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German Shepherds, also known as GSDs or Alsatians, are the second-most-popular breed in the United States. With their intelligence and ability to join you on all of your most active adventures, they can make the perfect addition to many families.
Sadly, our dogs never live as long as we wish they would. How long do German Shepherds live? The German Shepherd lifespan is shorter than you might expect and may vary depending on where the dog comes from.
While some websites claim that German Shepherds have an average lifespan of 10 to 14 years, the American Kennel Club (AKC), which registers the breed in the United States, lists their lifespan as only 7 to 10 years.
Why the difference? It’s possible that American German Shepherds have shorter lifespans than German Shepherds in other parts of the world. How can that be?
In America, many German Shepherds are bred toward a dog show breed standard that calls for a sloped back. Unfortunately, this sloped back increases a dog’s risk of hip dysplasia, arthritis, and other back and joint problems that can affect a dog’s mobility.
Meanwhile, in Germany, GSDs must pass several tests to prove that they are physically and mentally sound before they can be bred. With more of an emphasis on working ability than looks, GSDs in Germany are more sound than American German Shepherds and likely have fewer mobility problems that could lead to a dog being euthanized at a younger age.
Mobility issues like hip dysplasia, arthritis, and back problems are some of the biggest factors that affect a German Shepherd’s lifespan. While mobility issues won’t kill a dog directly, the decline in quality of life that they can cause can lead owners to euthanize their pets to save them from pain.
Other factors that can affect a German Shepherd’s lifespan include:
- Bloat – A condition where the stomach fills with air and twists on its axis, cutting off the blood supply to the intestines. Fatal in about half of all cases.
- Degenerative myelopathy – A degenerative spinal cord disease with no cure that eventually leads to paralysis. More common in German Shepherds than other breeds.
- Hip dysplasia – A painful condition where the thighbone doesn’t fit properly in the hip socket. Often leads to arthritis and mobility issues.
- Hemangiosarcoma – An aggressive form of cancers that affects the cells that line blood vessels. Common in German Shepherds.
- Epilepsy – While treatable up to a point, seizures can eventually be fatal.
Health problems that won’t necessarily affect a German Shepherd’s lifespan but may impact their quality of life include:
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
- Vision problems
All large dog breeds are prone to hip and joint problems, but with the traditional sloped back of the German Shepherd, back, hip, and other joint problems are more common in German Shepherds than many other breeds.
While there is no way to prevent these problems, there are things you can do to help delay or lessen symptoms to help extend your German Shepherd’s quality of life.
There is no way to guarantee that your German Shepherd will live a long, healthy life, but there are many ways to help increase the likelihood that you will have many good years with your fur child.
You should take your German Shepherd to the vet at least once a year when they are young and twice a year as they age for wellness checks. Why?
Many health conditions are much easier to treat if they are caught early on, before your dog is showing symptoms. Additionally, dogs tend to hide their pain, so your vet may catch something like hip dysplasia before you see your German Shepherd limping.
More than half of all pet dogs are overweight or obese, and dogs face many of the same obesity-related diseases as people. Additionally, any unnecessary weight can add more strain to already aching joints in dogs prone to hip dysplasia or arthritis.
How can you tell if your German Shepherd is overweight? When viewed from the side or above while standing, they should have a tucked in waistline. You should also be able to feel (but not see) your German Shepherd’s ribs.
Making sure your dog has a complete and balanced diet can be trickier than you expect when reducing their food intake, so if your GSD is overweight, talk to your vet about the best way to help them lose weight safely.
Since German Shepherds are such a popular breed, many breeders are only looking to make money from breeding the dogs and aren’t interested in improving the breed.
A dog bred simply for looks or money is more likely to suffer from genetic problems like hip dysplasia or degenerative myelopathy than German Shepherds bred to work and be as healthy as possible.
