No one ever gets a dog and says, “I hope he’ll only live to be six or seven.” On the contrary, most of the time we come home with this adorable little bundle, and we just want him to live forever. We’d even give away some of our own years if doing so would make our babies live longer.
It never works out the way we want it to, though. Usually, a dog is going to live, depending on the breed, an average of 11 or 12 years. Some will live longer, and some will not get nearly enough time. As if any time is really ever enough.
I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve always had long-lived dogs. I’m not really sure what I’m doing that’s right, but I guess it simply makes sense to continue raising my dogs the way I always have – in other words, it ain’t broke, so I don’t fix it.
Average Lifespan for Dogs
So, what is the average dog’s lifespan?You’ve probably heard the old story that dog years are about equivalent to human years. There’s a little bit of truth in that, but the fact is that it has to do more with breed, age, and size than it does with a simple “multiply by 7” formula.
Just as an example, smaller dogs will almost always live longer than larger dogs. And in the first year of any dog’s life, he’s going to age to about the same extent as a 15-year-old human – that sort of tosses the “one equals seven” equation on its head, doesn’t it?
When you start getting up in years, too, you really see a difference. A small dog, for instance, that is 16 years old, is about the same as a human that is 80 years old. No biggie, right? But if the dog is 16 and of a large breed, his general health is going to be about the same as that of a human who reached the age of 120.
So, What Influences a Dog’s Lifespan?
There are a number of factors, and they can all work in combination. Let’s take a look at those factors.
1. Genetics and Breeding
Some dogs, sad to say, simply live longer than others. Some are prone to certain health problems like cancer, hip dysplasia, spinal problems, respiratory issues and more. Sometimes, a good breeder can identify problems that might occur in puppies.Other times, it’s just the luck of the draw. You might not know, until the dog ages, that there’s a problem.
This is always a tough topic. I’ve pointed out many times that I’ve never fed any of my dogs anything other than store brand dog food, and I’ve always gotten what would be considered to be “bonus” years.
That said, I do acknowledge that good nutrition is vital. My dogs aren’t show animals. They aren’t athletes. So, I think they do just fine on generic dog food. If you have a dog that’s showing or participating in athletic events, though, you might wish to consider a dog food that’s specially formulated for active dogs. Dogs that don’t get the right nutrition for the right purpose when they’re young can develop problems, like issues with the joints.
By the same token, over-feeding can be just as bad. Nobody wants an obese dog.
Poor nutrition can result in health problems and a shortened lifespan, no matter what end of the spectrum you’re on.
Bad nutrition can also result in problems with the skin and coat. Now, this might not sound all that bad, but the thing is, it causes stress. And unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that stress is connected with lower life expectancy in humans. I don’t see any reason why we should think that it’s any less harmful for our dogs.
Exercise helps keep you healthy and happy, and it works the same way for your dog. Some dogs will require more exercise than others, but there’s no such thing as a dog that doesn’t need to be exercised at all. Even arthritic dogs need to be walked daily.
Dogs that are recovering from injuries should still get some exercise. Talk with your vet to find out how much is appropriate.
4. Health Care
One of the saddest things I’ve ever encountered is people who buy a puppy, take it home, and say, “There, all done!”
No, you’re not all done. Your dog needs regular health care the same way that you do.
Why is this?
It’s because s*** happens! Dogs can end up being injured, and if the injury isn’t dealt with, it can get that much worse. Then there are issues like parasite infestations – fleas, ticks, and other parasites can become problematic, and even life-threatening if they’re not dealt with.
5. The Environment
I know that all right-thinking people are concerned about the environment right now. It affects us in a huge way, and it also affects our dogs. Maybe it even affects them more, because they’re closer to the ground. That means that they’re going to pick up a lot more toxins than we will, from things like insecticides, herbicides, lawn fertilizers and more.
Simply stated, things that are picked up from the environment can affect your dog’s lifespan. And if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, that means that he’s going to pick up tons of those contaminants. No one really knows for sure, but there is a school of thought that suggests picking up contaminants over and over can adversely affect your dog’s lifespan.
6. Mental and Emotional Stimulation
I really believe that a happy dog is a healthy dog. I believe that the same thing goes for humans as well. We all need to be stimulated mentally and emotionally in order to be healthy.
If your dog is just lying around the house all the time, and never has any type of stimulation, he’s going to become depressed, the same as you would. Your dog needs regular exercise, vigorous play with you, and other activities that work to stimulate his mind. If he doesn’t get that, I’m pretty sure that he will become depressed.
In humans, depression can lead to a lowered lifespan, and I don’t imagine that it’s any different when it comes to your dog’s lifespan.
7. Lots of Love
I really believe that dogs that are loved live longer. Dogs are just like people in that if they know that they are loved, then they will be happy, and they will be less prone to stress. So, the most important thing you can do for your dog is let him know, every day, how much you love him.
I really think that this is why I’ve always had “bonus years” from my dogs. They always knew that I loved them more than anything. More than life itself.
The Final Word
Give your dogs the good life. Lots of exercise, lots of stimulation, great health care, and most important, a ton of love. I really think that love is the most important thing.
Why is that?
Simply because I can’t think of anything else I’ve done with my dogs. I’ve just loved them. And in the final analysis, I think that’s all that was really needed.