As always our insight here offers valuable pointers for all dog breeds and mixes, and you cannot find this anywhere else unless copied from us.
Or for expected lifespan or life expectancy: how long the dog will live, presumably.
And that's regardless whether that's the lifespan of the German Shepherd or Alsatian, or the lifespan of any other dog breed or mix.
So follow along to gain insights like nowhere else.
- Original German Shepherd Lifespan
- Dog Life Expectancy - Platitudes
- Expected Lifespan vs Average Lifespan vs Individual Lifespan
- Dog Lifespan - What Matters
- Dog Lifespan - What Only We Know
- Dog Longevity Research
- Dog Longevity Results
- German Shepherd Average Lifespan
- Dogs' Shortened Lifespan Explained
- Key Longevity Factors: How to Ensure a Long Life for Your Dog
- How to Care Well for Old Dog
- How to Prepare for End of Dog Lifespan
Original German Shepherd Lifespan
From historical books we know that in the past the German Shepherd Dog like most other dogs reached a lifespan past 20 years.
In fact the widely so considered breed founder Max v. Stephanitz told us that the German Shepherd and other herding dogs typically were productive working dogs until age 16 years and older: 8 to 10 hours a day keeping the herd together, and at night guarding the herd from predators.
I say "widely so considered" because you need to understand that the German Shepherd Dog breed as such of course is much older than commonly portrayed - which refers to its first registration as dog breed.
However that "first" GSD of course did NOT pop up out of thin air but instead was itself the result of hundreds of years of dog breeding.
Were it not for authentic historical literature many of today's dog owners would fall for the myth propagated by what has become the "pet food" industry: "Thanks to our complete and balanced nutrition dogs live longer healthier lives".
Unfortunately today few dog owners ever read historical books or respectable websites to learn actual dog insight.
Instead today most are limited to the "wisdom" that "blogs" and something called "facebook" make them believe is right. But note that those behind both of these are 100% money-focused: they publish what gets them views and income.
And so, not knowing any better most dog owners will continue to buy mutilated puppies from corrupt breeders...
So what about the German Shepherd lifespan TODAY?
Dog Life Expectancy - Platitudes
In most places you find copied platitudes like these:
- "How long will your dog live? It all depends on the dog's breed" - Well no: Foremost it depends on other factors, not "breed, size and weight"
- "The average German Shepherd life expectancy is 11 years, based on their size, weight and history" - It's not, we just clarified that.
Expected Lifespan vs Average Lifespan vs Individual Lifespan
To make it clear right here:
You may get a Great Dane and prepare yourself for the widely copied average lifespan of just 7 years.
But the dog's individual lifespan may end after 10 years and you wonder: "Have I done something different, better?"
Or you may get a German Shepherd and prepare yourself for the widely copied "average lifespan of 11 years".
But the dog's individual lifespan may end after just 6 years and you wonder: "How is that possible? My dog's lifespan was expected to be much longer than that of any Great Dane!"
You see there: It's essential that we first understand the three totally different notions of lifespan:
- Expected lifespan: Your or my expectation today how long your dog or my dog likely will live. This life expectancy entirely depends on dog health and dog lifestyle!
- Average lifespan: Average age at death (mean, median, or mode; ideally the mode) of the considered base population of dogs, typically by breed. This is what many people wrongly consider life expectancy!
- Individual lifespan: Age at death of a particular dog. Your dog, my dog, any dog.
"Studies" there are many. Few merit the paper they are published on.
Is that the reason why today many studies are solely published electronically? - You decide!
Dog Lifespan - What matters
Only the latter of the above - 3: Individual lifespan - is what you focus on when you have a dog:
"How can I prolong MY dog's individual lifespan?" - your dog's longevity!
Because when you appreciate having your dog and your bank account, then you will aim for a longer healthier life for your dog.
Again, regardless of breed or mix.
Because a longer life of a sicker dog that costs you a fortune, that is not something you want to aim for. Right?
There is no such thing as average life expectancy, that's a wrong notion:
It makes no sense to build an expectation how long all considered dogs will live, as this totally depends on the lifestyle each of the dogs will have.
For a sensible expectation, as a minimum we must know the individual dog's health and lifestyle at the moment.
Besides, the Cynology Hub MyGermanShepherd.Org does not copy unfounded platitudes. Instead we
Here: the key longevity factors: How can you ensure a longer lifespan?!
Because, isn't that precisely what you are looking for? Or soon will be looking for?
Dog Lifespan - What Only We Know
Thanks to the comprehensive dog data collection from the beginning, the Cynology Hub MyGermanShepherd.Org is in a unique position:
Dog Longevity Research
In recent years several studies of dog longevity have begun, both within and beyond Geroscience, the biology of aging.
