Scottish Terriers. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 227(1), 94-100.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
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