It has long been believed that Britain has some of the strictest animal welfare laws in the world. Starting with Martin’s Act on the Cruel Treatment of Livestock, through to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and then Finn’s Act to protect service animals, UK animal welfare laws have sought to reduce harm and cruelty to animals. But what happens when companion animals suffer or live shorter lives simply because of their genetic makeup?
On average, dogs live 10-13 years, which is roughly equivalent to 60-74 human years.
Small dogs with long noses have the highest life expectancy in Britain, while male medium-sized breeds with flat faces, 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 the dogs most at risk of early death.
The research is important, not least because of its size and scope, but also because very little of this type of research had been done before. We have life expectancy tables and studies for humans that show how long we are expected to live depending on a range of factors. But very little research has been done on dog life expectancy, looking at how different factors influence lifespan.
The research team created a database of 584,734 dogs using data from 18 different British sources. These include breed registries, veterinarians, pet insurance companies, animal welfare charities and academic institutions.
The dogs included were from one of 155 pure breeds or classified as crossbreeds, and 284,734 of the dogs had died before being added to the database. Breed, gender, date of birth and date of death (if applicable) are included for all dogs.
Purebred dogs were assigned to 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 median life expectancy for all breeds separately and then for the crossbreed group. Finally, they calculated life expectancy for each combination of gender, 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 female dogs with long noses had the longest lifespan of all pure breeds overall, with an average lifespan of 13.3 years. But flat-faced breeds had an average lifespan of 11.2 years and a 40% increased risk of a shorter life than dogs with medium snouts, such as spaniels.
Of the 12 most popular breeds, which represented more than 50% of all registered pure breeds in the database, Labradors had an average life expectancy of 13.1 years, Jack Russell Terriers an average life expectancy of 13.3 years and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. had an average life expectancy of 11.8 years.
Pure breeds had a higher median life expectancy than crossbreeds (12.7 years compared to 12.0 years), while female dogs had a slightly higher median life expectancy than males (12.7 years compared to 12.4 years).
The ethics of aging
Research has previously suggested that there is a growing popularity of small-nosed dogs, such as bulldog breeds and pugs. These dogs are fashionable and highly prized as pets, but are prone to several health problems, including brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAs).
This potentially life-threatening condition includes symptoms such as panting, overheating, exercise intolerance, gagging, gastrointestinal upset and disturbed sleep patterns. So for some of these dogs, their lives are potentially marked by suffering. This latest research shows that they are also likely to live shorter lives.
This raises some questions about dog ownership and the ethics of breeding dogs likely to suffer from boas. It can be considered cruel to breed dogs that are prone to or will suffer from suffering.
Other countries, including the Netherlands, have considered whether to restrict the breeding of these dogs to prevent such suffering and we can expect British law to take this into consideration. But although the Animal Welfare Act criminalizes causing unnecessary suffering, this relates to the suffering of a protected animal that is already living.
Thus, breeding an animal with boas is unlikely to fall under these provisions and once owning a dog with boas, the owner must treat that companion animal in accordance with its normal functions. While these conditions can be problematic if they are a natural part of the dog’s nature, there is no violation of unnecessary suffering simply by having the dog.
Animal welfare laws include a duty to ensure good animal welfare. This means that dog owners must understand the needs of their chosen companion animal and be confident that they can meet them.
In addition to identifying possible directions for future animal welfare research and interventions, this study provides important information that may help some potential owners decide which dog is right for them.
Angus Nurse, professor of law and environmental justice, Anglia Ruskin University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.