You’ve likely probably noticed that some dogs live to be nearly 20 years old while barely visiting the vet, while others quickly develop serious health issues and die before they hit the decade mark. Dogs are an incredibly diverse species, with lifespans that are just as varied. Every choice you make, from the breed you choose to every aspect of your dog’s lifestyle, will contribute to just how long your dog will be with you.
How Dogs Age
Puppies are born toothless, deaf and blind. Their first teeth do not break through their gums until about 6 weeks of age, when they are weaned, and their eyes and ears begin to open at about two weeks. From there, they grow rapidly, reaching their adult weight at one to two years of age.
The general rule most of us know is that dogs age seven years for each “human” year. However, this rule is not perfectly accurate, as a dog’s rate of aging varies based on their size, genetics, hormones, diet and environment. Generally, a dog is an adolescent at 9 to 16 months of age, and a young adult equivalent to a person in their twenties from two to four years of age. A dog is considered a senior beginning at around seven to nine years old.
The larger the dog, the longer it takes for them to reach maturity. While a Chihuahua is full grown by 12 months, it may take a Saint Bernard up to two years to reach both adult height and weight. However, a giant breed dog grows faster, gaining up to a hundred pounds in their first year. They also are considered a senior dog sooner, and typically do not live as long as their smaller counterparts.
Why Small Dogs Live Longer
Though small dogs reach their adult size sooner, large dogs grow faster. All dogs begin to show signs of aging at around the same time, though a larger dog’s health deteriorates more rapidly after aging begins. Small breeds like Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers and Pomeranians may live as long as 18 years, while some giant breed dogs like Great Danes can be expected to live to just 8 years old.
One reason large dogs do not live as long is their susceptibility to disease. Rapid growth and high body mass can contribute to musculoskeletal issues. Large breeds are more prone to digestive issues and are more likely to develop tumors.
However, you don’t have to get a Chihuahua to have a dog for 15 years or more. Some large dog breeds are typically very healthy. Standard Poodles are about the same size as Boxers, yet much less prone to health issues, living up to 18 years old. Alaskan Malamutes are among the longest lasting large breeds, weighing about 100 pounds and living up to 13 years old.
The Longest Living Dogs In History
We can learn a lot about how dogs age by examining the cases of the oldest living dogs in history. Bluey, an Australian Cattle Dog, holds the Guinness World Record title of the world’s oldest dog, born in 1910 and put to sleep at 29 years, 5 months of age. Bluey lived an incredibly active life, herding cattle and sheep for two decades and eating a fresh diet of emu and kangaroo meat.
More recently, an Australian Kelpie named Maggie may have lived to be 30 years old, though her owners do not have any documentation proving her exact birthdate. Maggie lived on a dairy farm eating a fresh diet of meat and raw milk, and chewed bones daily to keep her teeth clean.
How To Help Any Dog Live Longer
Not everyone can have a medium-sized herding breed that runs around on a farm all day, or source fresh meat to create a perfectly balanced diet. However, keeping your dog of any breed at a healthy weight, allowing them to exercise as much as possible, and adding fresh treats and toppers to their usual diet will significantly decrease their chances of dying early. A high quality kibble contains all of the vitamins and minerals your dog needs to avoid deficiencies, while fresh foods give them an extra boost.
Bacteria that causes dental disease can spread throughout your dog’s entire body over time. Brushing your dog’s teeth at least a few times each week and offering bones prevents dental disease to contribute to a longer, healthier life.
The bottom line? Get the purebred or crossbred dog that matches with your personality and lifestyle, then support their health to help them live as long as possible.