The pug lifespan is 13-15 years. This is a few years longer than the average lifespan for dogs in general, which is 10-13 years. So if you’re the proud owner of a pug or you’re considering bringing one home, you’ll be happy to know that this small breed will keep your lap warm for many years. However, you shouldn’t expect all of those years to be easy.
Although long lived, pugs are prone to a variety of expensive health problems. And many of the things that we love about pugs — from their roly-poly bodies to their abundant wrinkles and their smushed faces — are also to blame for those problems.
We’ll take a look at why pugs have a longer-than-average life expectancy, despite their many health issues. Plus, we’ll explain the most common health problems that pug owners have to deal with, and we’ll share steps you can take to keep your pug healthy for as long as possible.
Factors That Affect the Pug Lifespan
The pug’s lifespan of 13-15 years of age is affected by several factors. Owner care can, of course, play a role in extending a pug’s life, and we’ll cover that below. While the pugs' longer than average lifespan is a credit to its small size, it’s also prone to many health issues due to its breeding history.
Smaller dogs typically live longer than larger dogs. A scientific study published in the American Naturalist found that smaller dogs age more slowly than larger dogs and can live nearly twice as long.
This is something we see throughout the animal kingdom. While larger species, like elephants and whales, often have longer lives than smaller species, the smallest animals within a species live the longest. A small elephant lives longer than a large elephant, and a small dog lives longer than a large dog. So, size is a key factor in the long pug lifespan.
But while pugs certainly benefit from this size-lifespan correlation, they’re not the longest lived small dogs. Miniature poodles can live up to 18 years, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), while the Chihuahua and the Dachshund can both live up to 16 years. The reason pugs don’t live as long as other small breeds likely comes down to their breed history.
Breeding for Looks vs. Jobs
Among purebred dogs, those bred for a job, like the Jack Russell terrier, tend to be healthier than those bred for looks.
This can be seen clearly in the case of the German shepherd dog (GSDs), which started out as a working breed used as herding and guard dogs. But in recent decades, the GSD has been bred for looks instead — specifically for a distinct sloping back. According to Science Daily, this selective breeding has exacerbated health problems in GSDs, especially hip dysplasia and other musculoskeletal issues.
Pugs have also been bred for looks, specifically for a flat face, short muzzles, large eyes, and abundant wrinkles. Because of their flat faces, pugs are a brachycephalic breed. This term refers to breeds with shortened muzzles. Other popular brachycephalic dogs include French bulldogs, English bulldogs, boxers, Boston terriers, shih tzus, shar-peis, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
Brachycephalic breeds are prone to a variety of health problems that don’t typically affect dogs with longer muzzles. They often have breathing problems, which can make it difficult to exercise the dogs in hot or cold weather. And because of their flat faces, these breeds also have shallow eye sockets. This can lead to ocular proptosis, a condition where the dog’s eye pops out of its socket, if the dogs are walked with a traditional collar and pull on their leash.
And these are just a few of the many potential health issues that can affect brachycephalic dog breeds. Norway has even banned the breeding of bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles spaniels, ruling that because of their many health problems, breeding these dogs amounts to animal cruelty. The ban could be extended to pugs and French bulldogs, as well, and similar measures are being considered in the United Kingdom.
Purebred vs. Mixed Breed Dogs
Purebred dogs are generally at a disadvantage when it comes to longevity. A study of more than 2 million dogs published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association says, “Mixed breed dogs lived significantly longer than purebred dogs.”
Data from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the United Kingdom confirms this finding. They found that the average lifespan of a purebred dog was 11.9 years, while the average lifespan of a mixed breed dog was 13.1 years. Countering the purebred lifespan issue, some dog lovers mix pugs with the healthier Jack Russell and beagle to create the retro pug and the puggle, respectively.
The Most Common Pug Health Problems
In spite of their relatively long lifespan, pugs are not necessarily a healthy breed. They’re prone to a variety of health conditions that can lead to expensive vet bills. So anyone considering a pug should anticipate spending more money on medical expenses or pet insurance.
Here are the most common health problems that pugs face. While not all of these conditions are causes of death, they can all shorten your pug’s life expectancy and lower their quality of life.
- Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS): The pug’s flat face can cause severe breathing difficulties. Surgery may improve their breathing, but it isn't always effective.
- Pug dog encephalitis (PDE): An inflammatory condition that can affect the central nervous system, can lead to inflammation of the brain, and is usually fatal. While rare, this disease affects pugs far more than any other breed.
- Skin infections: Bacterial and yeast infections often form between the pug’s skin folds where water, bacteria, and fungi can get trapped.
- Hemivertebrae: Spinal cord issues caused by a deformed vertebrae are common in the pug breed because of their corkscrew tails.
- Obesity: Excessive weight gain occurs more than twice as often in pugs compared to the average for all dogs.
How Dog Owners Can Help Raise a Healthy Pug
A healthy life is a happy life. While not all health issues can be prevented, pug owners play an important role in raising a healthy dog. Here are the steps you can take to ensure your pug remains as healthy as possible into their old age:
- Work with a responsible breeder: A responsible breeder screens their adult pugs for pre-existing health conditions before breeding them, ensuring you get the healthiest possible pug puppy. Look for a breeder who runs all of the Pug Dog Club of America’s recommended health screenings.
- Feed high-quality food: A healthy diet is the foundation of overall health. Look for a dog food that contains real meat as the first ingredient and only includes dog-friendly fruits and vegetables in the ingredient list.
- Maintain a healthy weight: In addition to which food you feed your pug, how much you feed is also important. You should feed carefully portioned meals and limit the number of treats you provide to help prevent obesity. Aim to keep your dog at a five on the body condition score chart.
- Provide health-promoting supplements: All-natural dog supplements, like fish oil, can help promote skin, joint, and overall health in your pug.
- Offer regular exercise: It can be difficult to exercise a pug because hot and cold weather can exacerbate their breathing problems. Try limiting your pug’s outdoor time during extreme temperatures, offering exercise such as indoor fetch or a supervised walk on a dog treadmill during these conditions.
- Provide regular checkups: Regular checkups with your vet can help identify health issues early on when they’re easier to treat. This will also ensure your pug stays up-to-date on their vaccinations, which protects them from rabies, distemper, Bordetella, canine parvovirus, and other preventable causes of death.
Pugs Need Your Help to Stay Healthy
The pug lifespan is relatively long at 13-15 years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an all-around healthy dog. Because of its flat face, big eyes, and abundant wrinkles, this breed is prone to a variety of health problems, including breathing issues, eye problems, and skin infections. There’s even a fatal genetic disorder named after the breed — pug dog encephalitis.
However, pug owners can help prevent some of these heartbreaking conditions by getting their puppy from a responsible breeder, providing high-quality food and all-natural supplements, and ensuring their dog gets regular exercise. Possibly the best way to bring home a healthy pug puppy is to opt for a mixed pug. The retro pug and the puggle are both healthy hybrids that retain many of the pug's most lovable qualities.
To learn more about your favorite dog breeds, visit the Native Pet blog.