Knowing your furry friend's lifespan can help you give them better care.

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If you own a dog, you likely know it can be one of the greatest joys of all time. Yes, there are occasional messes to clean and behavior issues to solve, but there's also all that love and affection from your furry friend that usually melts your family's heart.

Of course, one of the worst parts of dog ownership is that dogs don't live as long as we do. It inevitably means we have to think about our dog's lifespan and how long dogs normally live.

We turned to Dr. Georgina Ushi Phillips, a Florida-based veterinarian who blogs at Not a Bully, a resource dispelling myths about bully breeds, for some answers.

Dr. Phillips says there's a huge amount of variation in lifespan between breeds so it's difficult to give a meaningful average across all dogs. 

But, she can break it down for us by dog size:

  • Giant breeds like Great Danes and St. Bernards live seven to 10 years.
  • Medium-sized dogs like border collies and beagles live 11 to 14 years.
  • Small breeds like Chihuahuas and dachshunds live 14 to 20 years.

No matter where your dog falls on the size spectrum, it's never long enough.

"We still don't fully understand the mechanism that causes larger dogs to age more rapidly but it certainly seems to be connected to their rapid growth," says Dr. Phillips.

What Breeds Live the Longest and Shortest?

Chihuahuas are the longest living breed (on average up to 20 years) but other small breeds like Jack Russel terriers, toy poodles, dachshunds, shih tzus, and many others can also regularly live more than 15 years. Chihuahuas, for example, have an advantage because they aren't prone to developing any one medical condition.

"When it comes to medium-sized dogs, Australian cattle dogs and Australian shepherds are one of the longest living breeds with lifespans around 13 to 15 years," says Dr. Phillips. One study on Australian cattle dogs found the breed lives about a year longer than similar size breeds. In fact, the oldest living dog on record was an Australian cattle dog named Bluey who lived to be 29 years old.

When it comes to the dogs with the shortest lifespans, giant breeds are usually at the top of the list. That includes dogs like mastiffs and Great Danes with a six- to 10-year lifespan, as well as Irish wolfhounds that have a lifespan of about six to eight years. Unlike the Chihuahua, Bernese mountain dogs live only six to eight years because they are highly prone to cancer.

Are Dogs Living Longer in General?

Dr. Phillips says a resounding yes! "The best explanation is a combination of improved veterinary care, better food, and increased owner education."

She explains that quality commercial dog food has vastly improved over the last few decades as our knowledge and technology improve. And though cancer is one of the most common causes of death across all breeds, veterinary medicine is getting better at treating it.

What's more, we dog owners can take some credit. "The average dog owner has a better understanding of basic and routine care than they may have had in years prior," says Dr. Phillips. That means we're learning that good nutrition, proper vet care, exercise, and health check-ups are making a difference in how long our dogs live. She cites the increase in dental cleanings for example. These regular cleanings allow our pups to keep their teeth in good working order and avoid infections, so they can eat properly and without pain well into their senior years.

How Can You Help Your Canine Companion Live Longer?

Dr. Phillips says that studies find that overweight dogs have a shorter life, so feed your dog a quality dog food, keep treats in check, and make sure he has plenty of exercise.

Those regular dental cleaning by a veterinarian can also increase a dog's lifespan. Research has shown that dogs that have had regular dental care under anesthesia live a longer life.  

Continue to see your vet for checkups throughout your dog's life. Veterinary exams can help catch problems early, and they keep your dog up to date on things like heartworm, flea, and tick prevention and needed vaccines.

No matter what your dog's breed or breeds tell you about his lifespan, the basics like quality food, exercise, good veterinary care, and the love of your family can help you keep your dog healthy throughout his life.