Dogs bring unconditional love and comic relief to our lives, two endearing traits that lead us to regard them as close friends and beloved members of the family. It's natural to want to keep our furry loved ones around as long as possible, which leads us dog owners to wonder what factors affect a dog's lifespan and what can we do to ensure that we spend as many years as possible with our precious pooches.
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Small vs. Large Breeds
Although several factors determine a dog's lifespan, size is one of the most obvious. Just 13 percent of the largest dog breeds live more than 10 years, according to the WebMD Pet Health Center. In contrast, almost 40 percent of small dogs live 10 years or longer. Some small dogs can live as long as 14 years. It is believed that smaller dogs live longer because their internal organs do not have to work as hard to function.
Other Factors that Determine Longevity
Genetics, gender and spaying or neutering also have a role in your dog's longevity. Spaying and neutering, for example, can nix the chance that your dog could get cancer or other problems associated with the reproductive organs.
Specific breeds of dogs are prone to certain types of diseases, especially as they age. In-breeding in purebred dogs can cause health problems as well, something that isn't a factor for mixed breeds or dogs that also are affectionately called mutts.
Statistically, female dogs usually live up to two years longer than their male counterparts. In essence, stats for longevity favor dogs that are female, mixed-breed and small.
A dog's dental health plays a larger role in his overall well-being than you may think. Sparkling teeth not only make your dog look great, but good dental care is important because it helps prevent further health complications that can shorten a dog's life. Oral bacteria resulting from poor dental care can travel through the bloodstream, and cause heart, liver and kidney problems.
However, take heart, because problems caused by poor oral hygiene are avoided easily by daily brushing and routine dental cleanings at the vet. Just remember: It's best to start daily brushing when your dog is still a pup, so he gets used to the idea.
Helping Your Dog Live a Long Healthy Life
A healthy lifestyle can extend how long people live and the same is true for dogs. A dog that is well-trained, eats premium food, gets plenty of exercise, receives mental stimulation and stays up-to-date with vet check-ups has a better chance of living a long and healthy life.
It's important to set aside daily playtime with your dog that allows him to express his specific talents. For example, Milan suggests playing "search and rescue" by allowing your dog to hunt down a toy or other object that you hide. Also, maybe maybe your dog prefers leaping high into the air to catch a tennis ball.
The American Kennel Club offers guidelines on how much exercise is appropriate for specific breeds. When in doubt, let your dog be your guide for how much exercise and attention he needs. Just be sure to set boundaries and don't let him overdo it.
By Teri Webster
American Kennel Club: Breed Matters
Vetinfo.com: Average Dog Life Span by Breed
WebMD Pet Health Center: Healthy Dogs -- Which Dogs Live Longer
Animal Planet: Dental Care for Dogs -- Tips and Tricks
You and Your Puppy: Training and Health Care for Your Puppy's First Year; James DiBidetto and Sarah Hodgson
Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy, and Comfortable; Faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University
How to Raise the Perfect Dog: Through Puppyhood and Beyond; Cesar Milan and Melissa Jo Peltier
About the Author
Teri Webster is a writer, blogger and author. She was a longtime newspaper staff writer who now writes for the web and other outlets. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the State University of New York. In addition to writing about pets, Webster is a professional dog walker.