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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?

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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.

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