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Why Are Dogs’ Lives So Short?

Also, what dogs live the longest? Asking so I can delay the inevitable shattering of my heart.

If Earth had a Yelp page, I’d give it a one-star review: “The dogs don’t live long enough. This place sucks.” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be alone, either. Anyone who loves dogs wishes they’d stick around for longer. But why are dog’s lives so short, anyway? What’s the average lifespan of a dog? And what dog has the longest lifespan? 

Give your dog something yummy as we set about answering the world’s most unpleasant questions…

Why Are Dog’s Lives Shorter Than Humans?

If we knew the entire answer, we’d probably be able to help dogs (and ourselves) live longer by now. But the basic theory is that a dog’s genes cause their life cycle to be more accelerated than ours. “A species’ lifespan and the way it ages is determined, like so many things in life, primarily by its genetics,” says Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club. “Dogs grow faster than humans, and therefore, their entire lives are accelerated.”

For example, dogs can begin reproducing as young as six months old, which is obviously much, much earlier than humans, and most are fully grown after only a year or so. This means their bodies are doing a lot of work in a short period of time, which speeds up their aging process.

What’s the Average Lifespan of a Dog?

A 2013 analysis found that dogs under 20 pounds have an average lifespan of 11 years, whereas those over 90 pounds typically live for only eight years. There are a couple theories as to why larger dogs have shorter lives. “Exactly why this happens is still unknown, though there are several possibilities, including that larger dogs may succumb to age-related illnesses sooner and that the accelerated growth of large dogs may lead to a higher likelihood of abnormal cell growth and death from cancer,” says Klein. “Scientists concluded that every 4.4 pounds of body mass reduced a dog’s life expectancy by about a month.”

There are also the issues of artificial selection and inbreeding, which can result in shortened lives for certain breeds. For example, English Bulldogs are bred to have squished snouts that end up causing breathing problems, and German Shepherds are bred for their slouched backs, which create all sorts of musculoskeletal problems. Generally speaking, genetic diversity results in longer lifespans.

What Dog Has the Longest Lifespan?

The current record for longest-living dog is held by an Australian Cattle Dog named Bluey, who lived for an impressive 29 years. However, again, smaller dogs tend to live the longest.

If you want to help your dog live longer, there are several things you can do:

  1. Feed them a balanced diet, and make sure they get plenty of exercise.
  2. Spay or neuter your dog, which reduces their chances of developing diseases of the reproductive organs. (Studies show that spayed and neutered dogs live an average of a year and half longer than their reproducing counterparts.)
  3. Brush their teeth, because poor dental health can end up impacting the heart, liver and kidney later in life.

The good news is, “Scientists have found that, although dogs don’t live as long as we do, their life expectancy has nearly doubled in the past 40 years,” Klein says. That’s primarily because people are increasingly treating them like family, not just animals, which at the very least means taking them to the vet more often.

And Finally, Why Is the World So Cruel?

I dunno, man. But it’s better to have dogs for a short while than not at all, so make sure to give yours plenty of butt scratches — and don’t forget to leave Earth a negative review while you’re at it.