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Causes of death: study revealed the most common causes of mortality in dogs - by breed, age, and size.

Anew 20-year retrospective study from the University of Georgia examined causes of death in dogs between 1984 and 2004. Researchers looked at records of 74,566 dogs from the Veterinary Medical Database, which includes data from 27 veterinary teaching hospitals. These results may be biased toward more severe, complicated, or unusual causes than the general dog population, but are fascinating nonetheless.

The study grouped deaths by organ system and by disease category ("pathophysiological process"), and analyzed results based on age, breed, and average breed size. Eighty-two breeds with at least 100 representatives were included in breed-based analyses; mixed-breed dogs were considered as one group. (For a chart listing causes of death by breed, see page 22.)

Only conditions that led to death were considered; if a dog had multiple conditions, only one was deemed the cause of death.


The study found that cancer was by far the most common disease category cause of death in adult dogs; cancer was the leading cause of death in all but 11 breeds! Almost a third of all adult dogs were found to have died of cancer. Cancer was designated the cause of death almost three times as often as the next most common category of deaths (trauma).

Interestingly, the frequency of cancer deaths begins to taper after age 10.

Cancer occurred less frequently in small breeds, with the exception of the Boston Terrier and Cairn Terrier (30 and 32 percent respectively of deaths in those breeds were from cancer).

The Miniature Pinscher had the lowest rate of cancer at 3.6 percent. Other breeds with low percentages of death from cancer include Miniature Dachshund (6.0), Chihuahua (7.5), Pekingese (7.9), Pomeranian (7.9), Dachshund (8.9), and Maltese (9.2).

The most common causes of death for puppies (dogs less than one year of age) by disease category are very different than for adult dogs. Puppies were overwhelmingly most likely to die of infection, trauma, or congenital disease. About 60 percent of all puppies died from something in these three disease categories.


When looking at deaths classified by organ system, the gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal systems were most commonly involved in the deaths of puppies.

In adult dogs, no single organ system was responsible for a dramatic majority of deaths; seven different organ systems had similar results, ranging from about 8 to 12 percent of adult dog deaths. The leaders (if we can call them that) were the nervous system (neurologic), musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal systems, followed by the urogenital, hematopoietic, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems.

Older dogs are increasingly likely to die from something involving the cardiovascular system, as well as endocrine, neurologic, and urogenital systems. The frequency of gastrointestinal-related deaths remained fairly constant throughout adulthood, while hematopoietic and musculoskeletal deaths declined with age.

Small-breed dogs were more likely to die from neurologic, endocrine, and urogenital causes. The larger the dog, the more likely they were to die of musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal causes.



Some of the breed differences found were surprising. A higher incidence of cancer in Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Scottish Terriers, and Boxers is well-known, but the 47 percent death rate from cancer among Bouvier de Flandres was unexpected.

Cardiovascular disease is well known in toy breeds, such as Chihuahuas and Maltese, because of their high incidence of mitral valve disease, but researchers were surprised to find that the rate was almost as high in Fox Terriers. It's unknown if that's because Fox Terriers are more prone to heart disease than previously realized, or if they're simply more protected from other diseases.

A high proportion of deaths from respiratory disease was expected in Bulldogs due to their brachycephalic airways, but finding that respiratory disease accounted for the highest percentage of deaths in the Afghan Hound and Vizla was unexpected.

Following are statistics for canine deaths listed by the
primary organ system involved, showing the breeds that
had the highest rate of deaths attributed to that cause.
The number in parentheses indicates the percentage of
deaths within each breed for that category. (No organ
system was classified for 20 percent of the deaths; these
were not included in the rankings). The first five
categories were responsible for most deaths in most breeds.

