Univ. of Georgia study of causes of dog deaths offers insight into breed-specific problems

Release Date: 04/19/2011
A study recently released by the University of Georgia provides a comprehensive look at the causes of death in more than 80 dog breeds. The study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, examined data from the Veterinary Medical Database to determine the cause of death for nearly 75,000 dogs from 82 breeds over a 20-year period, from 1984 through 2004. The deaths were classified by organ system and disease process, then data was further analyzed by breed, age and average body mass.

The study found that toy breeds, such as Chihuahuas and Maltese, which are known to have high rates of cardiovascular disease, had 19% and 21% of deaths within the breeds, respectively. Researchers found that Fox Terriers also have high rates of cardiovascular disease, with 16% of deaths. Two dog breeds that are known for high rates of death from cancer are Golden Retrievers, found to have a 50% death rate, and Boxers, found to have a 44% death rate. However, researchers found that the Bouvier des Flandres actually had a higher death rate from cancer (47%) than the Boxer. One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Kate Creevy, noted that the previously unknown high risk of cancer in the Bouvier, a relatively rare breed, highlights the power of the study’s comprehensive approach.

The researchers found that larger breeds are more likely to die of musculoskeletal disease, gastrointestinal disease and, most notably, cancer. Smaller breeds had higher death rates from metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease. The findings may be useful in determining breed-specific diets that could reduce the dog’s risk of developing disease or certain problems to which the breed is prone.

“If we can anticipate better how things can go wrong for dogs, we can manage their wellness to keep them as healthy as possible,” said Dr. Creevy.


Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004: An Investigation into Age-, Size-, and Breed-Related Causes of Death
1. J.M. Fleming, K.E. Creevy, D.E.L. Promislow

Background: Anecdotal beliefs and limited research suggest variable patterns of mortality in age, size, and breed cohorts of dogs. Detailed knowledge of mortality patterns would facilitate development of tailored health-maintenance practices and contribute to the understanding of the genetic basis of disease.

Hypothesis/Objectives: To describe breed-specific causes of death in all instances of canine mortality recorded in the Veterinary Medical Database (VMDB)a between 1984 and 2004. We hypothesized that causes of death, categorized by organ system (OS) or pathophysiologic process (PP), would segregate by age, body mass, and breed.

Animals: 74,556 dogs from the VMDB for which death was the outcome of the recorded hospital visit.

Methods: Retrospective study. Causes of death from abstracted VMDB medical records were categorized by OS and PP and analyzed by age, breed, and breed-standard mass of dog.

Results: Causes of death, categorized by OS or PP, segregated by age, breed, and breed-standard mass. Young dogs died more commonly of gastrointestinal and infectious causes whereas older dogs died of neurologic and neoplastic causes. Increasing age was associated with an increasing risk of death because of cardiovascular, endocrine, and urogenital causes, but not because of hematopoietic or musculoskeletal causes. Dogs of larger breeds died more commonly of musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal causes whereas dogs of smaller breeds died more commonly of endocrine causes.

Conclusions and Clinical Importance:
Not all causes of death contribute equally to mortality within age, size, or breed cohorts. Documented patterns now provide multiple targets for clinical research and intervention.
Article first published online: 25 FEB 2011
DOI: 10.1111/j.1939-1676.2011.0695.x
Copyright © 2011 by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Keywords:    * Age at death;  * Genetics;  * Lifespan   * Morbidity;  * Neoplasia