What factors influence the lifespan of our pets?

Risk factors associated with a pet’s lifespan are of great interest to vets and pet owners alike. Anything we can do to keep our pets healthy and live long and happy lives are of great importance. A recent study in America looked at more than 2 million pet dogs and discovered that mixed breed dogs lived significantly longer than pure breed dogs, that increasing body size was associated with a reduced lifespan, that neutering had a positive impact on prolonging lifespan in both male and female dogs, the greatest benefit of neutering being seen in female dogs and that interestingly, regular dental prophylaxis (ultrasonic dental scaling) was associated with an increased lifespan. 

In the UK the average dog lives to 12 years of age. The pure breeds with the longest lifespans are the Miniature Poodle and the Border Collie (14 years), then the Bearded Collie, West Highland White Terrier and Miniature Dachshund (13.5years). Sadly at the other end of the spectrum several large breeds have very short life expectancies, the Dogue De Bordeaux can expect to live for only 5.5 years and the Great Dane only 6 years. 

Tassie the Vizsla, going grey gracefully!

A 2015 study looking at Labradors that lived to an exceptionally old age determined that the maintenance of lean body weight was a key factor in longer lifespan in this group of geriatric dogs.  The leading cause of death continues to be cancer in both dogs and cats, then musculoskeletal and neurological disease although in dogs less than 3 years of age gastrointestinal, traumatic and behavioural disorders are the leading causes of death. 

What can we practically do with all of this information? When our pets are young we should be focusing on avoidable traumas – keeping cats in at night, keeping dogs on leads around roads, watching out for those foreign objects that dogs and cats eat that can cause blockages (corn on the cob, toys, bones etc) and keeping our pets at a healthy weight and size. Neutering should be considered, especially for female dogs. As they get older regular check ups become more important, both to detect problems at an early stage but also to keep an eye on dental disease and weight. 

However choosing the right breed or cross-breed might be one of the most important decisions that you make so next time you are considering a puppy or kitten why not give your local vet clinic a ring and ask about what health problems you should be aware of and whether the breed you have your eye on is one that your local vet or vet nurse would choose!