ORGAN SYSTEM      Breeds with the Highest Rate of Death
                  (and Percentage of those Dogs)
                  Attributed to Each Organ System

GASTROINTESTINAL  Great Dane (25.6), Gordon Setter (22.5),
                  Akita (212), Shar-Pei (19.9), Weimaraner

NEUROLOGIC        Dachshund (40.4), Miniature Dachshund
                  (39.7), Pug (27.4), Miniature Pinscher
                  (223), Boston Terrier (22.2)

MUSCULOSKELETAL   Saint Bernard (26.2), Great Pyrenees
                  (25.5), Irish Wolfhound (22.1), Great
                  Dane (21.7), Greyhound (21.4)


(HEART DISEASE)   Newfoundland (23.8), Maltese (21.1),
                  Chihuahua (18.5), Doberman Pinscher
                  (17,2), Fox Terrier (16.3)

UROGENITAL        Scottish Terrier (17.0), Airedale Terrier
                  (16.3), Dalmatian (16.2), Norwegian
                  Elkhound (16.0), Cardigan Welsh Corgi
                  (15.2), Standard Schnauzer (15.2), Bull
                  Terrier (14.9), Lhasa Apso (14.9),
                  Shetland Sheepdog (14.2), Finnish Spitz
                  (14.0), Shih Tzu (13.9), English Cocker
                  Spaniel (13.7)

RESPIRATORY       Bulldog (18.2), Borzoi (16.3), Yorkshire
                  Terrier (16.1), Afghan Hound (16.0),
                  Treeing Walker Coonhound (15.1), West
                  Highland White Terrier (14.1), Pomeranian
                  (13.6), Vizsla (13.6)

HEMATOPOIETIC     Chesapeake Bay Retriever (17.2), Airedale
                  Terrier (15.2), Golden Retriever (15.0),
                  American Cocker Spaniel (14.8), English
                  Cocker Spaniel (13.7), Scottish Terrier


(SKIN)            Shar-Pei (5.4), West Highland White
                  Terrier (4.9), Miniature Pinscher (4.5),
                  English Pointer (3.6), Chow Chow (2.9),
                  Shetland Sheepdog (2.8)

ENDOCRINE         Fox Terrier (7.2), Miniature Poodle
                  (6.3), West Highland White Terrier
                  (6.2), Miniature Schnauzer (5.7), Bichon
                  Frise (5.6), Old English Sheepdog (5.6)

HEPATIC (LIVER)   Scottish Terrier (7.8), English Cocker
                  Spaniel (7.7), Maltese (7.5), Standard
                  Schnauzer (7.2), Pembroke Welsh Corgi


(EYE)             Akita (9.9), Cardigan Welsh Corgi (3.6),
                  Collie (3.2), Pekingese (3.1), Australian
                  Heeler (3.0)

The study did not provide details about which diseases are included in each category (my mind boggles at the details left out of published studies), but following are some examples of conditions that are likely to be classified in each organ system:

* Gastrointestinal - Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV, or bloat) is likely the most common gastrointestinal cause of death; other causes would include pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), intestinal obstruction, perianal fistula, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), lymphangiectasia and other forms of protein-losing enteropathy, and cancer.

* Neurologic - Diseases of the brain and spinal cord, such as intervertebral disc disease (IDD or IVDD) that can cause paralysis; strokes; seizure disorders; degenerative myelopathy; myasthenia gravis; encephalitis; laryngeal paralysis; wobbler syndrome; syringomyelia (common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels); and tumors of the brain and spinal cord.

This category likely includes cognitive disorders as well, such as canine cognitive disorder (CCD) or cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), similar to Alzheimer's in people. Diseases that cause paralysis, such as tick paralysis, polyradiculoneuritis (coonhound paralysis), and botulism would likely be included in this category.

* Musculoskeletal - Joint problems such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and arthritis. Bone cancer would also fall into this category. Trauma is often linked to the musculoskeletal system as well.

* Urogenital - Kidney disease, urinary stones, pyometra (infection of the uterus), and prostate disease. Stones are undoubtedly the major contributor to the Dalmatian's 16 percent of deaths in this category, and probably a big part of the high rates in Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzu, and Miniature Schnauzers as well.

(For more information about urinary stones, see "Stoned Again?" in the May 2010 issue of WDJ; "Cast in Stone" and "Stone-Free Dalmatians," in the June 2010 issue; and "A Spotty Response," January 2011).

