Skip to main content

16-05-2011 | Article

Breed-specific causes of death identified


Free abstract

MedWire News: Researchers have identified the most common causes of death in more than 80 breeds of dogs, including novel patterns in certain groups.

They believe the findings, published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, will help in the development of tailored health maintenance programs and contribute to the understanding of the genetic basis of disease.

"If we can anticipate better how things can go wrong for dogs, we can manage their wellness to keep them as healthy as possible," said Kate Creevy, from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in Athens, USA.

Creevy and team examined data from the Veterinary Medical Database to examine the cause of death in 74,556 dogs who died between 1984 and 2004.

The causes of death were categorized according to organ system or pathophysiologic process, and segregated by age, body mass, and breed.

Overall, gastrointestinal and neurologic diseases were the leading organ system causes of death by a very slight margin, followed by musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and urogenital causes. These five organ system categories were responsible for most deaths in most breeds.

As expected, respiratory diseases represented the most frequent organ system cause of death in Bulldogs, but it was also the most common cause of death in both Afghan Hounds and Vizslas.

The cardiovascular system was the leading organ system cause of death for Chihuahuas and Maltese, which is consistent with the high incidence of mitral valve disease in toy breeds. However, it was also a leading cause of death in Fox Terriers, while musculoskeletal causes were the fifth cause of death.

Neoplasia was the leading cause of death due to pathophysiologic processes across all breeds, particularly for Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Scottish Terriers, Bouvier Des Flandres, and Boxers.

Golden Retrievers and Boxers were more likely to die from cancer than any other pathophysiologic process and rates in these two breeds were higher than those of others.

The researchers also found that mortality rates generally increased with increasing age in all breeds, but they note, however, that "not all causes of death contribute equally to the rising risk of death in aging populations."

Generally, gastrointestinal and infectious causes of death predominated for young dogs, with a dramatic shift toward neurologic and neoplastic causes for adult dogs. Urogenital causes, although not a major cause of death overall, also increased with age.

The study findings confirmed an increasing risk for death with increasing breed size, mainly due to increased musculoskeletal, neoplastic, or gastrointestinal system disease. In contrast, smaller breeds were more likely to die of degenerative and metabolic causes.

"With rare breeds, an individual veterinarian may not see enough cases to be able to develop the opinion on whether the breed has a high incidence of conditions such as cancer," Creevy commented.

"But if you analyze records that have been compiled over 20 years, you can detect patterns that you wouldn't otherwise notice."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Lucy Piper