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German Shepherd Lifespan: How Long Do German Shepherds Live?

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Last Updated: February 8, 2023 | 15 min read | Leave a Comment

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German Shepherds (GSD for short) are a mighty breed and make wonderful pets. Paw parents put a lot of love into their dogs and want to ensure they have the best lives possible. One big area pet owners often wonder about is how long a dog will live. Though many factors affect life expectancy, breeding and genetics are huge elements. The German Shepherd’s lifespan is not as long as some breeds, partly due to their large size.

German Shepherds, also called the Alsatians, are a beloved breed. These big, noble dogs are always at the top end of the list of the most popular dog breeds. They are intelligent, loyal, and love to be outside. This breed makes a fantastic family pet and is highly trainable to be a service, guard, and working dog.

Of course, as paw parents, we want our beloved four-legged family members to be around for as long as possible. It is helpful to understand the different factors that go into lifespan expectancy. In this quick overview, we discuss this breed’s lifespan and the other things that impact how long these majestic pups are expected to live. Let’s jump in and learn all about this breed’s lifespan and what owners can do to help their dogs live happy lives as long as possible.

German Shepherd Breed

Three working line German shepherd puppies brings one stick
GSDs are a breed that can be traced back to 19th Century Europe.

In Germany, they were bred to be farmer’s dogs and work to herd and protect the livestock. German Shepherds were bred to have a superior sense of smell, direction, intelligence, strength, and athletic ability. A lot has gone into breeding these pups to be the elegant creatures they are today. There are two major lines, European and American, and there are some differences in size and temperament. The main difference is that the American line is a bit larger. European pups tend to be better workers, slightly more protective, and somewhat more aggressive than the Americans.

This breed is large and can average between 50 and 90 pounds. These hefty pups love children and get along well with other dogs. They are very smart, as well as heroic. Alsatians are natural protectors and serve as steadfast guardians of their pack. These pups will step in and try to stop any danger or threat to their owners. They are a vocal breed, especially if they are on alert.

This breed will take some time to trust people, but they are all in once they do. They are staunchly protective of their people, which gives them a reputation for being aggressive, but in reality, they are giant sweethearts.

The mighty Alsatian has a signature look. For starters, they have massive bodies. Their big heads are topped with large pointy ears. Almond-shaped eyes and long straight faces give them a proud yet kind face. A signature characteristic of this breed is an impressive, slightly hooked, very bushy tail.

How Long Do German Shepherds Live?

German Shepherd Dog gray-haired looking over sholder at camera on a grey background
It has been found that size is more of a factor in predicting lifespan, not if they are purebred.

German Shepherds live, on average, about 9 to 13 years. Females tend to live a little longer than females. Females live, on average, about 11 years, while males live about 9 and a half. This does not mean that the oldest can get is 13 or that every dog will live precisely that long. This is an average. There are even a few that have lived to age 15 or so. Some owners have claimed to have Alsatians that have lived to age 20, but those claims are hard to verify.

German Shepherds are a larger breed, and larger breeds have shorter lifespans than smaller ones. Size impacts their health, growth, development, and aging process. Larger dogs may be more susceptible to certain diseases like cancer because their bodies grow faster.

Health Factors That Impact German Shepherd Lifespan

Professional veterinarian examining German Shepherd's ears in clinic
The German Shepherd is a relatively healthy breed.

GSDs have predispositions to a few health conditions. Some of these health conditions can impact life expectancy.

Size

Size is a significant factor in the life expectancy of the German Shepherd. Because they are a large breed, their life expectancy is low. Larger breeds are at a higher risk for cancer, musculoskeletal disease, joint issues, and other size-related health conditions. These can all put extra stress on a dog’s body, which can take from its life expectancy.

Weight

An overweight canine is susceptible to many different health conditions that will impact overall health and lifespan. Obesity is a considerable concern, as it can lead to diabetes and take almost two and a half years off the life expectancy of your fur baby. An obese German Shepherd will be quite heavy, putting extreme pressure on the musculoskeletal system. It will also overwork their heart and circulatory system, essentially putting your pup’s entire life at risk.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes spontaneous and repeated seizures. These seizures can cause dogs to suffer physical convulsions and sometimes lose consciousness. Unfortunately, the German Shepherd breed has a hereditary predisposition to develop this disease. Epilepsy can range in severity. It is present in dogs between the ages of one and four. The severity and impact this will have on a dog’s life depend on the individual animal, as well as the care they receive.