* Respiratory - Brachycephalic airway, collapsed trachea, and pulmonary fibrosis. The Afghan Hound is prone to lung lobe torsion, which may account for their high rate of death in this category. Laryngeal paralysis is not uncommon in Vizslas; perhaps that disease was considered respiratory rather than neurologic by the study.

* Hematopoietic - Relating to blood. Causes might include thrombocytopenia (low platelets), autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIH A), and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). This category could also include blood-related cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and hemangiosarcoma.

* Endocrine - Cushing's disease and diabetes mellitus are the most common endocrine disorders in dogs. Addison's disease would also fall into this category.

Following are statistics for canine deaths listed by disease category,
showing the breeds that had the highest rate of deaths attributed to
that cause. (Thirty-five percent of deaths were unclassified by a
disease category).

DISEASE       Breeds with the Highest Rate of Death (and Percentage
CATEGORY      of those Dogs) Attributed to Each Disease Category


(CANCER)      Bernese Mountain Dog (54.6), Golden Retriever (49.9),
              Scottish Terrier (47.6), Bouvierde Flandres (46.6),
              Boxer (44.3), Bullmastiff (44.0), Irish Setter (40.8),
              Airedale Terrier (40.2)

TRAUMA        Australian Heeler (20.8), American Staffordshire
              Terrier (20.3), Jack Russell Terrier (19.8), Miniature
              Pinscher (19.6), Australian Shepherd (17,9), Border
              Collie (17.5), Chihuahua (16.8), Chow Chow (16.6),
              Treeing Walker Coonhound (16.4), Greyhound (16.3),
              Mixed-Breed Dogs (16.2), Beagle (16.0), German
              Shorthaired Pointer (15.7)

INFECTIONS    Treeing Walker Coonhound (25.7), American Staffordshire
              Terrier (21.0), Greyhound (16.5), English Pointer
              (16.2), Cardigan Welsh Corgi (15.2), English Setter
              (14.8), Rottweiler (14.8), Black and Tan Coonhound
              (14.4), Australian Heeler (13.6), Bull Terrier (13.2),
              Siberian Husky (13.2)

CONGENITAL    Newfoundland (17.5), Bulldog (13.5), Yorkshire Terrier
DISEASE       (10.5), Akita (10.4), Maltese (9.7), Pug (8.4)

DEGENERATIVE  Chihuahua (7.2), Dachshund (6.3), Toy Poodle (5.2),
              Miniature Poodle (5.1), Pekingese (5.1), Newfoundland
              (4.5), Maltese (4.1)

INFLAMMATORY  American Cocker Spaniel (10.5), English Cocker Spaniel
              (9.4), Keeshond (7.8), Bernese Mountain Dog (7.6),
              Airedale Terrier (7.3)

METABOLIC     Doberman Pinscher (11.8), Keeshond (9.7), Cairn Terrier
              (9.5), Great Dane (8.9), Miniature Schnauzer (8.9),
              Standard Schnauzer (8.7), Shar-Pei (8.5), Miniature
              Poodle (8.2), Bichon Frise (8.0), Miniature Pinscher

TOXIC         Australian Heeler (5,3), Australian Shepherd (5.1),
              American Eskimo (5.0), Miniature Pinscher (4,5),
              Norwegian Elkhound (3.7)

VASCULAR      Afghan Hound (2.9), Irish Wolfhound (2.8), Saint
              Bernard (2.7), Standard Schnauzer (2.5), Mastiff (2.2)

Examples of conditions that were likely to be classified into the different disease process categories:

* Trauma - Injury, such as being hit by a car, or being accidentally dropped or stepped on, especially in the case of toy-breed puppies.

* Infectious - Viral disease, such as parvovirus and distemper; bacterial infections, such as leptospirosis and most tick diseases; fungal infections, such as blastomycosis and histoplasmosis; and protozoal disease, such as babesiosis and leishmaniasis.

