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New RVC Research Helps Owners Better Understand the Remaining Life Expectancy of Dogs

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

New research from the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) VetCompass programme, using analysis from a random sample of 30,563 dogs, now enables owners to predict the remaining life expectancy of their dog from different ages, with results broken down by breed and gender to make these as useful as possible for owners of many breeds in the UK.

The findings also identify breeds with the greatest and lowest life expectancies of the 18 breeds in the study, highlighting wide differences in life expectancy amongst popular breeds.

Previously, life expectancy was guesstimated crudely from using only the average age of death of dogs overall or for a particular breed. However, using “life tables” - unique tools that list the remaining life expectancy and probability of death across a range of age groups in any given population - allows owners to accurately estimate the remaining average life expectancy. Whilst life expectancy decreases with age as would be expected, remaining life expectancy does not follow a linear decline with age and therefore life tables provide more accurate estimations. Whilst commonly used for humans, life tables are a novel concept for dogs because access to large-scale population information wasn’t readily available before the VetCompass programme was launched.

Conducted in collaboration with researchers from the National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taiwan, the study identified Jack Russell Terriers had the greatest life expectancy from age 0 at 12.7 years, followed by Border Collies (12.1 years) and Springer Spaniels (11.92 years).

Sadly in comparison, four flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds were found to have the shortest life expectancy. This included:

  • French Bulldogs only expected to live 4.5 years from age 0

  • English Bulldogs at 7.4 years

  • Pugs at 7.7 years

  • American Bulldogs 7.8 years.

The flat-faced breeds identified as having the shortest life expectancies are heavily associated with several life-limiting disorders. The latest information on life expectancy from this study supports the wider work by the RVC and partners on addressing the many health and welfare issues of flat-faced breeds, such as French Bulldog, English Bulldog and Pug, which have been reported previously in VetCompass studies.

Robyn J Lowe FdSc, Dip AVN (Small Animal), Dip HE CVN, RVN commented:

'I am intrigued to see a life table used in this study - instead of offering a single value for the average age of at death of a dog, the life table allows an expression of life expectancy and probability of death of different age groups.

What is a concerning, but not surprising, finding from this study is the lower life expectancy for a number of brachycephalic breeds. This particular study doesn’t investigate the link between these breeds’ health and welfare issues and shortened life span but given the large body of evidence we have to confirm poorer health and welfare in these breeds it should serve as just another piece of evidence to suggest urgent action is required.'

Breeds that show high levels of potentially life-threatening predispositions that start early in life are likely to have a higher probability of death at younger ages and therefore a decreased life expectancy. Indeed, the four brachycephalic breeds (French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Pug and American Bulldog) that showed the shortest life expectancy at year 0 of all 18 breeds in our results are also reported with several predispositions to life-limiting disorders that occur early in life, such as brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, spinal disease and dystocia.

Given that breeds with shorter lives many have generally lower health, the life expectancy information in this new study can also promote a greater consideration of a dog’s expected quality of life by potential dog owners when deciding which breed to purchase.

Other key findings from the study include:

  • The average life expectancy at age 0 for male dogs is 11.1 years, this is 4 months shorter than female dogs

  • Amongst the Kennel Club breed groups, Terrier had the longest life expectancy at age 0 at 12.0 years, followed by Gundog (11.7 years), Pastoral (11.2 years), Hound (10.7 years), Toy (10.7 years), and Utility (10.1 years)

  • In both male and female dogs, neutered dogs were found to have a longer life expectancy at age 0 in comparison to their non-neutered counterparts (Females: 11.98 vs. 10.50, Males: 11.49 vs. 10.58)

Dr Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC and co-author of the paper, said:

“Dogs have helped many humans to get through the loneliness and isolation of the Covid pandemic. These new VetCompass Life tables enable owners to now estimate how long more that they can benefit from these dogs. The short life expectancies for flat-faced breeds such as French Bulldogs shown by the VetCompass Life tables supports the UK Brachycephalic Working Group’s call for all owners to ‘Stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog’.”

Robyn Lowe FdSc, Dip AVN (Small Animal), Dip HE CVN is a small animal Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) who regularly writes articles for academic journals and publications for animal owners. Robyn has a passion for evidence-based medicine, volunteers for Canine Arthritis Management, runs the Veterinary Voices Public Page, and campaigns on mental health and animal welfare issues.

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