In addition to MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG's research based on our dog lifestyle database, the following key research projects have been or are undertaken, each heavily funded:
- Vicky Adam's Breed longevity survey: was based on breed club questionnaire responses in the UK, and for the German Shepherd responses were lacking.
- Stanley Coren's breed club questionnaires enquiring by snail mail about all dogs that had "died within the previous 10 years"
- University of Washington's Daniel Promislow's Canine Longevity Consortium that plans to study health and aging of 100,000 dogs in the USA over a 10-year period.
- Daniel Promislow also co-leads the Dog Aging Project which undertakes several studies with the goal to increase the healthy lifespan of pet dogs.
- Specifically for German Shepherds, Dan O'Neill's analysis of VetCompass data of dogs in primary veterinary care in the UK.
- University of Washington's Matt Kaeberlein is even testing a drug using the Macrocyclic lactone Rapamycin to increase canine longevity by suppressing tumors.
Any dog longevity insights yet?
Dog Longevity Results
From the above studies? Minimal. But dog lifespan results yes:
- Studying questionnaire responses is fraught with imprecision, ambiguity, and contradictions - and responses for GSDs were lacking anyway
- The promising research of the University of Washington's Canine Longevity Consortium and Dog Aging Project has not yet yielded dog lifespan results nor dog longevity insights
- Reasonably reliable data however revealed O'Neill's VetCompass analysis, so let's start with that.
Given the data source (VetCompass data), it's clear that O'Neill's study can provide dog lifespan results for the GSD, but only very limited dog longevity insights for any dog breed or mix:
So below, first the interesting results specific to the German Shepherd, the focus of O'Neill's study. Then general dog longevity insights applicable to all dogs.
German Shepherd Average Lifespan
- Base population: 12,146 German Shepherds in primary veterinary care in the UK, meaning:
- not particularly sick dogs that require specialists in secondary care or in the hospital
- nor outright healthy dogs that don't receive veterinary care at all.
- Median lifespan among this base population: 10.3 years (analysing the mode would have been helpful in my opinion!)
- Median lifespan female dogs: 11.1ys
- Median lifespan male dogs: 9.7ys
- IQR: 8.0 - 12.1 years, meaning: the middle 50% of dogs reached an age of between 8 to 12.1 years.
- Youngest dog death: male puppy, age 2 months
- Oldest dog death: a neutered male dog, age 17.0 years
- Median lifespan of altered dogs: 10.2ys (IQR: 8.3 - 12.3ys)
- Median lifespan of unaltered dogs: 9.8ys (IQR: 7.6 - 11.4ys)
- 87.2% of deaths involved euthanasia, the remaining 12.8% were unassisted natural death
Cause of death:
- 31.2% musculoskeletal disorders and defects including inability to stand
- 27% among male dogs
- 37% among female dogs
- 14.5% Neoplasia or tumor/cancer
- 14% among male dogs
- 15% among female dogs
- 13.6% Spinal cord disorder
- 16% among male dogs
- 11% among female dogs
- 5% Brain disorder
- 6% among male dogs
- 3% among female dogs
- 5% Cardiac disorder
- 7% among male dogs
- 2% among female dogs
- 7.9% otitis externa
- 5.5% osteoarthritis
- 5.2% diarrhea
- 5.2% overweight/obesity
- 4.8% aggression (males: 6.7%, females: 2.8%)
- The heaviest GSD was recorded at 82.9kg! That's an inconceivable 182lb!
- But adult body weight mode, ie most of the dogs: just 30.0–39.9kg (66 - 88lb), even for male dogs on their own!
- While 12.4% of the dogs weighed more than 50kg (110lb)
- 5.2% of male dogs and 6.4% of female dogs were classified obese by their respective veterinarian
- 35% of the dogs (incl. puppies) were younger than 3ys, a total of 60% were younger than 6ys, and only 4.7% of the dogs were 12ys or older.
Qualifying Lifespan Data
Note that the German Shepherd Lifespan results (10.3 years overall, etc) were derived from "only" 272 GSD deaths recorded during the study: the entire year 2013.
It would have gained more validity had all age at death been analysed: also from dogs that died before 2013. It's unclear why this wasn't done.
On the other hand, the 10.3 years German Shepherd lifespan seems like a good ballpark figure: it reflects my own impression from looking at data from our past subscribers (more on this further below).
Nonetheless, more critical to understand is the structure of the study, eg:
- Is it representative to consider only the dogs in primary veterinary care?
- Is it possible or likely that German Shepherds outside the UK - even again only those in primary veterinary care - would yield significantly different dog lifespan results, sickness results, etc?
