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Five Giant Dog Breeds With Short Lifespans and What You Can Do To Help

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

These gentle giants all have somewhat limited life expectancy.

These gentle giants all have somewhat limited life expectancy.

Dog Breeds With Short Life Expectancies

Although many of these dogs are easy to work with and make great companions, they all have much too short of a lifespan. The majority die before they reach 10 years of age, and often much younger.

1. Irish Wolfhound

These tall dogs were developed to hunt wolves in Ireland, but by the late 1800s, there were only a few left so they were crossed with Great Danes, Scottish Deerhounds, and Borzois to produce a genetically healthy pool of dogs.

The breeding program did make them easier to handle—but it did not produce a healthy population.

How long will an Irish Wolfhound live?

Although Irish Wolfhounds have been known to live up to 13 years, most of them die much younger—seven years or less. Only about 9% of the dogs will even make it to 10 years of age. They may die from heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy), bone cancer, bloat, and many other less common diseases.

In a twenty-year study on the lifespan of the Irish Wolfhound, conducted by Gretchen Bernardi and the University of Missouri, it was noted that even if all the dogs that died of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastric torsion were removed from the study, there would no significant improvement in the average lifespan of this dog. There are a lot more problems than just susceptibility to these illnesses.

Irish Wolfhounds almost always die too young.

Irish Wolfhounds almost always die too young.

Irish Wolfhounds almost always die too young.

2. Great Dane

These dogs are usually not as tall as the Irish Wolfhound but they are huge, and the tallest dog in history is a Great Dane who stands 112 cm (44 inches) at the shoulders. They were originally bred to hunt boar and other large game and had their ears cropped to prevent injury.

Like all big dogs, the Great Dane is prone to hip dysplasia and bloat. They also have several inherited heart diseases, like dilated cardiomyopathy.

How long will a Great Dane live?

Their life span is usually only 6-8 years, and only 17% will even make it to 10 years of age.

3. St. Bernard

Almost everyone knows of the St. Bernard because they were bred as rescue dogs in the Alps. Everyone that sees one of these dogs remembers them because of their size—they weigh between 60 and 120 kilos (140-250 pounds) and look even bigger because of their bulk and long hair.

How long will a St. Bernard live?

The average lifespan of a St. Bernard is anywhere between 8 and 10, depending on who you ask. About 26% of them will make it to 10 years of age.

They are afflicted with big dog problems like hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. They are also prone to a hereditary form of bone cancer (osteosarcoma), heart problems, skin problems, and epilepsy.

4. Bernese Mountain Dog

This great dog was originally a farm dog and was bred to be big enough to pull carts. They usually weigh over 40 and up to 50 kilos (about 85-110 pounds) and look broad, rather than tall.

How long will a Bernese Mountain Dog live?

Their lifespan is much too short. There was a survey done in the UK back in 2004—only one dog of the hundreds followed made it up to 15. The average though is about 7 years, and only about 28% are even going to make it to 10.

Some of them die of big dog diseases like hip dysplasia. When a dog is large, a problem with the hips or a cruciate ligament tear and arthritis make it hard to get him in and out of the house. Bernese Mountain Dogs also have several types of cancer that will cause them to go down fast.

5. Newfoundland

Newfies were originally bred to work with fishermen in Newfoundland, Canada, but are now most famous for saving swimmers, playing with kids, and being great companions.

The dogs are large. Many weigh over 50 kilograms (normally about 120 pounds, but up to 200) and since they have a thick coat and wide body they look even larger. They are calm and careful with their huge bodies.

So why do they die so young? Some are just prone to hip dysplasia, a disease common in a lot of big dogs, but when a dog is over 50 kilos it is not easy to help her get around and climb up the steps. Some also have elbow dysplasia, another musculoskeletal problem that would be easier to deal with in a small dog.

Newfoundlands can also develop a heart defect. Their heart valves do not work properly and affected dogs die young. Some also have another inherited condition where they form bladder stones.

