What is your top reason for choosing a particular breed? Human nature suggests looks are near the top of the list followed by a myriad of emotional factors.
Face it, you are not likely choosing a German Shepherd over another breed because you need a police dog or help to sniff out illicit drugs in your neighborhood.
Is appearance the entire picture, though, when trying to decide which puppy breed to add to the home? What about seemingly critical traits like temperament or health? German Shepherds are the second most popular breed in the US. Do people pick them because they live for a long time?
How long do German Shepherds live? The short answer is the GSD has longevity of about 10 years. Some do not live quite a decade and others live a few years longer. What affects the health and lifespan of German Shepherds?
We discuss health and behavioral issues that can prematurely shorten your dog’s life. If you have a German Shepherd, what can you do to help her live a longer life while keeping her happy and comfortable?
Is lifespan important to people’s decisions about dog breeds?
When people consider a dog breed, you might think a short lifespan would be a deal-breaker. According to data compiled by Companion Animal Psychology, longevity is greatly outweighed by other factors.
Potential dog owners may even overlook potential health and behavioral concerns of particular breeds in their quest to have a certain type of dog.
Dog owners worldwide recognize the plight of the English Bulldog, French Bulldog, and pug, to name a few. Knowledge has not lessened the popularity of snub-nosed dwarf dogs.
The German Shepherd’s case is not so drastic, seemingly, but the breed suffers alarming problems from the increasing demand for a particular look.
What leads to the increasingly poor health and correspondingly shorter lives of some of the most common dog breeds?
Irresponsible breeding, commonly through line-breeding and inbreeding, has led to a dramatic rise in detrimental diseases that can be inherited from one generation to the next.
Inbreeding drastically shrinks the gene pool. Diseases are often recessive traits, only showing up if a puppy receives two copies of that one gene. The probability of expressing recessive characteristics skyrockets as the number of genes decreases.
Of course, breeders never sought to create crippled dogs or to promote pets who always gasp for their next breaths. However, by trying to guarantee a particular appearance, they unintentionally selected for defects and disorders carried on some of the same genes as roached backs or wide heads.
The ongoing demand for extreme features perpetuates poor breeding at the expense of canine health and longevity.
What are line-breeding and inbreeding?
Inbreeding is mating two related individuals, usually intending to propagate a certain phenotype or gene expression that you can see. An example of a phenotype is a blue hair color or a curly tail.
Line-breeding is a form of inbreeding, usually attempting to cross dogs who are not so closely related. For illustration purposes, a close inbreeding would be mating a dog with his sister while line-breeding might cross a stud with his grandfather’s offspring.
According to the RSPCA, all forms of inbreeding can lead to an increase in inherited disorders with a loss of genetic variation. Other well-documented effects of inbreeding are a compromised immune system and shorter life span, to name just a couple.
Max von Stephanitz, the founder and initial developer of the German Shepherd, engaged in generations of line-breeding.
There is no telling how many individuals he culled for various defects or problems. He ultimately obtained one of the most versatile and functional working dogs the world has known.
Stephanitz also produced a universally recognized body type and color scheme. A couple of the German Shepherd’s most valuable working traits, good limb angulation, and long back have become so exaggerated through further inbreeding as to compromise the dog’s ability to move efficiently.
Ironically, conformation compromises the show dog’s performance as a working animal, but an even larger concern is it potentially shortens lifespans.
How fast do German Shepherds age?
Undoubtedly you have heard the adage that a dog’s year is the equivalency of seven human years. While this is roughly true of older dogs, the rate at which a German Shepherd age is not the same every year. Moreover, large dogs typically do not live as long as small dogs and hybrids live longer than purebreds of comparable size.
A German Shepherd reaches adolescence between five and eight months of age and continues until adulthood at around 18 months to a couple of years old.
Therefore, the AVMA estimates that your puppy’s first year is equal to about 15 years for a human. When your Shepherd reaches the age of two she is about 20 to 24 human years.
From then on, your dog ages about 5 human years for each of her own years. Relative to a human, a ten-year-old German Shepherd is about 63 to 70 years old.
What health concerns decrease life span?
You can classify German Shepherd health concerns that can end his life into three major categories. Barring traumatic incidents or conditions beyond your control, the lifespan for a well-cared-for GSD is 10 or 11 years, with an average range from 9 to 13 years.
Accidents claim younger dogs
Young dogs in their adolescent years are still emotionally immature, naïve, and adventuresome. German Shepherds between the ages of nine and eighteen months can be especially hard to handle if you have not spayed your female or neutered your male by then. If dogs can survive their first year, chances are better they will live out their normal lifespans.
- Hit by car
- Dog fight
- Cuts or lacerations from running into objects or climbing fences
- Congenital health defects
- Lost or abandoned at an animal shelter
Health concerns that cause your pet’s demise
Everyone inevitably reaches an age where their health begins to decline. Some disorders of German Shepherds are hereditary and presumably preventable while others are not.
- Hemangiosarcoma – A cancerous growth in the spleen that causes bleeding and fatigue.
- Bone cancer – Cause microfractures which lead to catastrophic failure of the affected bone.
