One of my favorite Pug patients in my practice is a little girl called Dainty Sue. She makes the cutest little excited sounds when she comes into the hospital. Sadly I have seen her, on average, 5-8 times a year since her parents acquired her. Unfortunately she’s fairly typical of many of the Pugs I see in my practice.
How long do Pugs live? 10-12 years based on information provided by the American Kennel Club. Life expectancy is affected by various issues such as body condition (are they chronically obese), genetics, and how well the pet owner takes care of their dog.
As a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience, I believe we can get Pugs to live longer. I will lay out a plan on how you can accomplish that. Trust me, I LOVE my Pug patients and I want then to stick around as long as possible for their families. If you’re looking for a general guide to Pugs, check out my in-depth article here for information on grooming, exercise, and other areas of care.
How To Pick The Healthiest Pug Puppy
Having a healthy Pug starts first and foremost with picking the right breeder. There are two ways you can go about finding a quality breeder:
- Use the AKC site or Pug Dog Club Of America list to find one
- If you’re lucky enough to already know and love a Pug, find out who the breeder of the litter was. That’s a great start.
If you’re getting a Pug from a rescue organization, try to find out the medical history of the dog as completely as possible. Understand that, while problems can emerge at any time, chronic health conditions that have been dealt with (successfully or unsuccessfully) for years are going to be your responsibility going forward.
There are quite a few diseases that the Pug Dog Club Of America recommends for breeders to screen for in order to produce the healthiest puppies possible. You can see the official list here. If you’re buying from a breeder, do they screen for any/all of these conditions?
What Are The Most Common Diseases That Pugs Can Suffer From?
The most common diseases that can affect any Pugs include:
- Brachycephalic Disease/Collapsing Trachea
- Dental Disease
- Eye Disease (Entropion, Corneal Ulcers, Dry Eye)
- Orthopedic Issues (Hip Dysplasia, Patellar Luxation)
- Neurological Conditions (IVDD, Pug Dog Enchephalitis, Degenerative Myelopathy)
Obesity is so common in Pugs that I make a special point to congratulate owners when they bring me a Pug who is at the proper weight. I’m not kidding about that.
When you look at pugs, they should have a broad chest with a narrow waist. The mistake people usually make is accept a few extra pounds where they lose that narrow waist. It’s a slow, slippery slope from there.
Getting Pugs to lose weight starts and ends with diet. Due to their myriad of health issues, you’re likely not going to be able to exercise them enough to make a different in their weight. In many cases, you need to start by reducing the volume of calories that your dog eats per day.
Note that I didn’t say volume of dog food. C’mon, we all love to give our dogs a little something extra at times. I’m not saying don’t treat your dog occasionally. What I am saying is that you’ll need to cut their overall caloric intake per day so, if you feed them a few treats, you’ll need to cut back on the regular diet instead. Consult with your veterinarian on how much you’ll need to cut back on your Pug’s daily intake if they are obese.
If your Pug loves to eat, you’ll likely need to put them on a low-calorie diet. For some Pugs, that means an OTC (over the counter) diet. I will usually tell clients just to use the low-calorie version of the dog food brand their dog is already on. That will minimize any problems changing their diet might cause.
For the most problematic obese dogs, a prescription diet such as Purina OM (Obesity Management) or Hill’s R/D (Reduction Diet) may be the only thing that can get your dog to lose weight. These high-fiber diets should only be used while your dog is trying to lose weight.
The unfortunate nature of dog foods on the market today is that the vast majority don’t put calorie totals on their labels. If you could compare one dog food’s caloric content per cup versus another, it would make it so much easier for pet owners to keep their dogs at optimal weight.
One point to remember – Pugs have a lot of extra skin. When you, or your vet, is assessing the body condition of your Pug, pull the skin folds aside and feel the tissue under the skin. I’ve been able to reassure a few Pug owners that their “thick” Pug was actually one with a naturally broad chest/shoulder area and a lot of skin.
If you’re lucky, your Pug’s obesity will be a direct result of being hypothyroid. I may sound callous, but weight gain due to hypothyroidism is so much easier to get off than that brought about by overfeeding.
This hormonal condition is quite common in many breeds of dogs (as well as humans). Having an inadequate amount of thyroid hormones in your body can be damaging to the metabolism of your Pug. This can result in persistent obesity despite exercise and dieting, very poor new hair growth, mental dullness, and lethargy.
A simple blood test can diagnose this condition. For most Pug owners, you’ll start to wonder about this when your adult Pug is overweight and, no matter what you try, can’t lose the weight.
Routine annual bloodwork at around 5-6 years of age can help to identify this type of problem early.
Bracycephalic Disease/Collapsing Trachea
I could have labeled this section “respiratory disease.” Any dog that has a “pushed-in” face where the nose is set back into the face is deemed a brachycephalic. Think English bulldogs, French bulldogs, Pugs, Boston terriers, etc.