* Congenital - A condition present at birth, which may be genetic or caused by something that happened in the womb or during birth. Examples include liver shunts, common in the Yorkshire Terrier and Maltese as well as other toy breeds; and heart defects, common in the Newfoundland and Bulldog, among others.

* Degenerative - Diseases such as degenerative disc disease, hip dysplasia, and other forms of joint disease fall into this category. There are also degenerative diseases of the eyes, heart, and other organs.

* Inflammatory - IBD, pancreatitis, masticatory muscle myositis, and granulomatous meningoencepha-lomyelitis (GME) are inflammatory diseases.

* Metabolic - Anything that affects the organs, including kidney and liver disease. Endocrine diseases would be considered metabolic, along with diabetes insipidus and urinary stones.

* Toxic - Poisoning, such as by ingesting rat poison, toxic mushrooms, or antifreeze.

* Vascular - Stroke (cerebral vascular accident) is the most obvious. Other possibilities include acquired liver shunts and fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE).


You can use this information to help your dog stay healthy.

First and foremost, keep your dog lean! Overweight dogs are more likely to develop musculoskeletal problems, disc disease, diabetes, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer.

Proper vaccination of puppies protects them from most infectious diseases, though frequent revaccination for viral diseases is unnecessary in adult dogs.

Spayed females cannot get pyometra (uterine infection) and neutered males are less likely to develop prostate disease.

Letting dogs offlead only in protected areas helps prevent deaths due to trauma.

Gastropexy (surgery to tack the stomach to the side of the body wall) to prevent torsion and reduce the risk of fatality from bloat can be performed pro-actively for commonly affected breeds or dogs with close relatives who have bloated, or during bloat surgery.

Even "doggie dementia" can be helped with appropriate supplements and medications (see "Old and Confused," December 2008). EPA, DHA, antioxidants, and mitochondrial cofactors have been shown to improve the performance of older dogs on various cognitive tasks in as little as two to eight weeks.

Recently it's been suggested that the high rate of cancer in Golden Retrievers can be partly traced to a single "popular sire" who sired over 1,000 puppies and later died of hemangiosarcoma. Because this dog and his progeny were used so extensively, the genes predisposing Golden Retrievers to hemangiosarcoma are now so widespread that it is difficult to breed around them. Breeders can help ensure genetic variation and avoid such outcomes by not over-breeding to a single dog or line of dogs.

The hope is that, armed with this new knowledge, veterinarians and owners can be proactive in watching for these diseases, taking preventative measures and beginning treatment early. The information from this study can also help direct breed-specific research on genetic causes and preventative measures for specific diseases.
The table below shows the leading cause of death by organ system, and
the top two causes of death by disease category, for The numbers show
the percentage within each breed that died from the designated cause.

BREED               ORGAN SYSTEM  %     DISEASE   %     2ND DISEASE
                                        CATEGORY        CATEGORY