Alsatians who suffer from epilepsy will behave normally in between seizure episodes. Seizures are physically and mentally exhausting, and your dog will be exhausted afterward. Pups may require a long rest period to regain their full mental and physical function. This condition is referred to as idiopathic or primary epilepsy. Dogs can live full, happy lives with epilepsy, though they will require special care and treatment. Additionally, the effects of the seizures on their body and brain will impact their overall health and expected lifespan.

Bloat

Bloat is also referred to as gastric dilation volvulus or GDV. This condition happens when a dog’s stomach twists and does not allow food or water to pass through. When this happens, circulation of the intestines and stomach is also blocked. Bloat is life-threatening and commonly occurs in larger breeds. This condition can happen quite suddenly and requires immediate medical attention. There is no known cause, but larger dogs tend to develop this condition more than smaller breeds. It also affects older dogs more than younger dogs.

Sometimes bloat can happen after dogs gulp a large meal and are immediately highly active. Because of this, it is advised to feed larger breeds like the Alsatian smaller meals throughout the day so that they do not eat so quickly and reduce their chance of this horrible stomach-twisting condition.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is common among the Alsatian breed. A condition called dilated cardiomyopathy causes the heart to pump an insufficient amount of blood and causes the heart to enlarge. This condition can lead to fluid collecting in the lungs and thinning out of the heart walls. Canines who suffer from this condition may suffer from respiratory issues, have a cough, tire out quickly, faint, and be reluctant to exercise. This disease can be treated. However, it can develop to a very severe level and even be fatal. Getting your dog treatment early on is vital to prolonging his life as much as possible.

Dental Disease

Dental disease is a considerable problem among canines of all breeds. It is estimated that it affects at least 80% of all dogs by the time they are two years old. This is another area where German Shepherds are unfortunately a little more susceptible than some other breeds. Dental care is critical to prevent bacteria and tartar building up. This dog is prone to gum and tooth infections. Untreated dental disease is a severe problem.

Dogs suffering from dental disease can face long-term health damage, including poorly functioning kidneys, liver disease, heart malfunction, and joint concerns. It is estimated that dogs with dental disease can lose up to three years of their lives.

Spine Disease

Spinal diseases, particularly degenerative myelopathy, is a condition that often affects the Alsatian breed. This is a condition that comes on slowly and gets progressively worse. It involves the nerves of the spinal cord and their ability to function correctly. This condition can cause weakness in the spine, back, and front legs, loss of coordination, incontinence, and physical pain, and can gradually impact a dog’s ability to move.

Hip, & Elbow Dysplasia

As with many other large breeds, the Alsatian is prone to developing hip and elbow dysplasia. This condition affects a dog’s joints and overall physical stability. Dogs lose cartilage and form scar tissue in their joints, causing pain, limping, stiffness, difficulty walking, running, or jumping, unsteady gait, loss of leg and thigh muscle, decreased range of motion, and a preference for leaning or walking heavily on their front legs. Dogs dealing with long-term conditions like this put extra stress on their bodies, which impacts lifespan.

Spay & Neuter

Spaying and neutering a dog is about more than stopping them from having unwanted pregnancies or getting other dogs pregnant. This procedure is actually beneficial to your pet’s life longevity. Researchers at the University of Georgia studied the issue and found that spayed and neutered dogs live longer. In female dogs, this procedure raised their life expectancy by 26.3%. In males, life expectancy increased by 13.8%. Dogs left intact have a lower expected lifespan of about two years than those who undergo this procedure.

Female pups left intact are at a higher risk of developing uterus and mammary gland cancers. Additionally, they can develop pyometra, an infection of the uterus. This is very serious because this infection can travel into the bloodstream and be fatal. Intact males are at a higher risk of developing cancer and prostate infections.

Canine Parvovirus

Canine parvovirus is a viral infection that is incredibly contagious. All breeds are at risk, but some, including these big pups, are highly susceptible to it. Parvo hits their digestive system and is shed in feces. It is very hardy and can withstand the elements. It stays alive outside for about a year. Parvo can live indoors for about a month. It spreads quickly and hits hard. This infection causes dogs to dehydrate extremely fast, weakens the immune system, and causes intestinal damage, leading to septic shock.

Other Factors That Impact German Shepherd Lifespan

Other factors, environmental and circumstantial, also impact this breed’s expected lifespan. These include nutrition, genetics, care, lifestyle, and exercise.

German Shepherd dog lying next to a bowl with kibble dog food, eating from man's hand
German Shepherds should be fed high-quality dog foods that use lean, healthy proteins as meat sources.

