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Why do some breeds of dogs live longer than others?

Asked by: Finn Barbuto
School: Owego Elementary School
Grade: 5
Teacher: Trevor McCloe
Hobbies/Interests: Guitar
Career Interest: National Security Agent

Answer from George Catalano

Professor of Bioengineering; Director, BU Scholars Program

Research area: Turbulence, Fluid Mechanics, Aerodynamics, Environmental Ethics, and Modeling Ecosystems, Predator-prey Modeling, Restoration of Wolves PhD school: University of Virginia, Aerospace Engineering, 1977 Interests/hobbies: All things Italian, Creative Arts, Model trains & cars Family: Wife, Karen, is a registered yoga teacher at Yoga for Everybody at the Orthopedic Associates; lives with 2 Alaskan Malamutes, four more in our hearts

Dogs live an average of twelve years, but that's only an average. The answer to how long any particular dog will live depends upon several different things perhaps most importantly the breed type. For example, bulldogs and Irish wolfhounds each only live to be just over six years old on average. On the other hand, golden retrievers live a bit longer, twelve years, and plain old lovable mutts average over thirteen. Some breeds such as poodles and dachshunds live beyond fifteen years, provided that they are well-cared for and given the best in food and medical attention.

So why do we have to say good bye to our larger dog friends sooner than is the case for smaller breeds? That observation is one of the many factors that has lead some people to choose  smaller breeds. Some of the most difficult and painful occurrences in my life have been linked to the end of physical life of my dog friends. Most of my experience with dogs is with one particular breed, the Alaskan malamute who typically do not live longer than twelve years of age. How I wish they would live as long as their poodle or dachshund cousins but that is not meant to be.

Typically in the natural world, except for dogs, bigger animals live longer. Dogs are a complete mystery in this respect when compared to other members of the animal kingdom. For example, the average lifespan of elephants is about 65 years of age or more. The giant tortoise, which usually lives between 100 and 150 years, has a maximum age of about 200 years. Evidence suggests some bowhead whales may live more than 200 years.

A recent explanation that has been offered to explain this characteristic of dogs argues that there likely is an ideal size for the domestic dog. Exceeding that size can lead to serious health problems including heart disease, and various cancers. There are many different things that we can do to keep our dogs healthy. One of the most important is watching his/her waistline! There has been a lot of news in the last few years about an obesity epidemic. It’s not only us - it’s our dogs, too. Small dog owners have to be especially careful. A cheeseburger may not make a big difference to a Saint Bernard, but even a French fry can be a significant part of a five-pound dog’s daily intake. Just as with people, canine obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and kidney and liver problems.

There is one other thing that we each can do to prolong our dog friends’ lives, no matter how large the breed, and that is to love our dog friends with all of our hearts. As the poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality.” Perhaps those of us who have loved and said good bye to larger breed friends simply have to try to love a little bit harder.


Last Updated: 3/1/17