How long will a Newfoundland live?

One source (Wikipedia) reports that their average life expectancy is 10, but only 38% of Newfies will live that long or longer.

Can I Do Anything to Extend My Dog's Lifespan?

Only about one-fourth of all giant breeds are alive by their tenth birthday. But why? Yahoo News reports “stunning” research—giant breed dogs die young because they age quickly.

Are there things you can do to keep your dog alive longer? Maybe.

  1. Feeding a good quality diet may help, but there is no proof of this. Some giant breed dog breeders recommend a raw diet since the kibble in dog food is so often made up of corn and other fillers.
  2. Keep your dog very thin. Longevity studies in humans reveal that thin people live longer, and in dogs one study proved that a 25% reduction in feed kept dogs alive and healthier longer than dogs fed more. Their insulin levels are lower and this other reasons that we do not yet know about may be what accounts for their longer lives.
  3. Provide supplements like vitamin C and antioxidants.
  4. Build ramps and other aids to minimize joint stress and delay the symptoms of hip dysplasia.
  5. If the dog breed you have chosen is prone to cancer, you can try omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and herbal supplements.
  6. Taking your dog in for a twice-yearly physical exam and blood screening may also help, since you are more likely to find problems early and start treating them when it still helps.
  7. Besides disease and genetics, the other important factor determining a dog´s potential lifespan is his behavior. Dogs that act up tend to be dumped at the local shelter, killed by animal control, or put down by a local vet.
  8. Choose a breed that lives longer. This option is not for everyone, but genetics does play a large role in this issue. If you do not want a dog that only lives six or seven years, choose one of the breeds that will live a long time.
The Boxer, although not a giant dog, dies too young.

The Boxer, although not a giant dog, dies too young.

What About Boxers?

A dog not included in the top five is the Boxer. Anyone who has ever owned one of these great dogs knows that health problems are a big worry. Boxers are likely to develop cancer, have circulatory conditions like aortic stenosis and right ventricular cardiomyopathy, and they also have more common problems like bloat, hip dysplasia, and hypothyroidism. The dogs also suffer from epilepsy, eyelid problems, colitis, and ulcers of the eye.

How long will a Boxer live?

The average life span for a Boxer is about 9 years; only about half of them make it as long as 10.


Kaeberlein, M., Creevy, K. E., & Promislow, D. E. (2016). The dog aging project: translational geroscience in companion animals. Mammalian genome : official journal of the International Mammalian Genome Society, 27(7-8), 279–288.

Questions & Answers

Question: Scottish deerhounds die young. We have had three, and all died before they were five. The first died of heart failure, the second viral-mediated organ failure and the third from a heart attack after anesthesia for an MRI, which discovered inflamed blood vessels in her neck. She was only three. What is going on with deerhounds?

Answer: This breed has a lifespan similar to the Irish wolfhound. If you try to get another dog, you may find one that lives up to ten years, but most likely you will not. You can try the life-extending suggestions in this article, but even without heart failure and cancer most of the dogs die young.

Scottish deerhounds were one of the breeds used in the breeding program that brought back the Irish wolfhound.

Question: I have a female boxer who will soon be 10. She was diagnosed with stage 3 mast cell cancer. Is there any way you can say how long she will be with us? Is not eating the first symptom?

Answer: One thing you can do to improve her chances is feeding her a raw, high-protein diet. There are a lot of good suggestions out there from vets like Dr. Billinghurst. Not eating will be a problem later on, so if she does not want to eat her new diet just give her anything. No, I cannot tell for sure with a grade III mast cell tumor. Less than 10% of the dogs live more than five years, but as she is already ten that does not mean much. As far as a ramp, just make something at home with a sheet of thick plywood. You do not have to buy something from a pet store. Make sure the ramp has boards going across it so that she has adequate footing when she is climbing up into bed. I wish you the best of luck.