This syndrome is a collection of different diseases that affect the respiratory system. Individually they cause an impediment to breathing freely. Collectively they can cause premature death.
These diseases include:
- Stenotic Nares (nostrils are way too small)
- Elongated Soft Palate
- Everted tonsils
- Laryngeal collapse
- Hypoplastic trachea
- Redundant pharyngeal soft tissues
Most of these disease, with the exception of Stenotic Nares, will be undetectable to the eye. However, they are detectable to the ear. Does your Pug make a lot of loud breathing noises? Probably one of these conditions.
Collapsing trachea is just what it sounds like. The trachea is the windpipe and it’s made up of cartilage. I like to think of it as a straw in relation to the mouth and the lungs. When it’s harder to suck air through the straw (trachea) due to an inability to get into either the top end (brachycephalic disease) or the bottom end (lung disease such as bronchitis or pulmonary edema), the straw (trachea) collapses.
When this is a chronic issue, it can really lead to big problems such as fainting or exercise intolerance for Pugs. While there is a (very expensive) surgical correction for this condition involving a stent, you really want to mitigate all the pre-existing conditions that can lead to this problem.
Besides obesity, this is the second most common acquired health conditions that I see in my Pug patients. Some of it isn’t their fault. It’s a small mouth area and there’s a lot of teeth that have to fit in there. Do you own a Pug? Look in their mouth right now and see the pre-molars that are actually situated almost perpendicular to the rest of the teeth.
Pugs have a hard time chewing due to the small size of their mouth so it’s hard for them to keep the plaque and tartar off manually. They also seem to be more genetically predisposed to acquiring more plaque and tartar than many other dogs.
Over time the tartar will work its way up the root of the tooth, pushing the gum away and causing the tooth to begin to loosen in the mouth. It’s highly unusual for a Pug in my practice to not lose teeth as they get older for this reason.
The best way to prevent tartar in your Pug will be to “brush” their teeth daily. By brushing, all I mean is to put a bit of dog-specific toothpaste on your finger and then rub that toothpaste along the outside part of your dog’s teeth. You don’t need to force the mouth open. In fact, it’s easier and faster if they hold it closed.
You’ll likely need to start getting your Pug used to this as soon as you bring their home the first time as they are quite stubborn and will be difficult later in life to train for brushing. In any case, in a perfect world, do this daily and it’ll only take you about 15 seconds total. Get as close to perfect as you can.
Eye diseases in Pugs are almost always related to the fact that they are brachcephalic. Buggy eyes, short snout, and really thick nasal skin folds all can lead to trouble.
This is a condition in which one (or more) eyelid margins roll in onto the eyeball itself. This usually is detected in Pugs when they are puppies. Usually the first symptom is a fairly persistent tearing under the eye as the irritation from the entropion causes the eyes to water.
Sometimes this condition will correct itself as the dog grows older and bigger. In more severe cases, surgery will be needed to correct this condition.
While these are common in many breeds of dogs because of incidental trauma to the eye, Pugs can be more prone to the “buggy” nature of their eye position. If your dog won’t open an eye and is tearing a great deal, take them to the vet. Their eye is hurting.
Keep an eye on the skin folds located on the nose just under the eyes. If your dog has an excessive amount of these, they can easily rub on the eye at times and cause ulcers on their own. Sometimes dogs with excessive folds need a bit of “plastic surgery” to cut out some of that excessive tissue.
Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca/KCS)
There are two symptoms that occur when KCS develops in a dog:
- Chronic mucous-like discharge (from the eye’s attempt to moisturize the eye in any way it can) from that eye
- The cornea itself begins to turn black (pigmentary keratitis) from the chronic irritation that the cornea has due to being dry or being rubbed on continuously.
Dry eye/KCS is easily detected using a Schirmer Tear Test. An STT involves small pieces of special paper inserted into the corner of your dog’s eye that measures how much moisture is being produced.
Treatment of dry eye is important if you want to preserve your dog’s vision. They can become blind from this condition (aside from the fact that it’s also painful) over time as the pigmentary keratitis worsens.
Ultimately the disease occurs when the hip or elbow joint isn’t properly developed so that the joint functions as it should. The bones don’t develop properly to provide the normal amount of surface to cushion the joint and make it comfortable.
When dysplasia is present, the bones end up rubbing together excessively and wearing away at the cartilage that is present. Over time this causes the bones to try and stabilize the joint by producing excessive bony tissue/bone spurs. This condition is pretty painful and can range from causing no visible symptoms to a dog that can’t walk at all due to the pain.
Xrays are the only way to definitely diagnose this disease. If caught when a dog is still growing, there may be a surgical treatment that could help mitigate the disease’s severity later in life.
This is a condition in which the kneecap (it can be just one knee or both of them) doesn’t sit properly in the groove of the femur. Pugs are prone to this condition because their leg bones are frequently very curvy.
