The Australian shepherd’s life expectancy is 12-15 years. In dog years, this is a long lifespan — though no length of time ever seems long enough when it comes to our furry friends.
Still, anyone who chooses to welcome an Australian shepherd into their life will have many happy years ahead of them. This intelligent breed is easy to train and eager to please. Any effort you put into training and socialization will be repaid with more than a decade of good behavior.
And because the Aussie is typically a healthy breed, you may avoid some of the expensive veterinary costs that accompany less healthy breeds like English and French bulldogs. But that doesn’t mean Aussies achieve their long life expectancy all on their own. Owners who put extra care into choosing and raising a healthy dog will help their Aussie live a longer and more comfortable life.
Here’s a look at how Australian shepherd life expectancy compares to other dog breeds, why their lifespans are so long, which health conditions they most commonly inherit, and what Aussie owners can do to keep their Aussie healthy.
How Long Do Australian Shepherds Live Compared to Other Breeds?
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), most purebred dogs live 8-15 years. So, the Australian shepherd’s life expectancy of 12-15 years is near the upper limit. They are very long-lived dogs.
But to truly compare apples to apples, we need to compare Australian shepherd dogs to other dogs of the same size. According to scientific research and the AKC, there’s a strong correlation between a dog’s size and its longevity. Large dogs, like Great Danes, have the shortest lifespans, while small dogs, like Chihuahuas, have the longest lifespans.
With the exception of mini Australian shepherds, Aussies are usually medium-sized dogs. According to the AKC, the average lifespan for medium-sized dogs is 10-13 years. So, for example, Dalmatian life expectancy is 11-13 years. Likewise, the English foxhound lives 10-13 years, and so does the Australian Kelpie.
There are some medium-sized dogs — including huskies, Australian cattle dogs, and American Staffordshire terriers — that share the Australian shepherd’s lifespan. And there are few medium-sized breeds that surpass it.
Interestingly, while small dogs typically have longer life expectancies, mini Australian shepherds, which the AKC recognizes as the miniature American shepherd, have a life expectancy of just 12-13 years.
The mini Aussie or mini American shepherd, whatever you choose to call it, has only been in breeding since the early 1960s, so it could be that there isn’t yet enough data to predict their lifespan accurately. Or it could be that health problems became more prevalent in mini Aussies because they were bred down from the less healthy runts of the Aussie litters.
Why Do Aussies Live So Long?
Australian shepherds owe their longevity to their breeding history. Historically, Aussies have not been bred for a specific look. This might be surprising, given their beautiful, different colored, double coats in striking blue merle, red merle, and tri-color patterns, but this dog was bred to work.
When dogs are bred for looks, they often end up with over-emphasized physical features that can lead to health problems. Think of the English bulldog’s wrinkles that can cause skin issues or the German shepherd’s sloped back that can lead to hip dysplasia.
Because the Aussie has always been bred as a herding dog, breeding males and females were selected for their herding instincts, stamina, strength, intelligence, and overall health. Unhealthy dogs don’t make good working dogs.
This type of selective breeding leads to a healthier dog, which is why herding breeds are often among the longer-lived breeds. In fact, the Aussie’s oldest ancestor, a Basque sheepdog known as the Pyrenean shepherd, has one of the longest life expectancies of all purebred dogs, with an average lifespan of 17-19 years.
What Health Problems Affect Australian Shepherd Life Expectancy?
While the Australian shepherd’s health is typically good, they are at risk of a few genetically inherited health conditions. Some of these conditions can shorten your Australian shepherd’s life expectancy, while others may affect their quality of life. Here are the most common health issues to watch out for:
- Epilepsy: This neurological disorder causes dogs to have seizures. If left untreated, canine epilepsy can lead to death or permanent brain damage, but you can usually control the condition with anti-epileptic drugs.
- Hypothyroidism: In dogs with this condition, the thyroid isn’t able to produce enough of the thyroid hormone, which can decrease your dog’s metabolism and cause your dog to lose hair, gain weight, and become intolerant to the cold. If left untreated, hypothyroidism can affect your dog’s cholesterol, immune function, and heart rate, reducing their lifespan.
- Joint problems: While it’s not as common with Aussies as with German shepherds, this breed can still suffer from elbow or hip dysplasia, which is when the elbow or hip joint doesn’t fit properly into the joint socket. Because Aussies are an active breed, they can also get overuse injuries from working in the field or doing agility sports. Joint problems aren’t life-threatening, but they can make your dog sedentary, which will decrease their lifespan.
- Deafness: Australian shepherds have a slightly higher than average risk of deafness. While this isn’t a cause of death, hearing loss can make a dog less aware of their surroundings, increasing the risk of car accidents and other injuries.
- Eye issues: Aussies are prone to a variety of eye health problems, including progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataracts, and collie eye anomaly (CEA), all of which can lead to decreased vision and potential blindness. Like deafness, these eye issues aren’t a cause of death, but they lower your dog’s life expectancy by making them more sedentary or increasing the risk of accidents.
What Can You Do to Keep Your Aussie Healthy?
With a bit of attention to your Aussie’s genetics, medical care, diet, and exercise, you can keep your dog healthy for as long as possible. Here are eight essential ways you can keep your Aussie healthy:
- Adopt your Australian shepherd puppy from a reputable breeder who runs genetic testing before breeding their male and female dogs.
- Prevent avoidable causes of death by making sure your dog is up-to-date on their annual vaccinations.
- Take your dog in for annual check-ups so you can identify and treat health conditions as early as possible.
- Provide at least two hours of exercise and mental stimulation each day to keep this very active breed in the best shape.
- Feed a high-quality dog food that features real meat as the first ingredient and includes whole food fruits and vegetables in the ingredient list.
- Don’t feed grain-free dog food, as the FDA has linked these diets to an increased risk of heart disease.
- Monitor your dog’s calorie intake to prevent obesity, which can reduce your dog’s lifespan by up to two-and-a-half years, according to scientific research.
- Support your Aussie’s health with all-natural supplements, including fish oil and probiotics to support overall health, and Relief Chews to prevent joint pain.
Long Live the Australian Shepherd
When you choose an Australian shepherd as your best friend, you’ll have a best friend for life, and their life lasts 12-15 years. The Australian shepherd’s life expectancy is on the high end for any dog and is two years higher than the average lifespan for medium-size dogs.
But the fact that Aussies are a healthy breed doesn’t mean they’re without health problems. This breed is prone to joint, hearing, and vision problems, epilepsy, and hypothyroidism.
To keep your Aussie as healthy as possible for as long as possible, make sure to get your Aussie puppy from a responsible breeder. Then, give your Aussie plenty of exercise, feed a healthy diet, and support their health with natural air-dried supplements.
If you’re still deciding if Aussies are the best dog for you, read our guides to Australian shepherds and aggression, Australian shepherds and kids, and Australian shepherds and allergies. And if you’d like more information on your favorite dog breeds, check out the Native Pet blog.