Because GSDs from American lines may have shorter lifespans than those from German lines, it may be worth your while to search for reputable breeders who have added German dogs to their breeding programs to help strengthen the breed and reduce the likelihood of genetic problems.
How can you make sure you avoid a backyard breeder or puppy mill dog? Here are some tips for finding a reputable German Shepherd breeder:
- You should be able to visit the puppies on site
- In addition to answering your questions, the breeder should ask you questions to make sure you’ll provide a good home for a German Shepherd
- You won’t find their puppies in a pet store
- The breeder does health testing on the parent dogs
- They will take the dog back if you can’t keep it
While most commercial dog foods are labeled “nutritionally complete,” that doesn’t make them healthy. Many dog foods include filler ingredients like corn or meat by-product that have little to no nutritional value. That makes cheap dog food the equivalent of human junk food.
Just as eating healthy helps humans live longer, high-quality dog food can help your German Shepherd live a longer, healthier life.
How do you know if your dog’s food is of high quality? Here are some tips:
- It shouldn’t contain any corn, animal by-product, or artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
- Meat should be the first ingredient. Real meat is better than meat meal for the first ingredient, but meal can be further down the list.
- Vitamins and minerals should come from real fruits and vegetables rather than artificial sources.
For more information on dog food for German Shepherds, check out the 8 Best Dog Foods for German Shepherds.
Since German Shepherds are so prone to painful joint problems, you should start them on a joint supplement that contains glucosamine and chondroitin when they are young to help prevent and lessen joint pain.
If you’d like to learn more about joint supplements, we cover them more in depth and offer our recommendations here.
Another good supplement to consider for your German Shepherd is fish oil. Some conditions that fish oil can help improve include:
- Intestinal inflammation
- Spinal problems
- Hip or elbow dysplasia
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Itchy skin or dry coat
All dogs need exercise to prevent obesity and keep them in shape, but German Shepherds have high energy levels and can turn to destructive behaviors if they don’t get enough exercise.
A bored German Shepherd could easily turn to eating things they shouldn’t when left alone, and if they swallow something that doesn’t pass through their digestive tract, it could kill them, so exercise really can directly impact their lifespan.
German Shepherds need at least an hour of exercise every day, and the more, the better. They were bred to work all day, so a tame 30-minute walk twice a day may not be enough to expend all their energy.
Some exercise options to consider with your German Shepherd include:
- Running around a dog park
- Playing fetch in the back yard
- Jogging with you on leash
- Running next to you as you bike
- Doggy daycare
You may not realize it, but poor dental health can impact a dog’s overall health. If you don’t care for your German Shepherd’s teeth, bacteria from under their gumline can enter your dog’s bloodstream and affect their organs, including their heart.
Brushing your German Shepherd’s teeth every day with a toothpaste made for dogs is best, but if they won’t allow you to do that, regular access to chew toys or bones can help remove plaque and tartar from their teeth.
You should also get a professional dental cleaning from your vet any time they recommend it, and it must be the kind where your dog is anesthetized. Anesthesia-free dental cleanings are becoming increasingly popular, but they don’t clean under the gumline, where bacteria lurk.
German Shepherds are extremely intelligent and get bored easily. A bored German Shepherd can develop undesirable behaviors, which may not lead directly to a shortened lifespan, but it may lead to you choosing to rehome your dog.
A few ways to keep your German Shepherd’s mind active include:
- Dog sports like agility, flyball, freestyle, and more
- Constantly training new tricks
- Obedience competitions
- Puzzle toys
Bred to work all day, German Shepherds love nothing more than to have a job. If you have the time to train them, your GSD might love to be a therapy dog, search and rescue dog or sheepdog.
Don’t have the time to give them a job outside the house? Teach them something to do at home, like putting away their toys or checking on the kids.
As you can see, there are many things you can do to help improve your German Shepherd’s lifespan and quality of life. They still won’t live forever, but with a little luck, you’ll have at least a dozen good years with them.