Question: I have 2 Newfoundland/Great Dane mixes. They love to be with us wherever we go. What is a good age to stop having our large dogs hike with us?

Answer: One of the major problems I see in giant breed dogs is obesity. They are too large, arthritis becomes a problem since they are so large and in pain, they do not want to go hiking, the owners cannot get them up and around, and eventually, they are euthanized. Your dogs are only too old to go for a hike when they are no longer willing to go. For a longer lifespan, keep them lean and exercise them as much as possible.

Question: Do Golden Retrievers die young or old?

Answer: Golden Retrievers, unfortunately, have a pretty short lifespan. A lot of the dogs are very healthy when young, and then later suffer from obesity, arthritis, and cancer. If you are thinking of getting a Golden puppy and want to do what you can from the start, please look at:


Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 20, 2018:

Donna, sorry to hear about all that you guys went through. She sounds like she was a great dog.

Donna on November 19, 2018:

I just lost my dobie at 8 1/2 years old. Way too young. She had TPLO's done on both knees, she developed Addison's at 5yrs, had almost 50 small melanomas removed, and finally was diagnosed with dilative cardiomyopathy. I fell in love with dobermans, but did not do research & got a puppy from a breeder who did not screen her dogs for diseases. I still love dobies and will get another one but from a breeder who screens for genetic diseases. I will never forget my dobie. She was the most loving, loyal and kind dogs I have ever had the privelege to own!

anna on March 21, 2018:

i have a German Shepard died at 10 years old

Marilyn on November 10, 2017:

I had a wonderful St. Bernard / Leonberger mix. She was an absolutely wonderful girl. She lived to be 2 months shy of 14 years old.

Mesut on June 21, 2017:

Very helpful article. I think breeding only the healthy and longest lived dogs in a breed would remarkably increase the average lifespan of any particular breed.

Norma Lawrence from California on May 24, 2016:

Beautifully written article. You do a great job. It is sad their life span is so short.

Lara Creek from NC on May 23, 2016:

Beautiful dogs, It's an absolute shame that they have such short life spans and an abundance of health issues. Also, very surprised that Mastiffs didn't make the list.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 13, 2014:

Hi Pamela, the diet you make up for Harley looks very healthy and I hope he survives a lot longer than average. With a cross, it is impossible to tell, so we will keep our fingers crossed.

The only suggestion I have on your diet is to add plenty of chicken feet and beef trachea instead of plain meat. (I do not know of availability in your area, of course, but if you find them buy in bulk.) They contain glucosamine, and since he will probably develop arthritis they may delay the onset. It is worth a try.

Your how to articles are inspiring! Things are very different down here, since I live in the tropics, but it is interesting to read articles about surviving up there in the cold.

howtopam from Alberta, Canada on July 13, 2014:

Amazing hub DrMark very informative. Thank you for sharing.

My dog Harley Quinn is a Newfie/Border collie Mix. At two years old he is 120lbs approximately with beautiful markings, and I love him dearly well I love all of my pets. I really enjoy reading about dogs especially when it pertains to my dogs. You are now one of my favorite reads.

btw thank you for following back.



Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 21, 2013:

I´m hoping you have another seven great years ahead of you then! I remember one hub where you said that you can take him out and show him the boundaries and he does not try to escape like the others. Super dog!!!

Holle Abee from Georgia on March 21, 2013:

No, I got Hamlet from a former student whose dogs had puppies. Like you, I've seen Danes Hammie's age that already had arthritis or other health problems. Hamlet's still spry, agile, and sometimes puppy-like when he plays. Ol' Hammie was cheap, too!

Our other Dane, a harl named Grendel, is a little younger than Hamlet and cost us four times as much, but he already has a little arthritis.

I've owned, trained, and bred A LOT of canines, but I've never known a dog like Hamlet. He really is special!

