Breeder's Notebook

The genetics of longevity

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There's only one thing wrong with dogs: their lives are too short. We do't know exactly how many years too short -- that's hard to estimate. The most authoritative study as of yet, based on 3,000 British dogs, suggests the average age of all pet dogs is 11 years; the average age that dogs die of "old age" is 12 years and 8 months. Only 8 percent of dogs lived beyond 15. In the study, mongrels lived longer than most purebred dogs, with some exceptions, including Jack Russell Terriers (average 13.6 years), Whippets (14.3 years) and Miniature Poodles (14.8 years). Another recent study recently placed Papillons at the head of the longevity list with a median age of 16, and Irish Wolfhounds at the tail end with a median age of 7. In general, little dogs live longer than big dogs. Nobody knows why.

As owners, we do what we can to prolong our dogs' lives. We protect them from accidents and disease, keep them fit, and feed them a healthy diet. We pay attention to research that demonstrates that feeding less, and keeping dogs lean, prolongs their lifespan.

But as breeders, can we do more? Studies with other animals and even humans suggest that the moment sperm fertilizes egg, some of the resulting zygoates are already at an advantage when it comes to living a long time.

Want to read the full story? Pick up the July 2007 issue of DOG WORLD today, or subscribe to receive the best dog articles, dog news, and dog information every month!
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