The longest living German Shepherds are recorded as having survived to 18 years old, and perhaps even older. Although it’s nowhere near scientific, I personally know at least two families that claim to have had Shepherds live into their late teens a few decades ago. So it’s surprising when you do the research and discover that the average German Shepherd lifespan is around 11 years.
One highly cited study puts German Shepherd Dogs’ lifespan at exactly 11 years and another more recent study confirmed this with a 10.95-year median. So, you can generally expect at least a decade of love and memories from a well-cared-for German Shepherd. Diet, health testing, veterinary care, exercise and inherited traits will all play their part in helping their journey to continue as long as possible.
German Shepherd Health Issues
German Shepherds are a popular breed with good reason. They are smart, brave, and loyal. In working scenarios, they are always highly competent, which has made them popular as police dogs in several countries.
But the German Shepherd breed is not without its drawbacks. These dogs also have health concerns, which need to be carefully considered and accounted for. Problems with their joints although painful aren’t deadly, however over time they can result in euthanasia when the pain becomes to great to manage with drugs. Other issues like bloat can be fatal, and are not uncommon in this large and enthusiastic eater.
To improve German Shepherd lifespan, good breeders screen their dogs for hereditary conditions before including them in their breeding program. If your puppy’s parents are cleared for a disease, it’s not possible for it to be passed along and therefore limit your dog’s lifespan.
To reduce your dog’s risk of health issues, make sure you acquire your pet through ethical means. Never support puppy mills! Ethical breeders treat their dogs well and work hard to minimize the risk of genetic disease in their breeding pools.
German Shepherd Breeding Problems
One thing to be aware of with German Shepherds breeders is the prominence and perceived desirability of a sloped-back.
This trait is now being corrected, as it is the source of joint, hip, and leg malformations that can worsen over time and prevent dogs from walking.
However, as recently as 2017, some breeders were still under fire for breeding overly-sloped top-lines (backs). Do your research on potential breeders and use discretion.
Skeletal problems don’t directly reduce German Shepherd lifespan, but they can cause such pain and loss of quality of life that they become a reason for euthanizing affected dogs.
Longest Living German Shepherd
Of course, median German Shepherd Dogs lifespan isn’t the only important figure when determining how long German Shepherds live. You may also be curious how long it is possible for a German Shepherd Dog to live under ideal circumstances.
The oldest living German Shepherd in O’Neill’s studies was 18, which also seems to be a pretty firm maximum among unconfirmed owner reporting. I did come across one owner who claimed their German Shepherd was 20, but I have no way of corroborating this.
How To Extend German Shepherd Dogs Lifespan
There is obviously a lot of time between the average 11 years and the maximum 18, so it is fair to wonder how you might help your German Shepherd live longer.
Of course, there is nothing you can do to ensure your German Shepherd Dog will make it to 18, but there are certainly things you can do to help increase your pup’s lifespan.
We’ve already discussed the importance of health screenings. You can help your dog live much longer by catching any illnesses it may have early on, since this allows for more effective treatment.
There are plenty of other things you can do, as well.
Good Puppy Care Increases Potential Lifespan
Paying special attention to your dog’s health in puppyhood is one of the best ways to promote health in adulthood. Puppies need special food to ensure they get enough nutrients to grow. However, overfeeding can cause overgrowth in dogs, which is detrimental to their longevity and general health.
Overfeeding will also result in an overweight dog, which causes joint and hip problems, among a slew of other illnesses.
In addition, you shouldn’t work puppies too hard. Do not take your puppy on runs or long, exhaustive walks until it is about six months old.
Puppy joints are not prepared for the strenuous nature of intense exercise. Over-exercise in puppyhood can often result in joint issues and other health problems in adulthood.
Fit Dogs Live Longer
Exercise in adulthood should greatly extend the life expectancy of your dog by reducing obesity and heart-related disease. Adult working dogs need at least an hour every morning and afternoon, including either off leash running, agility or training games.
And it’s not just your dog’s body that benefits from exercise, it helps their brains too! Entertainment and enrichment removes the opportunity for your dog to get bored. And German Shepherds with nothing to do often chew, and occasionally this can result in choking or swallowing dangerous objects.
You Are What You Eat
Of course, their diet has a huge impact on their health. From puppyhood to give your dog the best chance of a long life stick with a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate kibble or canned food. Many small meals are better than one large one, even when they are full grown.
What Traits Influence A Breed’s Longevity?
So what is it about long-living breeds that allow for their outstanding health? According to science, several factors are likely to contribute.
It is true that smaller dogs usually live longer than large dogs. You can count on most small breeds of dog to live into their teens, with many living into mid-to-late teens. This is usually attributed to heart health, as large breeds’ hearts must work harder to circulate blood.
However, medium-small dogs such as Collies seem to have the longest maximum lifespan. The two oldest living dogs, according to Guinness World Records, were 24 and 29. Both were Australian cattle dogs.
Additionally, two out of three of the dogs with the highest median lifespan are Collies. These types of breeds have one major thing in common that likely contributes to their longevity: hardy breeding practices.
These breeds of mid-sized, lightweight herders and workers were bred to be smart, healthy and athletic. Their lineages were not bred for cuteness or other physical characteristics that are perceived as desirable but often result in health complications, such as snub noses and sloped backs.
Smaller mid-sized dogs also have less broad chest cavities which limits the risk of exercise-induced collapse and the collection of air between the outside of the lungs and chest wall known as pneumothorax.
So, the major contributing factors to a breed’s longevity seem to be size, for circulation and heart-health, and breeding practices that avoid genetic disease.
German Shepherd lifespan is also related to these factors.
Conclusion: Traits Influencing German Shepherd Lifespan
Earlier in this article, we mentioned that German Shepherds have, as recently as 2017, been bred for sloped backs which are detrimental to their health. This already sets them apart from other, longer-living shepherd breeds which seem to have been bred exclusively for functionality.
When you throw in the prominence of bloat, collapse, and joint issues in larger bodied breeds, it becomes clear why the German Shepherd Dog’s life expectancy isn’t quite as high as some others in the herding group.
That being said, the German Shepherd does not fall into the realm of the shortest living breeds such as the Dogue de Bordeaux or Great Dane. All in all, the German Shepherd has some factors working against it, but it is still a generally hardy breed.
If well-bred and properly exercised, this breed can live into its mid-to-late teens, although this is the exception rather than the rule. You can expect German Shepherds to live around 11 years.