Five Giant Dog Breeds With Short Lifespans
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Provide supplements like vitamin C and antioxidants.
- Build ramps and other aids to minimize joint stress and delay the symptoms of hip dysplasia.
- If the dog breed you have chosen is prone to cancer, you can try omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and herbal supplements.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Questions & Answers
Do Golden Retrievers die young or old?
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: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/dog-long-life
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?
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.
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?
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.