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How Long Do German Shepherds Live? Life Expectancy Guide

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By Nicole Cosgrove

black and red german shepherd

Our pets are members of our families, and we want them to live as long as we do. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The average German Shepherd’s lifespan is about 9-13 years, with the oldest known German Shepherd living to be 18 years. Small dogs and cats may live longer, but large dogs like the German Shepherd simply don’t live as long. While your German Shepherd sadly won’t live forever, you can take steps to prolong your dog’s life by familiarizing yourself with common health problems German Shepherd are likely to develop and getting your dog screened regularly.

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German Shepherd Mixed Breeds

German Shepherd and Border Collie mix dog
Image Credit: Colin Dewar, Shutterstock

You should note that mixed breed German Shepherds may have a different life expectancy than purebreds. In general, mixed breeds tend to be healthier and hardier than purebreds due to their larger genetic pool. If mixed with another breed that tends to have a longer lifespan, you might be able to expect your German Shepherd mix to live longer than the average purebred GSD. However, there are no guarantees when it comes to mixed breeds; what’s true for one mix may not be true for another.

Common Health Problems In German Shepherds

No matter how healthy your dog is, there are certain health problems that German Shepherds are prone to. Some of these common health issues are more serious than others. Below, we have broken down common German Shepherd health issues into two categories: minor and serious.

German Shepherds
Image Credit: DanaTentis, pixabay
Minor Health Problems:
  • Allergies
  • Cataracts
Serious Health Problems:
  • Joint dysplasia: Joint dysplasia is a deformity of a dog’s joint (often the hip or the elbow) that happens during growth. This issue is common in many dog breeds, but it is particularly common in large breeds such as German Shepherds. Your dog’s joints are supposed to grow at equal rates; when they don’t, it can cause the joints to become loose and contribute to osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease. A dog with joint dysplasia will experience pain and even lameness, depending on the severity.
  • Bloat: Bloat, or gastric dilatation-volvulus complex, may not sound serious. After all, humans become bloated all the time. However, bloat in dogs is very serious and is considered to be a medical emergency. Air in your dog’s stomach can prevent blood from circulating back to its heart, causing blood to pool at the back of the body and sending your dog’s body into shock. The stomach can also flip during this process, cutting off blood and oxygen to the spleen and the pancreas. Without oxygen, the pancreas can start to release toxic hormones that are harmful, and sometimes deadly, to your dog. If your dog has retching, excess saliva, or an enlarged and sensitive abdomen, seek immediate medical care.
  • Degenerative Myelopathy: Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease that affects your dog’s spinal cord and can eventually result in weakness or even paralysis of your dog’s hind legs. The early symptoms of degenerative myelopathy are often similar to osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia, making it sometimes difficult to diagnose.
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer

Important Health Screenings That Can Prolong Your GSD’s Life

It is important to remember to take your dog to the vet on an annual basis for a checkup. Your vet can perform certain health screenings and routine blood tests to catch any early signs of disease and recommend the best preventative care to keep your dog healthy and happy. Dogs as young as 4 months old can be screened for hip dysplasia. Catching diseases early can help improve your dog’s quality of life by opening the door for treatment and pain management plans before the disease progresses and becomes severe.

vet holding a german shepherd
Image Credit: Andrey_Kuzmin, Shutterstock

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Ways to Keep Your Senior Dog Healthy

Like humans, all dogs age. Elderly dogs will not have as much energy as they once did, but it’s important to continue your routines to keep them mentally and physically active. Here are three tips for keeping your dog happy and healthy as he starts to age.

1. Keep up your daily walks.

Even though your elderly German Shepherd probably can’t walk as far as he used to, it’s still very important to keep him active. Aim for multiple short walks a day if your German Shepherd can handle it. Keep an eye on his gait and look out for any signs that he may be tired or in pain. If he seems to be lagging, that is your cue to head home.

young woman playing with her german shepherd pet
Image Credit: Yama Zsuzsanna Márkus, Pixabay

2. Keep teaching your old dog new tricks.

You might think that training is for young dogs, but dogs of all ages can and should learn new things. It will help keep your German Shepherd mentally engaged. Even if he doesn’t learn as quickly as he used to, reward small progress with plenty of treats and praise.

3. Mingle with the neighborhood dogs.

Elderly dogs are still eager for connection and playtime, so take some time to coordinate dog playdates with other mature dogs in your neighborhood. Just try to avoid pairing your older dog with a puppy or a young adult, as they could actually harm your pet while playing rough. If you don’t know anyone with a dog nearby, try a dog park.

Two friends german shepherd and labrador retriever sitting on a green grass
Image Credit: Alexander Ishchenko, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Dogs have a relatively short lifespan compared to humans, and it is heartbreaking when a beloved pet passes away. However, you can make the most of your years together by ensuring that your German Shepherd is getting adequate health care. Don’t neglect your dog as he gets older; elderly dogs need mental and physical stimulation just as much as young dogs do.

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