- Gastric dilatation and volvulus – The stomach bloats and twists in this condition, causing life-threatening electrolyte and fluid imbalances, toxicity from organ death, and heart irregularities. GDV appears in deep-chested, usually large dogs. Small dogs can become affected too if they are deep-chested, like the Dachshund.
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy – The heart becomes enlarged and the cardiac muscle walls thin, leading to congestive heart failure or sudden death.
Some health problems shorten your Shepherd’s life
A substantial number of diseases that affect canines may force the ill dog’s owner to weigh their quality-of-life concerns. For example, diseases like hip dysplasia are not imminently fatal, but if your dog can no longer walk or constantly soils himself, you will likely decide his quality of life is unbearably poor.
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Osteoarthritis – Inflammation and damaged cartilage can lead to arthritis, which is progressive and may become extremely painful. Arthritis is one of the most common reasons people euthanize their dogs.
- Aggression and behavioral problems – There is no dismissing the number of dogs destroyed in the prime of their lives for hereditary behavioral and mental issues that lead to biting people, killing other animals, and otherwise proving uncontrollable.
- Megaesophagus – The esophagus is abnormally dilated and food can collect in it. Many dogs accidentally inhale food as a result of this disease and can die from resulting pneumonia.
- Myasthenia gravis – Often linked to megaesophagus, Myasthenia gravis is a neurologic immune disorder. It is similar to hip dysplasia in that is has definite genetic markers, according to PetMD, without which it would not manifest. However, it is difficult to eliminate, like dysplasia, because of environmental influences and asymptomatic carriers.
- Epilepsy – If seizures become refractive, or uncontrollable with medication, your Shepherd can’t live a normal and happy life.
- Degenerative myelopathy – Yet another disease with genetic markers, degenerative myelopathy, according to the Universities Federation for the Welfare of Animals (UFAW) of the UK, is a progressive and chronic wasting disease of the nerves of the spinal cord. It eventually leads to complete paralysis of all limbs. Symptoms most often begin when your dog is eight or nine years old. The disease is painless but eventually completely debilitating. Shepherds generally only live a year with the disease before their owners elect euthanasia.
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) – The bony segments of the spine, the vertebrae, can degenerate and cause paralysis.
This German Shepherd illustrates the early stages of degenerative myelopathy. Paralysis commonly starts with a loss of sensation as shown by the improper placing of the hind legs and weakness, known as ataxia, of the hindquarters.
Note, she seems unconcerned by her condition. It is difficult to tell her age from this video but she acts like an older Shepherd. However, one symptom of DM is fatigue or lethargy. With perhaps a slight graying around the muzzle, she is probably eight or nine years old.
You can take action to help your dog live as long and as happy as possible
German Shepherds are vulnerable to a host of problems that can prematurely shorten their lives, but not all is gloomy. You can work proactively to help your German Shepherd live out her full life with a reasonable expectation for optimal health.
Buying your dog from a reputable breeder may decrease the incidence of hip and elbow dysplasia. The AKC recommends screening radiographs for German Shepherds who are part of a breeding program. Conscientious breeders also usually pay attention to the temperaments of their dogs.
Feed your Alsatian a high-quality dog food or raw diet under veterinary or nutritionist supervision. Optimizing nutritional value in your dog’s food is one of the basic steps to preventing disease.
Many conditions arise from nutrient deficiencies that can occur in a well-fed dog if she cannot absorb or digest the vitamins or minerals she ingests. The more balanced, high-quality, and natural a diet is, the more bioavailable the ingredients.
Consider preventative nutriceuticals such as joint supplements, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants to delay the onset of degenerative diseases like arthritis.
Your German Shepherd should receive physical check-ups by a veterinarian multiple times a year. Remember how fast large-breed dogs can age compared to humans. Frequent checks may catch some diseases early when you can still treat or manage them.
German Shepherds are not particularly susceptible to obesity, but you want to feed your dog appropriate amounts and exercise him regularly. Sufficient exercise can prevent behavioral problems. Limiting food intake and paying attention to how you time your feeding with other activities are vital to prevent GDV.
Physical therapy is invaluable for arthritic conditions to increase mobility and range of motion.
Finally, keep your dog’s stress levels low. Anxiety and high stressor chemicals can exacerbate harmful free radicals.
As awareness grows about the detrimental effects careless breeding and exaggerations of specific physical traits are having on purebred dogs, more experts are moving towards different approaches to registry standards and changing the public’s perception regarding canine health versus pet appearance.
The idea of crossbreeding to revitalize purebred lines and creating designer dogs to moderate such exaggerated features as flat faces, short legs, and elongated backs, is taking hold among critics of current breeding trends.
People want their dogs to live longer and healthier. Some Shepherd mixes live close to 14 or 15 years instead of 10 to 12.
Even the AKC has acknowledged the value of outcrossing. One huge accomplishment was the successful eradication of cysteine urinary stones in Dalmatians with the introduction of English Pointer bloodlines.
The UFAW is optimistic that similarly, careful and patient selective breeding can eliminate such hereditary problems as degenerative myelopathy in the GSD over time.