Dogs and Life Span: Which Breeds Live Longest?

Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed By Elizabeth A. Martinez, DVM, DACVA

The joy of dog ownership is always tempered by one thing -- our beloved pets don't live as long as we do.

But finding dogs with the longest life expectancy isn't as easy as it sounds. That's because, just as with people, researchers still don't know what causes aging and why some dogs live longer than others.

"All dog breeds are of the same species, yet they age at apparently very different rates," says David Waters DVM, PhD, professor and associate director of the Purdue University Center on Aging and the Life Course and director of the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation. "We still don't understand why."

Bruce Fogle, DVM, in his book "Caring for Your Dog: The Complete Canine Home Reference," says the median life expectancy of dogs is 12.8 years. But dog life expectancies vary widely by breed, ranging from breeds that can live 16 to 20 years (the rare Mexican breed, the Xoloitzcuintle, has a life span of 15-20 years; the Irish Wolfhound has an estimated 6- to 8-year life expectancy.

But there is one concrete piece of advice experts can give people looking for a dog breed with a long life span -- think small.

Dog Life Span: Big vs. Small

Nearly 40% of small breed dogs live longer than 10 years, but only 13% of giant breed dogs live that long. The average 50-pound dog will live 10-12 years. But giant breeds such as great Danes or deerhounds are elderly at 6-8 years.

Kimberly Greer, PhD, an assistant professor at the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Indiana University East, co-authored a study that showed that dogs weighing less than 30 pounds lived the longest. The study analyzed data from more than 700 dogs in 77 breeds.

"It's the weight, not the height, that matters," Greer says. "Some dogs are short, like the English bulldog, but can still weigh 60 or 70 pounds. They wouldn't be considered small breed dogs."

Mark Stickney, DVM, director of General Surgery Services at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, says although it's not unusual to see a 17-year-old miniature poodle, a 12-year-old Labrador retriever is considered old, and any dog in the giant breeds -- dogs weighing more than 100 pounds -- is considered geriatric at 6-7 years.

"Generally speaking, the larger your dog is, the less time it will live," Stickney says.

Dog Life Span: Male vs. Female

Steven N. Austad, PhD, a professor and researcher on aging at the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, says besides looking at small dogs, people looking for the longest-lived dogs also should look at mixed breed dogs and females.

"Female dogs tend to live a bit longer, although it's not as pronounced as it is with humans," Austad says.