The UK has long been regarded as having some of the strongest animal welfare laws in the world. Starting with the Martin Cattle Cruelty Act, through to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and then the Finn Service Animal Protection Act, animal welfare laws in the UK have sought to reduce harm and cruelty to animals. But what happens when pets suffer or live shorter lives simply because of their genetic makeup?
On average, dogs live for 10-13 years, which is considered roughly equivalent to between 60-74 human years.
Small, long-nosed dogs have the highest life expectancy in the UK, while male dogs from medium-sized, flat-faced breeds such as English bulldogs have the lowest, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports. The research team’s results were based on data from more than 580,000 individual dogs from more than 150 different breeds and could help identify those dogs most at risk of early death.
The study is important, not only because of its size and scope, but also because very few investigations of this type have been done before. We have life expectancy tables and people research that show how long we can expect to live based on a number of factors. However, there has been very little research on dog life expectancy that has looked at how different factors affect lifespan.
The research team created a database of 584,734 dogs using data from 18 different sources in the UK. These included breed registries, vets, pet insurance companies, animal welfare charities and academic institutions.
The dogs included were from one of 155 purebreds or classified as a crossbreed, and 284,734 of the dogs had died before being added to the database. Breed, sex, date of birth and date of death (if applicable) were included for all dogs.
Purebred dogs were classified into size (small, medium, or large) and head shape (short nose, medium nose, and long nose) categories based on Kennel Club literature. The researchers then calculated the average life expectancy for all breeds separately and then for the crossbreed group. Finally, they calculated life expectancy for each combination of sex, size and head shape.
How long do dogs live?
This study by researchers at the Dogs Trust gives us new information about the life expectancy of our canine companions. The researchers found that small, long-nosed female dogs tended to have the longest lifespans among purebreds overall, with an average lifespan of 13.3 years. But flat-faced breeds had an average life expectancy of 11.2 years and a 40% increased risk of shorter lives than dogs with medium-length muzzles, such as spaniels.
Among the 12 most popular breeds, which accounted for more than 50% of all registered purebreds in the database, Labradors had an average life expectancy of 13.1 years, Jack Russell Terriers had an average life expectancy of 13.3 years, and Cavaliers king charles spaniel had an average life expectancy of 11.8 years.
Purebreds had a higher average life expectancy than crosses (12.7 years compared to 12.0 years), while female dogs had a slightly higher average life expectancy than males (12.7 years compared to 12.4 years).
The ethics of aging
Research has previously suggested a growing popularity of snub-nosed dogs such as bulldogs and pugs. These dogs have become fashionable and highly valued as pets, but are prone to various health problems, including brachycephalic obstructive airway (Boas) syndrome.
This potentially life-threatening condition includes symptoms such as shortness of breath, overheating, exercise intolerance, belching, gastrointestinal symptoms, and disturbed sleep patterns. So for some of these dogs, their lives are potentially marked by suffering. This latest study shows that they are also likely to live shorter lives.
This raises some questions about dog ownership and the ethics of breeding dogs that may suffer from Boas. It can be considered cruel to breed dogs that are either susceptible or certain to suffer.
Other countries, including the Netherlands, have considered whether to restrict the breeding of these dogs to prevent such suffering, and we may expect UK legislation to take note. But while the Animal Welfare Act creates an offense of causing unnecessary suffering, this relates to the suffering of a protected animal that is already alive.
Thus, the act of breeding an animal with Boas is unlikely to be caught by these provisions and when acquiring a dog with Boas, the owner must treat this companion animal according to its normal functions. Although these conditions can be problematic if they are a natural part of the dog’s makeup, there is no violation of unnecessary suffering simply by acquiring the dog.
Animal welfare laws include a duty to provide good animal welfare. This means that dog owners need to understand the needs of their chosen companion animal and be confident that they can provide for them.
In addition to identifying potential directions for future animal welfare research and interventions, this study provides some important information that may help some potential owners decide which dog is right for them.
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