As for the first:
- It seems fair to assume that (roughly!) the number of dogs that have moved on to secondary care or tertiary care (the sickest dogs) may be similar to the number of dogs that didn't see a vet at all during 2013 (the healthiest dogs).
- In that case, the dog lifespan results are representative, yes.
As for the second:
- From our own dog lifestyle database we know that GSDs in the UK overall are smaller and lighter than GSDs in the USA
- and more so, that the body mass index is higher for American German Shepherds: more of them are overweight, despite recognizing their greater size
- On average, a higher body mass index results in earlier death: stress on joints, heart, etc
- In addition - and all the more relevant for GSDs as herding dogs - little exercise results in earlier death: shorter individual lifespan
- From our dog lifestyle database it's clear that on average American GSDs have a more sedentary lifestyle ("couch life") than UK GSDs, because of kennel/crate use, etc
- For these and more reasons, if any difference, one would reasonably assume that the UK-derived German Shepherd lifespan of overall 10.3 years may be at the high end when considering that UK GSDs are far outnumbered by American GSDs!
Dog Lifespan - Gaining More Validity
You may know that at MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG we have a number of places where we voluntarily collect dog details for own research:
- when you subscribe for free
- when you become a supporting site member (thanks ❤)
- when you use our Online GSD Health Assessment
- when you benefit from the very personal Dog Problem Consultation
- when you share dog details in emails worded to pass the SPAM barrier
And although nowhere you can enter posthumously
- your dog's lifespan
- and the cause for the end of lifespan if you know it
the other data that many of you have kindly contributed over the past decade (thanks ❤) point to conclusions that obviously are way more reliable than breed club questionnaires enquiring by snail mail about all dogs that had "died within the previous 10 years".
Besides, already after 1 year many "cannot remember" lifespan and/or cause of death, or they "don't want to remember".
In addition, even many dog owners who want to answer a snail-mailed or emailed questionnaire cannot answer specific questions:
- some dog owners "don't have a vet"
- other dog owners have a vet but "the vet didn't say"
- some vets "couldn't say"
- other vets reported assumptions to the dog owner without making that clear
- some dog owners make their own assumptions - some correct, others not
- some dog owners know dog lifestyle details or sickness symptoms that the vet doesn't learn of
- and some dog owners "don't want to share the specifics".
This is why such mass questionnaires always are inferior to current personal data entry and current personal conversation in emails.
And so, in many cases:
- we can tell the dog lifespan ("I am unsubscribing because my dog passed away")
- and even the cause of death from the - often heartbreaking! - email communication with subscribers
It's just that I personally would have to analyze and validate all that data gathered through all the means listed above.
Hence why currently I cannot contribute own "hard data" on GSD lifespan, only my impression from memory. Conversely, data that we collect as a field is of course much quicker to analyze.
From my memory: My impression is that in the USA (most of our subscribers always have been from the USA: has more GSDs than any other nation I know of) way more dogs die of cancer than what O'Neill's research of VetCompass data yielded for the UK (14.5%).
I also remember that the prevalence of Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is much higher in the USA than anywhere among European GSDs.
DM is the prime (not the only) cause of what the VetCompass veterinarians diagnosed as musculoskeletal cause of death - which was 31.2% for UK GSDs (including inability to stand). DM is an inherited defect.
Dogs' Shortened Lifespan Explained
Having read all the above, one must wonder: How comes that within a mere 100 years
- the average lifespan of German Shepherds has halved?
- and no dog's individual lifespan comes anywhere near the lifespan almost every dog reached historically?
Is odd, huh?
And that despite the fact that today almost every dog receives "veterinary care" while historically almost no dog did.
Is more than odd, huh?
This article is already the work of a 9 days, so let's keep things brief.
No hard data (how could anyone know?) but let's together apply some common sense, and you correct me if I go wrong somewhere, okay?
How to Prepare for End of Dog Lifespan
Be aware that you've done for your dog everything that you knew at the time is best. Don't get wound up about things you didn't know any better at the time.
Just learn more to do it better with your next dog. We all improve with time if only we want.
- Shoot one or more final photos of your dog in the environment and setting you like most as keepsake.
- Be aware that you could also make some shed dog hair into a beautiful or even useful keepsake!
- When three emotionally unattached people say so then save your old or too sick dog from further suffering. I feel this is the single best advice to know when the time is right to let go. Or what do you feel?
- If you feel euthanizing is the right exit and three emotionally unattached people agree, and if you are sure you have the strength to be with your dog, then holding under your dog's chin may be the most comfortable for both, your dog and yourself.
Can you contribute anything from your experience that's still fresh in your memory?
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