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In the late 1800s, a German cavalry officer named Captain Max von Stephanitz decided to create the ideal herding dog for sheep pastures. He spent the next 35 years refining a dog breed that is today one of the world’s most popular canine companions: the German shepherd, or GSD.

There’s a reason these dogs are so beloved by families the world over. They’re active, loyal, intelligent animals that form deep bonds with their humans. And while their speed, agility, strength, and powerful noses make them ideal military and police dogs, they’re just as comfortable curled up on the couch after a vigorous play session.

If you’re considering adding a GSD to your ranks, you might be wondering: What is the typical German shepherd lifespan? It’s important to keep this in mind when adopting a dog.

Read on to find out more about how long German shepherds live, what factors contribute to their lifespan, and what you can do to make sure your GSD lives a long, healthy, and happy life.

How Long Do German Shepherds Live?

German Shepherd lifespan: German Shepherd lying on a couch

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the typical German shepherd lifespan is 7 to 10 years. This life expectancy is fairly normal for a large-breed dog like the German shepherd. The largest breeds, like Great Danes, usually live between 7 and 10 years, while smaller dogs like Jack Russell Terriers or Chihuahuas often live to 12 or well beyond.

Of course, many German shepherds can live longer than 10 years, especially with careful, consistent care. Many factors may also shorten the GSD’s lifespan. Let’s learn about a few factors that contribute to the life expectancy of the German shepherd, and how you can support your pet’s health.

What Factors Contribute to the German Shepherd’s Lifespan?

German Shepherd lifespan: German Shepherd walking outside

A variety of factors can shorten or lengthen a dog’s life — some are within your control while some aren’t. The German shepherd is no exception. Let’s take a look at what can affect your dog’s lifespan.

Health Issues

German shepherds are prone to several health problems. Some are hereditary, and some are not. Common health issues to know about include:

  • Hip dysplasia: A genetic malformation of the hip joint, hip dysplasia can cause pain and even lameness in large dog breeds like German shepherds. It’s one of the most common health issues diagnosed in the German shepherd dog.
  • Elbow dysplasia: Elbow dysplasia is just like hip dysplasia, except it occurs in the elbow joint rather than the hip joint. This congenital disorder can make it difficult for your dog to walk, potentially affecting their general quality of life and lifespan.
  • Bloat: During bloat, known medically as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), gas gets trapped in a dog’s stomach and creates pressure. This can potentially twist the stomach and cause difficulty breathing, shock, and even death without quick treatment. This condition is more common in larger dogs like retrievers, Great Danes, Rottweilers, and — you guessed it — German shepherds.
  • Degenerative myelopathy: Another common German shepherd health condition that is suspected to be hereditary, degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a progressive degenerative disease of the spinal cord that can lead to lameness and paralysis. It usually affects middle-aged to older dogs.

Breeding

Since many of the health problems described above are congenital, responsible breeding is another important factor in the German shepherd life expectancy. Irresponsible breeders will neglect to run health screenings on the dogs under their care, which can allow hereditary problems like hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy to be passed down through generations of German shepherds. Responsible breeders, however, avoid breeding dogs with genetic issues so you can adopt a healthy dog.

Diet and Exercise

A good diet and regular exercise are absolutely key to your dog’s quality of life and overall health. A pooch who eats sub-par dog food and doesn’t exercise enough is at a much higher risk for many issues, including obesity, which can in turn make joint problems, heart issues, and a shorter lifespan more likely. 

Tips for Improving German Shepherd Health

Puppy German Shepherd looking at the camera

We’ve learned that the average German shepherd lifespan is about 7 to 10 years or so. And we’ve discussed some factors that could affect your dog’s life expectancy for the worse. So, how can a German shepherd owner help keep their canine best friend happy and healthy?

Spay and Neuter

Spaying or neutering your dog early in life is one of the best ways to support their health and lifespan. Not only does the procedure reduce the risk of certain cancers and make issues like urinary tract infections less likely — it decreases the chance of dangerous escape attempts. That’s because your dog won’t feel as strong of a desire to search for a mate during breeding season once they’ve been spayed or neutered.

Great Diet

As mentioned above, a poor diet is one of the leading causes of poor health and obesity in our canine friends. Be sure to feed your GSD a high-quality dog food with all of the essential nutrients for good health. (Ask your vet for a recommendation if your dog’s current food isn’t cutting it!) 

Just make sure your dog doesn’t eat too fast — gulping food allows excess gas into the stomach, which can lead to bloat. Make your dog take breaks if they tend to gulp down food, or replace 1-2 large daily meals with several small meals throughout the day.

Another way to give your dog’s diet a healthy boost is through supplements. Try Native Pet’s Probiotic Powder to promote your dog’s gut health or our Omega Oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids for improved joint health, heart function, and skin and fur quality.

Regular Exercise

Remember: The German shepherd is a working dog with a high energy level who craves physical activity. Regular exercise is very important for physical and mental well-being, and it combats dangerous obesity as well. Exercise your German shepherd daily with long walks and vigorous play sessions.

Health Screenings

Some common conditions that affect a German shepherd’s lifespan are hereditary. This is a good reason to take your dog for regular health screenings — it’s simply the best way to catch problems early and keep your dog’s health in good shape. Health screening check-ups are especially important if you aren’t familiar with your dog’s health history; if you adopted them from a shelter, for example, you may not have a record of their genetic line and past health issues.

Preventative Care

Why not avoid health issues before they begin? That’s the beauty of preventative care. If you adopt a German shepherd puppy, talk with your vet about when to begin preventative medications. And regularly take your adult dog for vet visits to keep them up to date with vaccinations and pest-control medications. It’s the easiest and most effective way to avoid disease and infestations — and keep your German shepherd around for as long as possible.

The German Shepherd Lifespan: What to Consider

Close up shot of a German Shepherd's face

German shepherds have an average lifespan of 7 to 10 years. This popular dog breed is an active, loyal, lovable dog. If you already own a shepherd or are considering adopting a GSD, be aware of some of the most common health concerns that affect German shepherds. Hip and elbow dysplasia, bloat, and degenerative myelopathy are just a few possibilities.

Many German shepherds can live longer than 10 years with great and consistent care. Make sure they get the proper nutrition, and prevent them from gulping food to avoid bloat. Exercise them daily, and schedule regular visits with your vet. Have your dog spayed or neutered, and keep them up to date on preventative medicines and vaccines.

It only takes a few simple steps to support your dog’s health. Doing so can potentially lengthen your German shepherd’s lifespan so you can enjoy as many happy, healthy years together as you can.

Visit the Native Pet blog to read more about your dog’s health, wellness, and behavior.


Further Reading on German Shepherds:


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