German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs) have been one of the most beloved dog breeds around the world for decades. Unfortunately, these magnificient creatures don’t live as long as we would hope.
How long do German Shepherds live? Based on what the American Kennel Club (AKC) states, only 7-10 years.
As a veterinarian with over 20 years experience, I am going to lay out for you in this article why it is that German Shepherds don’t live longer and how you can maximize the length of time you have with your beloved canine friend.
What Causes Early Death In German Shepherd Dogs?
In my time as a veterinarian, there are only a few particular health conditions that we see in German Shepherds on a regular basis that can cause premature death:
- Orthopedic Conditions
I know some may disagree with me on this list, but this is my experience. Other causes can include trauma, kidney disease, and liver disease.
The most common types of cancer I see in German Shepherds (in no particular order) are:
- Osteosarcoma – This is bone cancer typically seen in long bones of the legs although I’ve seen it in other bones. Aggressive treatment would involve amputation of the affected limb in addition to chemotherapy.
- Hemangiosarcoma – This is a devastating cancer involving the lining of blood vessels that can creep up on any pet owner unsuspectingly. Sometimes the dog literally collapses and dies very suddenly without any warning. The three most common locations that can develop a hemangiosarcoma are the spleen, liver, and heart.
There are, of course, many other types of cancers that afflict German Shepherd dogs but many of these are more treatable and potentially curable.
German Shephed dogs are classified by the AKC into the Working group and for good reason. These dogs are meant to be working in some capacity: guard dogs, police dogs, and even guide dogs.
Unfortunately, over-breeding in the United States (I’m a fan of the European genetic lines) due to massive popularity has diluted the ability of the GSD to actually do heavy work. The tendency towards a sloped back with a narrower frame (with narrow hips) has predisposed these magnificient dogs to certain orthopedic issues.
ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) Tears
GSDs are prone to ACL for three reasons: they are prone to obesity, they place a lot of strain on their knees due to the poor breeding practices, and they are usually very active.
As ACLs are a degenerative disease in dogs, rather than traumatic, this issue is almost impossible to prevent in some dogs. The good news is that it can be fixed by a surgery that will cost you anywhere from $3,000 – $5,000 (depending on your location and your vet). The bad news is that, if one knees suffers a torn ACL, there’s a pretty good chance the other knee will need an operation in the near future as well.
Degenerative Joint Disease
Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is just another name for arthritis. Dogs that are especially heavy, have poor physical conformation, suffer joint injuries (such as an ACL tear), and are overweight are especially prone to develolping DJD as they age.
The presence of hip dysplasia in GSDs is unfortunately fairly high in my personal experience as a vet. I can usually tell just be looking at a puppy if they are likely to have hip dysplasia based on how narrow their hips are and how they run and walk.
Breeders want to tell you that hip dysplasia is due to dogs developing too rapidly or improperly because you fed them wrong, or you didn’t give them certain vitamins, or perhaps you let them be “too active.” My opinion is that 99% of whether a dog gets hip dyspasia is the genetic expression of a gene that they carry in their DNA.
This devastating neurological condition is almost synonymous with GSDs. Symptoms include a progressive worsening of weakness in the rear end without any corresponding pain in the back or presence of arthritis in the hips or knees.
How Can I Help My German Shepherd To Live Longer?
Start With The Best Possible Genetics
Breeding, breeding, breeding. I can’t emphasize the importance of genetics enough. While it’s certainly true that some dogs can be more prone to degenerative orthopedic conditions or cancer because of an unhealthy lifestyle (just like us people), the most important factor in whether a dog will die young is the DNA they are born with.
If you want to go with a reputable breeder, I recommend asking locally for someone who is trusted. You can typically find out by asking pet parents parading beautiful, well-behaved German Shepherd dogs at the dog park or in a pet store. Ask a dozen and see what names come up most frequently.
Another way is by going with the AKC recommended list of breeders here.
If you seek to rescue a GSD from a shelter, you have an advantage in that their temperament and physical statue is visible from day 1.
Add In The Proper Diet
You don’t need to spend the most money on dog food in order to give your dog the best chance at a long life. Food is important, but sometimes there’s a crush of dog food marketing that convinces dog owners that the food needs to be grain-free or raw.
For one, grain-free is a myth. If anything, the lack of grains in the diets of certain breeds can lead to a potentially deadly heart condition. There is no scientific literature that proves that dogs don’t need grains or that grains are the sole cause for your dog’s health issues.
Secondly, as a veterinarian with 5 dogs, I feed all my gang Purina Savor ProPlan. It’s less expensive than most of the other dog foods out there of a similar quality, and Purina has never had a recall for any improper handling of food.
However, my friends who own German Shepherds almost universally feed Fromm to their dogs.
- Only The Highest Quality Ingredients Available Are Used In Fromm Pet Foods
- Many Variety'S Available From Puppy To Senior
- The Best Dog Food Money Can Buy
Consider Some Recommended Supplements
To stay ahead of orthopedic issues later in life, I recommend a good-quality glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM supplement. Here is one of my favorites that I personally recommend:
- #1 Veterinarian Recommended
- Your veterinarian may suggest Cosequin supplements if your dog is having difficulties climbing stairs, jumping into the car, or going for...
- Cosequin supplements are formulated to meet a variety of needs
Get Pet Insurance For Emergencies
Too frequently the decision on whether or not to treat serious, life-threatening conditions boils down to finances. Prevent this heart-breaking decision by obtaining pet health insurance when your dog is young and healthy.
Rates will be cheaper and you’ll save more money over the years as your dog invariably visits the vet for the occasional ear infection, etc.
You’ll also be prepared in case that unthinkable emergency ever takes place.
See Your Vet Regularly And Don’t Ignore Small Issues
At the very least, you should be taking your dog in for annual checkups. What you do beyond that is your own choice and based also on your location, lifestyle, and what your veterinarian recommends (vaccinations, heartworm prevention, etc).
Don’t ignore seemingly small things like that lump that’s been slowly growing over the past few months or the limp that started a while ago and hasn’t gone away.
Sometimes health conditions that can become serious over time could be caught early and stopped before they cause major damage (for example, lumps that are actually cancer but can be cured by early removal).
Dogs with chronic conditions like allergies and gastrointestinal problems can see a shortening of their life if these conditions aren’t addressed and controlled. The chronic inflammation from these diseases can trigger stress on the body that could result in the development of cancer.
While the “average” German Shepherd dog may only live to 7-10 years old, I’ve seen many live years beyond that range due to great breeding, diet, and veterinary care. Do your research and give your dog the best chance at a long, healthy life.
Last update on 2022-01-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API