Five Giant Dog Breeds With Short Lifespans

An Irish Wolfhound, one of the giant dog breeds that dies too young.
An Irish Wolfhound, one of the giant dog breeds that dies too young.

Although many of these dogs are easy to work with and make great companions, they all have a short lifespan. Too short.

The majority die before they reach 10 years of age, and often much younger.

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—it did not produce a healthy population.

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.


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

Most Great Dane puppies will not last ten years.
Most Great Dane puppies will not last ten years. | Source
Great Danes die too young.
Great Danes die too young. | Source
Great Dane puppy.
Great Dane puppy.

St. Bernard

Almost everyone knows of the St. Bernard because he was bred as a rescue dog in the Alps. Everyone that sees one of these dogs remembers him because of his size—he weighs between 60 and 120 kilos (140-250 pounds) and looks even bigger because of his bulk and long hair.

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.

A St. Bernard puppy.
A St. Bernard puppy. | Source
An adult St. Bernard.
An adult St. Bernard. | Source

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.

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 to 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.

A Bernese calmly waits her turn.
A Bernese calmly waits her turn. | Source
A Bernese Mountain Dog as a puppy.
A Bernese Mountain Dog as a puppy. | Source


Newfies were originally bred to work with fishermen in Newfoundland, Canada, but are now mostly 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.

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

A Newfie at 8 weeks.
A Newfie at 8 weeks. | Source
A brown Newfie weighing over 200 pounds.
A brown Newfie weighing over 200 pounds. | Source

Can I Do Anything?

Only about one-fourth of all giant breeds are alive by their tenth birthday. But why? Yahoo News reports “stunning” research—giant beed 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. Their insulin levels are lower and this 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. | Source

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.

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

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Comments 20 comments

norlawrence profile image

norlawrence 4 months ago from California

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

lara0143 profile image

lara0143 4 months ago from NC

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.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

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.

Pamela Bush profile image

Pamela Bush 2 years ago from Alberta, Canada

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.



DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

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!!!

habee profile image

habee 3 years ago from Georgia

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!

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

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.

habee profile image

habee 3 years ago from Georgia

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.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

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.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

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

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

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 and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

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.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

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.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil Author

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 profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

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.

DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 3 years ago from Iowa

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 profile image

wayne barrett 3 years ago from Clearwater Florida

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 profile image

Nettlemere 3 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

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.

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

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.

KellyG05030 profile image

KellyG05030 3 years ago from New England

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!

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