An important question asked by both existing and future owners is how long their dog will live. In this article, we’ll focus on the Australian Shepherd’s lifespan, how long they usually live for, factors that can affect their lifespan, and more…
Australian Shepherds live between 9-13 years old. Many things can affect their lifespan from genetics, diet, lifestyle, and health issues. The top cause of death for Australian shepherds is usually cancer.
How long do Australian Shepherds live?
The ‘simple’ answer is that the average lifespan of this breed is anywhere from 9 to 13 years. A Kennel Club report published at the turn of the century suggested that Australian Shepherds only lived to about 9 years of age.
However, the study size was small and many vets in practice report seeing a large number of Shepherds that are far older. Indeed, a lifespan of 9 years would be unusual for a dog of this size.
In this author’s personal experience, I find that the average Australian Shepherd may start to show some obvious signs of aging by the time they reach 8 or 9, but most go on to live several years after this. This is especially true when they have regular health checks and any underlying medical issues are being well managed.
Factors that can affect lifespan
When we think about an Australian Shepherd’s lifespan, it is important we consider the many different aspects that play a role. If any one of these factors is skewed towards a shorter lifespan, this will have a significant effect on the dog’s duration of life.
We also need to consider quality of life, especially in old age. While a 12-year-old Aussie Shepherd with severe arthritis that is not responding well to medicine, deafness and vision loss may be alive, it is the right thing to take euthanasia into consideration. So, we do need to be cognizant of the fact that the aim is not only to reach old age, but to do so comfortably and happily.
Lifespan is broadly affected by:
Genes are passed on to an Australian Shepherd by their mother and father, as well as their more distant relatives. Which genes they inherit will vary from littermate to littermate. Certain genetic disorders are passed on to puppies and can make them very unwell indeed. Unfortunately, this breed is prone to quite a few genetic disorders.
Importantly, some Australian Shepherds will carry a copy (or two) of the Merle gene. This may show up as a merle-coloured coat (mottled) and one or two blue eyes. Several health conditions can occur when two merle dogs are mated together and this should never be done. A ‘double merle’ is at high risk of deafness, blindness and other issues. Their life span may be reduced and Kennel Club’s generally will not register them.
The Australian Shepherd can enjoy good health when bred reputably and the appropriate genetic screens are used. Medical conditions such as Collie Eye Anomaly (Choroidal Hypoplasia), Ivermectin Sensitivity, Lysosomal Storage Disorders, Von Willebrand’s Disease, and Hip Dysplasia can all be inherited.
The extent to which the disease will affect the dog will depend on the disease and on how severely the patient is affected. Modern medicine means that many dogs can be well supported, despite lifelong medical issues. For example, those with hip dysplasia may be kept comfortable with e.g. pain relief, anti-inflammatories, joint supplements, and lifestyle modifications.
Whether or not your Australian Shepherd is a farm dog who works tirelessly from dawn to dusk or a pampered house pet who has never ‘lifted a paw’ in its life can influence lifespan. Those who live an active outdoor lifestyle will be less prone to behavioral issues, obesity, and obesity-related disorders such as diabetes and cancer. Conversely, those who spend a lot of time indoors may be at less risk of injuries and accidents.
Nutrition is becoming a hot topic, both in human and veterinary medicine. We are appreciating how fresh food, supplements, and having the right nutritional balance can help improve our pet’s health. A lot of research is ongoing into the benefits of certain ingredients such as prebiotics, probiotics, essential fatty acids, and collagen.
We are also understanding the importance of a tailored diet, that fits an individual’s needs. For example, a working 3-year-old will need a vastly different diet than a sedentary senior. Having our Australian Shepherd on the right food can help prevent and control certain diseases including diabetes, pancreatitis, and heart disease.
What do most Australian Shepherds die from?
This is a good question. According to that same Kennel Club report mentioned earlier in this article, the top cause of death was cancer followed by old age and then behavioral issues (mainly aggression leading to euthanasia).
In my experience I also see many Aussie Shepherds being euthanized for heart failure and chronic joint disease. It is also not unheard of for these dogs to suffer death after car accidents or farmyard incidents.
Here is an excerpt from the published table from the Purebred Dog Health Survey as discussed above:
|Cause of Death
|Percentage of Deaths
|Combination of issues
However, what we must realize about this study was that it contained a relatively small number of dogs. This can skew results and they may not be representative of the entire population.
6 ways to help your Australian Shepherd live a long life
1. Be Proactive when it comes to health
Make sure your dog is kept up to date with their vaccines and parasite prevention. They should be checked over by a vet at least once a year. As they get older, it is sensible to have them seen bi-annually. Wellness checks including blood screening, urine analysis, and blood pressure checks are also a good idea. Tackling issues as soon as they begin ensures a better prognosis and that we have access to more treatment options.
2. Invest in pet insurance for your Aussie
When it comes to large and unexpected bills, having insurance ensures you can pay for the gold standard diagnostic tests and treatment. Sadly, it is not uncommon for an owner to have to elect for euthanasia when they cannot afford vet bills.
3. Provide a good quality and balanced diet
Remember, this diet will change over the course of your Australian Sheperd’s life. They will be on puppy food until they have fully matured, between about 12 and 18 months of age. Once they are classed as a ‘senior dog’ (around the age of 7), we then need to transition them onto a senior food. Better dog foods will contain plenty of high-quality protein and won’t contain too many fillers, preservatives, or artificial flavorings.
4. Purchase your Aussie from a reputable source
Of course, if you’re getting a rescue dog, this won’t apply to you. However, if you’re purchasing a puppy, it is important to do your research. Buying from a dubious source or puppy farm drives these industries on and means more and more litters will be born in the hands of these ‘backyard breeders’. Many prospective owners feel guilty when they see a helpless puppy in poor conditions, but the best thing to do is to report the breeding to the local authority and not to buy the dog. Ideally, we would use only kennel club-certified breeders who perform all relevant health screening.
5. Prevent behavioral issues (as best you can!)
The key socialization period in your Aussie Shepherd’s life is during their first 16 weeks. This is when we need to expose them to lots of positive interactions and to a range of pets and people. The more we show them that life isn’t scary, the better they will adjust to life as an adult. If your Australian Shepherd starts to display any signs of behavioral issues or is not complying as expected during training sessions, consult a canine behaviorist promptly.
6. Don’t skimp on the exercise
This breed is designed to be active and outdoors. They thrive when getting plenty of physical, as well as mental, stimulation. These dogs love herding games, ‘brain training’, food puzzles, doggy dancing, flyball, scenting, and agility. In fact, they excel in pretty much all areas. Where possible, expose them to a variety of activities.
The lifespan of the Australian Shepherd is not easily predicted. On average, we can look at a life expectancy of about 9 to 13 years. There are several things an owner can do to influence this.
It is important not to focus only on how long your Aussie Shepherd lives but also on their quality of life. Providing an active lifestyle with plenty of mental stimulation is key.