City Paws:The Long and Short of Life Spans

by Ed & Penny Cherubino

It’s a sad fact that our beloved dogs have short lives by humans standards. As you talk to dog lovers, you often hear tales of all the dogs they have known and loved through the years. Those who love members of giant breeds face the shortest normal life spans.


Big Dog, Little Dog

When people talk about big dogs having short lives, they should change that word big to giant. In reality, it is the giant breeds, like the Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Mastiff, Saint Bernard, and Newfoundland, that grow to 100 pounds or more, who will probably have shorter life spans.

Recent research reported in Psychology Today looked into why this might occur. It seems to have something to do with telomeres which are the protective caps on the ends of the dog’s chromosomes.

Thor Harald Ringsby of the Department of Biology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway has suggested that, “… large dogs have to run their metabolism and their growth mechanisms at a high rate of speed. The cells divide quickly to allow the dogs to grow to their final size (which is based on the characteristics of their breed). Unfortunately, each cell division is going to clip off a bit of the length of their telomeres, bringing them closer to a state of affairs where their body will begin to fail, starting at the cellular level.”

While it is true that smaller dog live longer lives, there are many large and medium size breeds who can live to about 15 years old. Among these are American Alsatians, Malamutes, Huskies, Dobermans, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Collies.


No Guarantees

A dear friend of ours just lost a 5-year-old Westie to a sudden and unexplained coronary. This was a dog that had the best of care from the moment she was rescued. She had been in for a complete checkup just weeks before her final rush to the veterinarian when she seemed just a little sick.

No matter what the breed, size, or the care given, bodies can fail, accidents can happen, and a beloved dog can be gone in days. But for the long range, in many cases, there is hope for enjoying more time with these faithful creatures.

Better Care, Longer Lives

Improvements in how we feed and care for our companion animals have had some impact on extending their lives. Rick Docksai, senior editor of The Futurist writes, “Veterinary medicine is evolving. Injuries or illnesses that would have consigned a dog or cat to euthanasia just a few years ago are now very treatable. And more progress is yet to come, thanks to promising recent breakthroughs in genetics, along with continuing improvements in nutrition, surgery, and disease treatment. A dog today can enjoy 12 to 15 years of life, on average. Don’t be surprised, however, if it becomes normal late in this century for a dog to still be alive and tail-wagging at age 20 or 25—or even 30!”

We have seen a few dogs approach those ages in our experience. We met our first Westie’s grandfather Mac when he was 18. He was still king of the house and grumpy over all the puppies who were getting in his way and taking attention from him. We can only imagine what he would have been like at age 30.


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