That curve in the leg puts a lot of stress on the side of the knee and, over time, there’s pressure for that kneecap to move medially (towards the other leg). In some dogs the kneecap will freely move from a very young age (as early as 4-6 months) whereas in other dogs it comes on over time as they age.
The luxation can freely move in and out of position or it can move out (luxate) and then get stuck. The more problems this luxation causes, the more likely that only surgery will fix it.
IVDD is a degenerative condition in which the cartilage that makes up the discs in the spine become inflexible and brittle over time. This makes them more likely to tear and bulge up into the area of the spinal cord. This causes some pretty significant pain and, when it’s really bad, loss of your dog’s ability to use its legs.
When it happens in the area of the neck, we call it Cervical disc disease. That can actually be more painful to many dogs. When Pugs jump down from the couch or bed, they land pretty hard (especially if they are overweight) on those front legs. That jamming impact goes right up from their shoulders into their necks.
Over time that can lead to the same type of degeneration seen in the back.
Pug Dog Encephalopathy (PDE)
No one knows why Pugs get this particular disease but, when it appears, it’s devastating. This is from the U.C. Davis College of Veterinary Medicine DNA Laboratory:
Approximately 1.2% of Pug dogs die of necrotizing meningoencephalitis (NME), also known as Pug dog encephalitis (PDE).
PDE is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that is usually progressive and fatal.
Symptoms of PDE include seizures, depression, ataxia, abnormal gait, and blindness.
Female, fawn-colored Pugs younger than 7 years of age are more apt to develop PDEUC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory
While most commonly associated with German Shepherds, Pugs can have this devastating neurological condition happen to them as well. Symptoms are a weakness that begins in just the rear legs and slowly worsens over time despite any treatment.
Likely your vet will want to take xrays of the back, hips, and potentially the knees to rule out any orthopedic conditions (hip dysplasia, disc disease, lumbosacral stenosis) that could mimic DM in its early stages. For my clients I will recommend pain medication and some physical therapy at home to try and strengthen the rear legs. If this doesn’t seem to help and the weakness worsens, DM becomes a more likely diagnosis.
Mast Cell Tumors
- Mast cells are cells of the immune system that respond to things like insect bites. They contain histamine which causes localized swelling and redness (think of what a mosquito bite looks like).
- In mast cell cancer, a collection of mast cells will reproduce in one area and form a mass. It can look like any kind of mass. Frequently it will change size becoming larger or smaller every so often.
- In any dog that has been diagnosed with a mast cell tumor, any additional masses should be aspirated and the cells examined, even if it looks like “nothing.”
- Treatment usually involves surgery excision followed by a histopathology assessment to determine how aggressive the cancer is. A higher-grade mast cell tumor will require systemic treatment/chemotherapy usually.
Sadly this is something that is becoming incredibly prevalent in many breeds of dogs and not just Pugs. It’s also becoming something we are seeing in younger and younger dogs.
Allergies can present as itchy skin, ear infections, persistent foot licking, and even an ever present foul odor coming from the body. Sometimes these issues can be caused by food allergies, but I find that most of the time the allergy is to something in the environment (grass, trees, etc).
Thankfully there are far better medications these days that don’t have the side effects of some of the drugs we used in years past (like steroids). Medications such as Apoquel and Cytopoint are used far more commonly these days with great effect.
How Can I Get My Pug To Live Longer?
There is no “magical weight range” for a Pug. Each dog is different and their optimal weight will vary based on their height and the amount of muscularity. Typically you should see an hourglass shape when looking at your Pug from above. Big chest, narrow waist.
Pugs that are overweight will be less likely to exercise and more likely to develop arthritis. The longer this is allowed to go on, the more likely that the muscles will weaken and your dog will struggle later in life with getting up and simply walking around.
If your Pug is overweight, and you can’t get the weight off with reducing their diet, have a thyroid screen done. A hypothyroid dog can not lose weight unless they get proper thyroid supplementation.
Preventative Medicine/Wellness Exams
I’m a veterinarian so of course I’m going to tell you that regular wellness exams at the vet is extremely important. A good vet can spot conditions sometimes earlier than even the most dedicated owner can.
When your Pug reaches 5-6 years of age, there are two things that you should consider doing:
- If you haven’t already had it done, have the vet run some bloodwork to check out all the internal organs. Primarily we are screening for kidney and liver disease, but there are literally hundreds of disease conditions that can be picked up by basic lab tests. Start doing this every year to catch issues early.
- If there haven’t been any eye issues before, you should consider having a Schirmer Tear Test (STT) done at your dog’s annual exam. An STT measures how much tear production that each eye has and can clue you in to when your dog may need additional moisturization of the corneas. It can also help you catch Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca/KCS) early so that any damage to the eye can (hopefully) be prevented.