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Why do German shepherds have such a short lifespan?

Here's what you can do to keep this pup healthy

A German shepherd fetching a stick in the snow
abid adeel / Shutterstock

German shepherds are one of the larger dog breeds — females are typically around 50 to 70 pounds and males can go up to 90 pounds. However, these lovable pups are truly gentle giants. They’re affectionate and make good family dogs. They’re also whip-smart, adaptable, and highly trainable. For these reasons, German shepherds are often working dogs and heroes who serve as first responders, military members, and service animals.

Your German shepherd may not receive any medals of honor, but they’re certainly the top dog in your book. Understandably, you can’t imagine life without your German shepherd. Unfortunately, this breed doesn’t live as long as some other popular ones. It’s a tough reality. Knowing it can help you give your dog the best life possible, though.

Let’s dig into the German shepherd’s lifespan and how to keep them healthy for as long as you can.

a german shepherd in the backyard
Zozz_ / Pixabay

What is the average German shepherd lifespan?

According to the American Kennel Club, German shepherds typically live 7 to 10 years. To put that in perspective, the average lifespan of a dog is 10 to 13 years. Chihuahuas typically live 15 to 17 years, Biewer terriers’ lifespan is about 16 years, and Pyrenean shepherds can stick around until they are nearly 20 years old.

German shepherd puppy stands next to an adult German Shepherd with a stick in their mouth
CAPTUREHUB / Shutterstock

Is 10 years old for a German shepherd?

Your 10-year-old German shepherd has likely reached senior status, but they may have plenty of years left. As in humans, age is just a number, and many of these brilliant pups survive well into their teen years. The best bet is to talk with your vet, so that you have accurate expectations. As they age, you’ll also want to adjust both their food and activity levels.
Older dogs will need less exercise and fewer calories on average, so work with the dog doctor to adjust their intake while maintaining their nutrition. Keep in mind that some old dog symptoms, like blindness, stress out humans way more than they do our dogs, which mostly rely on their sense of smell.
A German Shepherd tilts their head and looks at the camera
Mary Swift / Shutterstock

Common German shepherd health issues

It may not seem fair that German shepherds don’t live as long, but there are some reasons. For one, long-lived breeds are generally smaller than the German shepherd. Smaller dogs tend to live longer and are less likely to die from cancer than their larger canine counterparts. For example, Pyrenean shepherds, with the longest average lifespan, typically weigh 15 to 30 pounds, considerably less than a German shepherd.

German shepherds are also susceptible to some conditions and issues that may impact their lifespan and overall well-being, including:

  • Otitis externa (an infection in the outer ear canal)
  • Obesity
  • Bloat
  • Dental disease
  • Heart disease
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Blood clotting
  • Inability to stand

According to one U.K. study, the last two — musculoskeletal disorders and an inability to stand — were the two most common causes of death.

two german shepherds walking in the woods
Sarah hub / Shutterstock

How to keep your German shepherd healthy and happy

You can’t protect your German shepherd from everything; despite your best efforts. Some conditions are hereditary, and aging is a fact of life. However, there are some steps you can take to help your German shepherd live the most fulfilled and healthiest life possible.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity is crucial to weight management, especially for a breed prone to obesity like the German shepherd. It may also help reduce the risk of heart disease. The amount of exercise will vary based on your specific German shepherd, but they may need several hours. There are many ways to help your pup get physical activity, including:

  • Long walks
  • Runs together
  • Agility courses
  • Puzzle toys
  • Games of fetch
  • Opportunities to swim in safe lakes or pools

Diet

You’ll want to give your German shepherd a well-balanced, AAFCO-approved dog food. Consult with your vet on how much and how often to feed your German shepherd. If you’re getting your German shepherd as a puppy, vets suggest feeding them growth food for large breeds. The food is intended to slow their growth rate, but they’ll still reach the standard size for their breed. It can reduce the risk of hip dyslexia later in life.

Vet visits and vaccines

Sometimes, early intervention can lead to better outcomes, so regular vet visits are critical. Also, some conditions are preventable, such as rabies and heartworm. Monthly prevention and staying up-to-date with shots will help mitigate unnecessary diseases.

Ear cleaning

German shepherds are prone to ear infections. Weekly cleanings can eliminate build-up and bacteria that can lead to inflammation and infections.

Dental care

Dental disease can affect a dog’s eating habits and just be painful overall. Brushing at least once daily for a minute is the best way to reduce bacteria in the mouth, vets say.

A German shepherd puppy on a leash sits and looks at his owner for training.
Justyna / Adobe Stock

Final thoughts on German shepherds

German shepherds are loyal, lovable, and trainable. Some go into service gigs by becoming members of the military or guide dogs. Others are simply companions — and that’s certainly good enough. Unfortunately, these gentle giants don’t live as long as other breeds. The average German shepherd lifespan is 7 to 10 years, which is shorter than smaller breeds. German shepherds are more susceptible to musculoskeletal disorders.

They can also become obese. Generally, larger breeds are more prone to cancer than smaller breeds. Feeding your dog a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise can help reduce health risks. The good news? German shepherds make great running and swimming buddies. Other to-dos include regular check-ups with the vet, weekly ear cleanings, and brushing teeth daily.

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BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on healthline.com and parents.com. In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
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