Afghan Hound        Resp          16.0  Cancer    35.3  Trauma

Airedale            Urogen        16.3  Cancer    40.2  Trauma

Akita               Gastro        21.2  Cancer    20.7  Congen/Trauma

Alaskan Malamute    Musculo       15.2  Cancer    34,2  Infect/Trauma

Am. Cocker Spaniel  Hemato        14.8  Cancer    20,0  Inflam

American Eskimo     Gastro        14.4  Cancer    23.8  Trauma

Am. Staffordshire   Gastro        15.6  Cancer    22.0  Infect

Australian Heeler   Musc/Neuro    12.8  Trauma    20.8  Cancer

Australian          Musculo       12.8  Cancer    23.6  Trauma

Basset Hound        Neuro         15.2  Cancer    37.8  Trauma

Beagle              Neuro         13.0  Cancer    23.1  Trauma

Bernese Mountain    Cardio/Neuro  10.1  Cancer    54.6  Infect

Bichon Frise         Neuro         13.6  Cancer    21.3  Trauma

Black & tan         Gastro        15.3  Cancer    22.9  Infect

Border Collie       Musculo       14.3  Cancer    26.1  Trauma

Borzoi              Musc/Resp     16.3  Cancer    33.7  Infect/Trauma

Boston Terrier      Neuro         22.2  Cancer    30.4  Metab

Bouvier des         Gastro        14.2  Cancer    46.6  Trauma

Boxer               Neuro         18.2  Cancer    44.3  Trauma

Brittany            Musculo       12.8  Cancer    26.5  Trauma

Bull Terrier        Gastro/Uro    14.9  Cancer    21,5  Infect/Trauma

Bulldog             Resp          18.2  Cancer    20.4  Congen

Bullmastiff         Gastro        14,9  Cancer    44.0  Trauma

Cairn Terrier       Neuro         15.3  Cancer    32.2  Infect/Metab

Cardigan Welsh      Neuro         17.0  Cancer    22.3  Infect

Chesapeake Bay      Hemat         17.2  Canter    28.5  Trauma

Chihuahua           Cardio        18.5  Trauma    16.8  Infect

Chow Chow           Gastro        17.4  Cancer    20.6  Trauma

Collie              Gastro        12,4  Cancer    26.5  Trauma

Dachshund           Neuro         40.4  Trauma    11.5  Cancer

Dachshund,          Neuro         39.7  Trauma    12.3  Cancer

Dalmatian           Urogen        16.2  Cancer    18.1  Infect

Doberman Pinscher   Cardio        17.2  Cancer    26.0  Metab

English Cocker      Gastro        15.4  Cancer    24,8  Inflam

English Pointer     Neuro         12.2  Cancer    33.7  Infect

English Setter      Neuro         12.2  Cancer    35.7  Infect

English Springer    Gastro        11.7  Cancer    29.7  Trauma

Finnish Spitz       Neuro         16.8  Cancer    27.1  Infect

Fox Terrier         Cardio        16.3  Cancer    24.4  Trauma

German Shepherd     Gastro        15.1  Cancer    27.7  Trauma

Germ. Shorth.       Musculo       14,7  Cancer    27.0  Trauma

Golden Retriever    Hemat         15.0  Cancer    49.9  Trauma

BREED                  %

Afghan Hound         9.7

Airedale             7,6

Akita               10.4

Alaskan Malamute     8.9

Am. Cocker Spaniel  10.5

American Eskimo     13.8

Am. Staffordshire   21.0

Australian Heeler   19.2

Australian          17.9

Basset Hound         8,5

Beagle              16.0

Bernese Mountain     8.4

Bichon Frise         8.4

Black & tan         14.4

Border Collie       17.5

Borzoi               7.7

Boston Terrier       7.4

Bouvier des          8.0

Boxer                7.0

Brittany            15.5

Bull Terrier        13.2

Bulldog             13.5

Bullmastiff          9.7

Cairn Terrier        9.5

Cardigan Welsh      15.2

Chesapeake Bay      12.9

Chihuahua           10.5

Chow Chow           16.6

Collie              12.7

Dachshund            8.9

Dachshund,           6.0

Dalmatian           10.4

Doberman Pinscher   11.8

English Cocker       9.4

English Pointer     16.2

English Setter      14.8

English Springer    10.2

Finnish Spitz       13.1

Fox Terrier         10.4

German Shepherd     11.1

Germ. Shorth.       15.7

Golden Retriever     7.8

BREED                        ORGAN SYSTEM  %     DISEASE | CATEGORY

Gordon Setter                Gastro        22.5  Cancer

Great Dane                   Gastro        25.6  Cancer

Great Pyrenees               Musculo       25.5  Cancer

Greyhound                    Musculo       21.4  Cancer

Irish Setter                 Musculo       17.5  Cancer

Irish Wolfhound              Musculo       22.1  Cancer

Jack Russell Terrier         Neuro         20.7  Trauma

Keeshond                     Gastro        15.2  Cancer

Labrador Retriever           Musculo       14.6  Cancer

Lhasa Apso                   Neuro         16.5  Cancer

Maltese                      Cardio        21.1  Congen

