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Is the average lifespan of pedigree dog breeds in the UK falling?

Is the average lifespan of pedigree dog breeds in the UK falling?

Breed Facts

As our understanding of dogs and their needs have increased over the last few decades, dogs, like people, tend to live for longer today than they might have done as recently as 50 or so years ago. However, the average lifespan for dogs of different breeds can be highly variable, and some dog breeds tend to live for longer than others.

Most people that own a pedigree dog breed have a rough idea of the breed’s average lifespan, but this is something that can change over time and generations. In order to build up a picture of the average dog lifespan by breed and to compare changes and fluctuations, The Kennel Club undertakes surveys of owners of registered dogs from time to time, polling owners on their dog’s health, lifespan, and if relevant, cause of death.

The latest Kennel Club pedigree breed health survey was undertaken in 2014, and the one before that in 2004 – and the decade between surveys provides a point of comparison so that any fluctuations in the average lifespans of dogs of a certain breed can be monitored.

Comparing the latest (2014) survey to the previous 2004 version, data collated indicates that a number of different dog breeds have actually dropped in terms of their average lifespan between the two respective surveys, which reflects of course on the wider health and wellness of these breeds themselves.

While you can never know for sure how long your dog might live and no dog’s long-term health can be guaranteed or ensured, knowing what the average lifespan is for the breed of dog you own can help you to know what to expect from owning them, and ensure that you provide them with the most appropriate care.

In this article we will examine some of the dog breeds for which the average lifespan expectations have fallen within the last decade, and try to answer the question of why this might be. Read on to learn more.

How was the survey conducted?

The Kennel Club’s 2014 survey was the largest ever conducted by the organisation, which invited over 385,000 owners of dogs registered with the organisation to participate, representing 215 different dog breeds.

The owners of a total of 43,207 living dogs and 5,684 dogs that had died or been euthanised responded to the survey, encompassing data for a total of 191 different pedigree breeds.

The purpose of the survey was to identify the most prevalent health conditions affecting individual dogs across the board, as well as establishing their most common causes of death.

Differences between the 2004 survey and the 2014 survey

In order to properly understand the findings of the 2014 survey and how they compare to the 2004 results, it is important to bear in mind that there were some differences between the 2004 survey and the survey of 2014 a decade later, which has some impact on how the results should be interpreted.

The 2004 survey invited participants from members of Kennel Club affiliated breed clubs and was only promoted within such clubs, whilst the 2014 survey was widely publicised and opened to all owners of KC registered dogs.

This means that the number of participants in the 2014 survey was much larger than that for the earlier 2004 one, and that direct like-for-like comparisons for individual breeds based on the two comparative surveys is likely to lead to unreliable results. That said, broader patterns of trends in terms of average lifespans and causes of death can still be identified by comparing the two surveys with this caveat in mind.

General survey findings

The results of the 2014 survey taking into account all of the submitted data across all represented dog breeds found that of the dogs who were still living at the time of the survey, around 35% of them were affected by at least one health condition.

Across dogs that were reported to have a health condition of some type, the most common health conditions within the pool of live dogs were found to be skin allergies of various types, cystic skin conditions, lipomas, ear infections, and arthritis.

Across dogs that had died or been euthanised at the time of the 2014 survey, the most common causes of death were found to be simple old age, cancers of various types, unknown causes, heart failure, and kidney failure.

The average lifespan of dogs of all breeds whose owners participated in the survey and whose dogs were deceased at the time of the survey was reported as being 10 years.

What dog breeds are living shorter lifespans?

Based on broad comparisons of the available data for 2004 versus 2014, a number of dog breeds were found to live shorter average lifespans as of 2014 than a decade before.

Some of the dog breeds that have been identified via survey comparisons to have undergone the steepest decline in average lifespan between the two surveys are as follows:

  • English bull terriers, which were reported with an average lifespan of 10 years in 2004 but had dropped to just 7 years in 2014.
  • Rhodesian ridgebacks, whose average lifespans dropped from 11 years to 9 years.
  • Whippets, falling from 12 years and 4 months to 10 years.
  • Border terriers, falling from 14 years to 12 years.

Additionally, some dog breeds with a rather lower average lifespan in the 2004 survey also underwent decreases in life expectancy between the two surveys too, such as the English bulldog, which fell from 6 years 3 months in 2004 to just 6 years in 2014.

You can find a full list of dog breeds and their average lifespans as per the 2014 survey findings and check out your own dog’s average using this page of the Kennel Club’s own website.

Why is the average lifespan falling for some dog breeds?

First of all, it is important to take into account the limitations of comparing the 2004 survey like-for-like with the 2014 version, because the methodologies employed were slightly different and so, will not necessarily result in firm conclusions.

However, it certainly seems apparent that the average lifespan of several pedigree dog breeds is slowly falling, which is something that will of course be of concern to owners of such dogs. Whilst the Kennel Club hasn’t made a formal statement on the causes of shortened lifespans across certain dog breeds, there are a number of potential causes to consider.

These include increases in the occurrence rate of hereditary health conditions and conformation defects within certain breeds, relatively small gene pools, and selective breeding, particularly when this is undertaken with related dogs.

One final caveat to bear in mind is that the Kennel Club’s survey is now four years old and also, that only pedigree dogs were included within it. This means that unregistered and non-pedigree dogs of certain breeds were not eligible for submission into the survey, and as this makes up a significant population of many popular dog breeds, the average and relative risk factors for individual dogs can be highly variable.