Karen B. London
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Causes of Death Vary by Breed
What’s your dog’s risk?
Dogs of every breed face different health risks.

Most dog guardians have some idea what to look for in terms of health issues based on the breed of their dog. Those who have Pugs and Bulldogs know that respiratory problems may crop up, while those with Dachshunds and Bassett Hounds are aware that their dogs are more likely than many other breeds to have back issues.

A recent study of almost 75,000 dogs over a period of 20 years delved deeper into serious health concerns that are breed related. Dr. Daniel Promislow and Dr. Kate Creevy investigated the causes of death in 80 breeds from 1984 to 2004 and published their study in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Their findings include many expected results as well as some surprises.

As predicted, they found that small breeds such as the Chihuahua and Maltese have high rates of cardiovascular disease, but they learned that the Fox Terrier does, too. It was no surprise that Golden Retrievers and Boxers are at high risk for cancer, but the finding that Bouvier de Flandres die from cancer at an even higher rate was unexpected.

Understanding what the causes of death are across breeds is important for two different reasons. One, it may help explain a paradox within domestic dogs: Typically, larger mammals live longer than smaller ones, but in dogs, little dogs have longer life spans than bigger ones. Knowing the causes of death may help explain why this is so.

Two, knowing what diseases and health problems a dog is at risk for based on breed can help veterinarians screen for, diagnose and treat health problems earlier. This may result in better management and treatment of these issues, which can prolong life and improve the quality of life for dogs. For rare breeds especially, veterinarians may not see enough individuals in their practice to elucidate the patterns for risk that they notice in more common breeds, which makes studies with large numbers of dogs, such as this one, so valuable.

What health risks are you aware of based on the breed of your dog?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by pat gibson | May 24 2011 |

Briards are very susceptible to bloat - it is one of the leading causes of death for the breed. Lymphoma is another common cause. On the whole it is a very healthy breed. My oldest is a rescued bitch who is at least 12 years old and still going strong. Other than a knee injury which does not stop her from anything, she shows no health issues. Her muzzle is very gray, but her eyes are clear and teeth are healthy. If you didn't know her age, you wouldn't guess she is an aged dog. Her companion is a 5 year old Briard bitch who is a healthy happy girlie too. She had one episode of near bloat as a very young dog, but quick response and treatment avoided a catastrophe. I watch her like a hawk now. Her brother bloated just a few weeks before she did. Fortunately he was able to recover. Their great-granddam died of bloat at age 9, even with prompt veterinary care. It scares me to death, but I am glad to know as I was able to preventative steps and know what to look for.

Submitted by wombat | May 24 2011 |

This blog post would be a lot more useful with a link to the original study, or at least to some report about it that has more information on the results. The article you link to is really no more detailed than this post, and there's no link there either. I clicked on this expecting to be able to learn something about my breed, and it's completely useless.

Submitted by Karen London | May 24 2011 |

Here's the address where you can see the original article:


Submitted by Carolyn | May 24 2011 |

My small breed dog (possibly maltipoo or some combination thereof) has had terrible teeth from Day 1. She's had to have several extracted ... even though we brush every day. She also came to me with a heart murmur that has, in 9 years, escalated into full blown heart disease. Evidently this is common for maltese. I've been really careful to be sure she has a healthy lifestyle in all respects and at age 11, if it weren't for the heart disease, I think she could go on and on for a few more years.

Submitted by Blair | May 25 2011 |

Please include more facts and information in your articles.

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | May 26 2011 |

Hi Blair,
Thanks for your feedback. This piece by Karen is actually just a blog post, not a full-fledged article. It is written to alert you to the report and tell you a little about it, in case you want to know more. The link to the original article as well as the link to the report that she added in the comments should help you learn more. Lisa

Submitted by r suarez | May 25 2011 |

I wish I could get Korean Jindo Dogs included in these studies. I know its a rare breed and not recognized by the AKC. Our dog has quite a few medical issues, including one that made her blind at 4yr old, so getting into official records could help others.

Submitted by Stephanie | May 27 2011 |

I actually found this blog post / article extremely helpful and informative. I have a 3 year old Weimaraner who is suffering from a very serious chronic and unfortunately, undiagnosed gastrointestinal issue. My vet and I are at wits' end about the cause but this article and link to the study has inspired me to continue researching the possible causes. Thank you :)

Submitted by Stephanie | May 27 2011 |

I enjoyed this blog post / article link very much and appreciate the information!

Submitted by erica | June 10 2011 |

I know that large dogs get more osteosarcoma than smaller breeds do, but from the owners and dogs I've known and read about in my 15+ years of adopting rescued racing greyhounds, my impression is that OS hits a high proportion of senior racers. I've read that bloat is proportionately much more common in AKC greyhound lines than in racing lines, while OS spares most AKC greyhounds. My theory is that the bottom-line focus of those in the racing industry is probably responsible for the infrequency of bloat. Dogs that developed bloat would be put down rather than operated on, so they did not live long enough to reproduce. Unless an AKC breeder had reason to believe that a tendency to bloat was inherited, s/he would not need to refrain from breeding a dog which had survived bloat. The popular sire effect could have spread such a predisposition very widely without anyone realizing it. Conversely, AKC breeders keep many of their adult dogs into their senior years, and are far more likely to hear from owners of their pet-quality puppies, since turned senior, than is the case with breeders of racing dogs. So AKC breeders would be more likely to observe an increased frequency of OS in their dogs than would racing breeders. And if racing breeders DID suspect OS ran in their bloodlines, phasing out those lines would not be a high priority since greyhounds are usually washed up by age 4, and in most states legally required to be retired by 6. Only the fastest dogs, or their parents, have any value to the racing dog breeder once they are no longer winning.

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