Which Dogs Live the Longest? Scientists Say Small and Long-Nosed Canines Outlive Others

A new study of more than 500,000 dogs in the United Kingdom adds more nuance to our understanding of their life expectancy based on breed, size, face shape and other factors

Three miniature dachshunds in a row
Miniature dachshunds have a median lifespan of 14 years, according to the data. Shirlaine Forrest / Getty Images

Ask any pet parent about their pup’s longevity and they’ll likely tell you they wish dogs could live forever. And while an anti-aging drug for canines is in the works, dog owners still have to grapple with the eventual pain and heartbreak of losing their beloved four-legged friends.

Now, new research published this week in Scientific Reports offers a more nuanced picture of how long dogs typically live, depending on their breed, sex, size and face shape. More specifically, small and long-nosed dogs tend to live the longest, while larger and flat-nosed dogs tend to have shorter lives, the United Kingdom-based study found.

These findings could help pet parents, animal shelters, breeders and policymakers arrive at more informed decisions about the health and welfare of dogs.

“This provides an opportunity for us to improve the lives of our canine companions,” says study lead author Kirsten McMillan, a data scientist at the London-based animal welfare organization Dogs Trust, to the Guardian’s Nicola Davis. “We are identifying groups that desperately need attention, so we can zone in on these populations and work out what the problem is.”

On average, dogs live to be about 10 to 13.7 years old, per the study. But, just as with humans, canine lifespans vary greatly depending on a variety of factors, from genetics to lifestyle to size. Researchers wanted to explore those characteristics on a broad scale and see if any patterns emerged.

To do so, they gathered data from breed registries, veterinarians, pet insurance companies, animal welfare charities and universities. In the end, their dataset included information about 584,734 dogs located within the U.K. Of those, about half—284,734 individuals—were deceased. Their sample included purebred and crossbred dogs.

French bulldog with ears perked up and mouth open
French bulldogs have a median lifespan of 9.8 years, according to the study. Pexels

The median lifespan for all dogs in the sample was 12.5 years, the team found. Female dogs tended to live slightly longer than males, with a median lifespan of 12.7 years for females compared to males’ 12.4 years.

When the team homed in on size and face shape, they found that smaller and long-nosed dogs tended to live longer than larger and flat-nosed dogs. Miniature dachshunds, for instance, which are both small and long-nosed, had a median lifespan of 14 years, compared to just 9.8 years for French bulldogs, which are medium-sized dogs with flat noses.

Flat-nosed, or brachycephalic dogs, have many known health issues, including breathing problems and heat intolerance, but it remains unclear whether or how those factors contribute to their risk of early death.

Among the 155 purebred breeds included in the dataset, Lancashire heelers tended to live the longest, with a median life expectancy of 15.4 years. Behind them were Tibetan spaniels (15.2 years), Bolognese (14.9 years), shiba inus (14.6 years) and papillons (14.5 years), to name a few.

The breeds with the shortest lifespans were Caucasian shepherds (5.4 years), presa canarios (7.7 years) and cane corsos (8.1 years).

One surprising finding was that purebred dogs tended to live longer than crossbreds: The median lifespan for purebreds was 12.7 years, compared to 12 years for crossbreds.

This contrasts with the long-held belief that crossbred dogs are longer-lived than purebred dogs because they have more variation in their genes, says Audrey Ruple, a veterinarian at Virginia Tech who was not involved in the new research, to New Scientist’s Chen Ly. Scientists may want to look more deeply at this difference in the future, she adds.

More broadly, the study did not explore the reasons behind these variations in dogs’ lifespans, which might also be fodder for future research, reports the New York Times’ Emily Anthes. In addition, since the research only included U.K. dogs, the findings may not be representative of all pups worldwide.

To come up with global life expectancy estimates for dogs, the team hopes scientists in other countries will conduct similar studies.

“Once we have those estimates from country to country... that can be hugely helpful in us working toward improving the longevity of some of these [breeds],” McMillan says to Science News’ Erin Garcia de Jesús.

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