Mastiff                      Musculo       17.8  Cancer

Miniature Pinscher           Neuro         22.3  Trauma

Mixed-Breed Dogs             Musculo       13.5  Cancer

Newfoundland                 Cardio        23.8  Cancer

Norwegian Elkhound           Urogen        16.0  Cancer

Old English Shepherd         Gastro        13.8  Cancer

Pekingese                    Neuro         14,6  Trauma

Pembroke Welsh Corgi         Neuro         15.7  Cancer

Pomeranian                   Gastro        15.0  Trauma

Poodle, Miniature            Neuro         13.9  Cancer

Poodle, Standard             Gastro        16.7  Cancer

Poodle, Toy                  Neuro         16.1  Trauma

Pug                          Neuro         17A   Cancer

Rhodesian Ridgeback          Neuro         17.9  Cancer

Rottweiler                   Musculo       16.3  Cancer

Saint Bernard                Musculo       26.2  Cancer

Samoyed                      Gastro        13,4  Cancer

Schnauzer, Miniature         Urogen        13.6  Cancer

Schnazuer, Standard          Urogen        15.2  Cancer

Scottish Terrier             Urogen        17.0  Cancer

Shar-Pei                     Gastro        19.9  Cancer

Shetland Sheepdog            Urogen        14.2  Cancer

Shih Tzu                     Urogen        13.9  Cancer

Siberian Husky               Gastro        12.5  Cancer

Treeing Walker Coonhound     Resp          15.1  Infect

Vizsla                        Resp          13.6  Cancer

Weimaraner                   Gastro        17.6  Cancer

West Highland White Terrier  Resp          14.1  Cancer

Yorkshire Terrier            Resp          16.1  Cancer

BREED                        %     2ND DISEASE CATEGORY    %

Gordon Setter                38.3         Trauma         12.5

Great Dane                   22.8          Metab          8.9

Great Pyrenees               36,2         Trauma         12.8

Greyhound                    21.6         Infect         16.5

Irish Setter                 40.8         Trauma          8.0

Irish Wolfhound              31.8         Infect          7.3

Jack Russell Terrier         19,8         Cancer         1/.2

Keeshond                     28.0          Metab          9.7

Labrador Retriever           34.0         Trauma         14.1

Lhasa Apso                   17.1         Trauma         11,8

Maltese                      9,7          Cancer          9.2

Mastiff                      30.0         Trauma         12.8

Miniature Pinscher           19.6          Metab          8.0

Mixed-Breed Dogs             27,6         Trauma         16.2

Newfoundland                 19,9         Congen         17.5

Norwegian Elkhound           37,4         Infect         10.7

Old English Shepherd         36.0         Infect          8,2

Pekingese                    13.0         Infect          8,4

Pembroke Welsh Corgi         30.4         Congen          7.8

Pomeranian                   13.1         Infect          8.6

Poodle, Miniature            18.5         Trauma         10.8

Poodle, Standard             27.1         Trauma         10.1

Poodle, Toy                  11.7         Cancer         11.4

Pug                          12,5         Infect         10.9

Rhodesian Ridgeback          37.4      Infect/Trauma      8.1

Rottweiler                   29.6         Infect         14.8

Saint Bernard                26.9         Trauma         10.4

Samoyed                      26.1         Trauma          8.6

Schnauzer, Miniature         22.3          Metab           89

Schnazuer, Standard          25.4          Metab          8.7

Scottish Terrier             47.6         Infect          5.9

Shar-Pei                     22.9      Infect/Trauma      9.9

Shetland Sheepdog            30.3         Trauma         10.5

Shih Tzu                     15.1         Infect          7.5

Siberian Husky               29,5         Infect         13.2

Treeing Walker Coonhound     25.7         Cancer         18.4

Visla                        36.4         Trauma         13.6

Weimaraner                   25.0         Infect         10.5

West Highland White Terrier  26.3         infect         10,8

Yorkshire Terrier            11.2         Trauma         10.7

Mary Straus does research on canine health and nutrition topics as an avocation. She is the owner of the website.
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Title Annotation:HEALTH MATTERS
Author:Straus, Mary
Publication:Whole Dog Journal
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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