How Long Do Dogs Really Live?

by Courtney Sexton

How long do dogs really live? The short answer is,  not long enough. Dogs are the source of immeasurable joy and happiness, and have much to teach us about living and loving. 

That’s why even after the devastation that comes with their passing, we open ourselves up to that unique love again. 

It’s also why researchers are hard at work trying to learn more about how we can extend our dogs’ healthspans, and improve their quality of life over different stages. 

Size, weight, and genetics can influence lifespan 

We know that risk factors like obesity, certain breed-related conditions, and body shape and size can influence how long individual dogs live

In terms of size, for example, dogs are somewhat of a scientific conundrum. In most mammals, the larger the animal, the longer they live. And yet smaller dogs typically live longer than their larger breed cousins. 

Skull and face shape can sometimes also be an indicator of a dog’s likelihood of living a long, healthy life. Over the years, people have artificially selected for certain physical traits in dogs, which has resulted in some having short and wide cranial (skull) proportions. When a dog’s head is shaped this way, it creates a more “flat-faced” appearance, known as being brachycephalic. 

While brachycephaly may look “cute,” it can come with a heavy price tag on a dog’s longevity. Their nasal and air passages get compressed, and other parts of their respiratory tract do not scale with the skull shape, which restricts airflow and can substantially impact their ability to breathe. Breathing challenges then have secondary impacts on other systems and can ultimately reduce a dog’s life expectancy. 

Other skeletal-related factors can also have an impact on lifespan (and healthspan, or, the amount of time a dog is in good health). Dogs who have sloped spines and those who have wide or narrow-set hips can be predisposed to various orthopedic ailments and injuries that may also affect longevity.

Maintaining a healthy weight, of course, is also important for improved and lengthened lifespans. Studies show that even moderately overweight dogs are at a greater risk for early morbidity. 

It is very easy for a dog to surpass their ideal body weight very quickly, but not so easy to help them lose weight once added.  So even though we all love to show love with treats, extra cookies aren’t always the best for your pup in the long run. Especially for dogs who are not working dogs or athletes, keeping an eye on recommended diet type and portions for their individual needs is essential. 

And, if your dog seems to be putting on a lot of weight, suddenly, this could be an indicator of an issue needing medical attention, such as a hormonal or endocrine malfunction, so you should be sure to check in with your vet if this is the case. 

Debate over the average life expectancy in dogs

Being aware of various risk factors that can shorten a dog’s life is one piece of the puzzle. But in order to understand how we might help dogs of all kinds live longer, healthier lives, we have to first have a basic understanding of what a “normal” lifespan is for dogs, regardless of size/breed/etc. 

The average canine life expectancy seems like something we should know by now, but as it turns out, there’s still some debate over whether dogs today are living longer or shorter lives than in decades past. 

Many studies have tried to evaluate longevity in dogs by looking at a specific breed or breeds, or specific diseases. Generally-speaking, most of these studies indicate that mixed-breed dogs live slightly longer than dogs with a single breed ancestry, but this still doesn’t tell us about dogs as a whole.

This is important because only when we have a baseline can we really think more critically when it comes to analyzing data about specific breeds and risks— and this information will influence choices that we may make for our dog’s treatment and care.

If we look at data from several life expectancy studies conducted over the course of  ~40 years, and don’t limit our review to specific breeds or conditions, dogs in fact appear to be living longer than was reported in the 1980s— with the average reported lifespan up from 8.5 years to 12 years

This is obviously great news for those of us who love our pups, but it’s also good to know that we’re doing something right in managing their health and wellbeing! 

Positive impact of engagement and communication 

Improved veterinary diagnostics and treatment,  and increased access to veterinary care have surely contributed to dogs’ presently longer lifespans. But willingness to engage in stimulating activities like physical exercise, safe socialization, and cognitive games with our pups also contributes to their overall improved quality of life. 

And, helping our dogs learn to communicate in new ways could enable them to express when they aren’t feeling well or need care, which in turn gives us the chance to address potential health issues more promptly. FluentPet Connect facilitates this by enabling dogs to use buttons to express their needs and feelings. This not only promotes mental stimulation and engagement for dogs but peace of mind for their humans, knowing they will never miss a button press. The FluentPet Connect system bridges the communication gap between dogs and humans, offering a unique way to understand and cater to your dogs’ health and emotional needs.

Dealing with loss

No dog lives as long as we’d wish. If you are struggling with the loss of or terminal illness in a beloved four-legged, please know that you are not alone and that there are resources available to help you as you grieve. 

Your veterinarian can be a first stop for finding local companion bereavement groups, and the Association for Pet Loss & Bereavement and Lap of Love offer many kinds of support.