How size and genetic diversity shape lifespan across breeds of purebred dogs

Cornelia Kraus, Noah Snyder-Mackler, Daniel E.L. Promislow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


While the lifespan advantage of small body size and mixed breed status has been documented repeatedly, evidence for an effect of genetic diversity across dog breeds is equivocal. We hypothesized that this might be due to a strong right-censoring bias in available breed-specific lifespan estimates where early-dying dogs from birth cohorts that have not died off completely at the time of data collection are sampled disproportionately, especially in breeds with rapidly growing populations. We took advantage of data on owner reported lifespan and cause of death from a large public database to quantify the effect of size and genetic diversity (heterozygosity) on mortality patterns across 118 breeds based on more than 40,000 dogs. After documenting and removing the right-censoring bias from the breed-specific lifespan estimates by including only completed birth cohorts in our analyses, we show that small size and genetic diversity are both linked to a significant increase in mean lifespan across breeds. To better understand the proximate mechanisms underlying these patterns, we then investigated two major mortality causes in dogs — the cumulative pathophysiologies of old age and cancer. Old age lifespan, as well as the percentage of old age mortality, decreased with increasing body size and increased with increasing genetic diversity. The lifespan of dogs dying of cancer followed the same patterns, but while large size significantly increased proportional cancer mortality, we could not detect a significant signal for lowered cancer mortality with increasing diversity. Our findings suggest that outcross programs will be beneficial for breed health and longevity. They also emphasize the need for high-quality mortality data for veterinary epidemiology as well as for developing the dog as a translational model for human geroscience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)627-643
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Cancer
  • Dog breeds
  • Genetic diversity
  • Lifespan
  • Old age
  • Size

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • veterinary (miscalleneous)
  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'How size and genetic diversity shape lifespan across breeds of purebred dogs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this