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 21, 2013:

Hi Habee, unfortuanately I have heard of that term for Danes because of all the cardiomyopathys. Too sad. A lot of my German neighbors have "German Mastiffs" and they look so old by Hamlets age. Is he from that breeder in Atlanta? I hope he stays with you many more years--I´ve seen his photos in your hubs and realize what a special dog he is.

Holle Abee from Georgia on March 21, 2013:

Yep, Great Danes are sometimes called "heartbreak kids." I'm terrified of losing my fawn male, Hamlet. He'll be seven this year. A breeder in Atlanta is breeding for longevity, and some of her Danes are living for 12 years. I think I read that she's had a couple to make it to 14.

Great info in this hub, but sad. These giant dogs really find their way into your heart.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 12, 2013:

Mary, too bad doing everything right doesn't count for much! It sounds like he had a good seven years, though, but those genetic diseases...well, you already know and have had to deal with this.

Thanks for coming by and commenting.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 12, 2013:

I have always like Irish Wolfhouds, Suhail, but that lifespan really put me off. It is really sad, and I can understand the procrasination.

Mary Craig from New York on March 12, 2013:

My son's seven year old St.Bernard passed away a few months ago, most likely from a heart attack. He was one of the most well cared for St. Bernard's ever. My son had ramps, fed him the best food. Didn't let him go up and down stairs too often, kept a fan handy in the summer, and regular vet is just the fate of the big dog. This is an excellent hub with beautiful pictures and may save someone the heartbreak of losing a dog too soon.

Voted up, useful, and very interesting.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on March 12, 2013:

I found the hub, and especially your suggestions towards the end of the hub very informative.

When I first researched about acquiring a Wolf Hound, I was utterly shocked to hear about their short lifespan. In fact, I was so shocked that I postponed (nay procrastinated) to get a dog for another 6 years.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 12, 2013:

Kelly, Nettlemere, Wayne, and Deborah, thanks for taking the time to comment.

Melissa, the breeding/longevity issue is a good point. Should we be focusing on longevity? Everyone wants to see pictures of the tallest Irish Wolfhound and the biggest Great Dane, but do you think anyone cares about searching the internet for images of the oldest? (I have a picture here of a 200 pound Newfie, not a 15 year old Newfie, so I am certainly no better)

Thanks for pointing out the reveratrol. It is another antioxidant that might help, and so far there has been no anecodotal evidence of poisoning.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 12, 2013:

Susan , I don't know that 15 is even likely but at least you are giving the Vitamin C supplements. It is a good effort.

Melissa A Smith from New York on March 12, 2013:

Wow that's terrible. I wonder if resveratol could help? I wouldn't find it to be too ethical to produce animals with these health problems unless it served a true purpose, such as if the dog is working.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on March 12, 2013:

The unfortunate thing about all dogs is that their lifespans are so short relative to their human companions. My first dog died of cancer just a couple of weeks after her 10th birthday despite the fact that I fed her high quality food, kept her thin, took her for regular check-ups, and maintained a chemical-free lawn. But who knows, had I not done all of those things, her time with me may have been much shorter. Thanks for the good information.

Wayne Barrett from Clearwater Florida on March 12, 2013:

I love your article. It's a great tribute to these wonderful creatures. I dread the day when I lose mine, but I am so grateful for the time that I have had them in my life.

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on March 12, 2013:

This is a very useful article and I agree with your conclusion that there's no way to be confident of getting one of the giant breeds to live longer. I had no idea that the boxer had such a short average lifespan, so that was helpful info.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on March 12, 2013:

Before I clicked on your hub from the feed I sadly knew that Newfs would most likely be on your list. The Newf breeder that I used to work for did have a couple that lived to be 15. I do know that this is not the norm and I only wish that their lifespans were much longer.

Kelly from New England on March 12, 2013:

What a great article, I voted up! It's so sad to know that some of these breeds tend to live such short lives. Thanks for such an informative article!