Nutrition

Nutrition is a huge factor in a dog’s overall health. In fact, it is one of the cornerstones of their health and development from their very first days of life. Larger breeds like the Alsatian should be fed large-breed food if possible. There are plenty of high-quality large-breed puppy food formulas and those for adults and seniors.

Canines of any breed that are overweight and obese are at a higher likelihood of developing serious diseases, have lowered immune systems, and are at a higher risk of developing heart disease or heart attacks. These pups also stress their muscular and skeletal systems and joints by carrying around more weight than they can handle. Canines that are obese or overweight, unfortunately, have a higher chance of dying young.

Proper nutrition from day one keeps them healthy overall, supports proper growth and development, and directly impacts their expected lifespan. Canines age faster than humans, and their nutrition is essential to them. Owners need to be very aware of feeding their pets the appropriate portion size and the highest quality nutrition they can.

Food should always list protein sources first. These can include fish, beef, chicken, and turkey. Due to this breed’s higher tendency to develop bloat, they always need to eat food that is easy to digest. Considering fresh or freeze-dried foods for this breed is a great option. This provides the best possible nutritional content, no unnecessary fillers or chemical additives, and very easy-to-digest meals.

Genetics

Of course, genetics is an incredibly significant factor in a dog’s expected lifespan. Larger breeds like the Alsatian have a lower life expectancy than smaller breeds like the Chihuahua or Yorkie. German Shepherds will grow to a generous size, and their genetics will determine that size. Canines of mixed breeds tend to be larger than their parents but can also be healthier and longer lived. This is because they have mixed genetics and may be at a lower risk of developing some diseases and health conditions that impact lifespan.

Puppies acquired from high-quality breeders are generally screened through genetic testing to rule out health issues or underlying concerns. Owners should always ask lots of questions, specifically about a puppy’s health and what conditions they have been screened for. Ask specifically about the conditions that affect this breed, and steer clear of breeders that seem to use unsafe practices or are not concerned about health testing.

Care & Lifestyle

We take care of ourselves differently and know that lifestyle impacts our overall health and lifespan. This is precisely the same for our canine companions. Pets who are more active, exercise regularly, eat well, and stay up to date with veterinary care will be healthier overall and live longer lives. Lifestyle is an incredibly significant factor and as influential as a breed type. Though German Shepherds have an expected life span of between 9 and 13 years, how they are taken care of will impact their overall health.

Canines need regular veterinary care. This can help owners stay on top of any severe health conditions that may develop and protect pets against bacterial infections, heartworm, fleas, and infection. Dogs who are stressed out, suffer separation anxiety, or are lonely and bored may be less healthy overall.

As owners, we set the tone and circumstances for our pet’s lifestyle. We must ensure they have proper access to outdoor time, physical exercise, mental stimulation, and interaction with people and other canines. A healthy lifestyle is essential and is part of pet ownership responsibility. Lifestyle affects an animal’s quality of life, which impacts lifespan.

It is important to pay attention to what phase of life your pooch is in. As our pets age, they will have different nutritional needs and may need supplements to support things like joint and bone health, heart concerns, eye issues, digestion, and more. Nutrition is vital for this breed, especially as they get older. Remember that canines age faster than humans. Even though they may be just a few years old, they need extra support.

Exercise

Exercise is crucial for the Alsatians, and they need at least two hours of daily physical activity. They need to walk regularly and have the opportunity for off-leash running and exploration. They should also be offered outside playtime to explore and play freely. You can teach these pups many tricks and find physical activities and exercises like hiking, running, and biking that you can do together.

Canines that do not get enough physical exercise will not be physically healthy. Physical activity impacts their body’s function. Additionally, it affects their mental health. Dogs who are sedentary or at a higher risk of becoming overweight, depressed, and unhealthy. These will all take from their expected lifespan.

German Shepherd Lifespan Compared To Other Breeds

Scary Looking German Shepherd Dog
Owners can do a few different things to help keep their GSDs healthy and increase their chances of living longer.

The German Shepherd’s lifespan is shorter than some breeds but much longer than others. Some smaller breeds can live anywhere from 15 to 18 years. Chihuahuas, Chinese crested, and Pomeranians are examples of breeds that live this long. Others, like the Great Dane, live 8 to 10 years, while a Burmese Mountain dog may live 7 to 10.

How To Help Your German Shepherd Live A Long Life

Of course, owners want to do everything they can to increase their bark baby’s expected lifespan. We want to keep our fur babies with us as long as possible.

Tips For A Longer Life For Your Pup

  1. Top-quality nutrition should always be the first priority. Avoid feeding your dog human foods and low-quality pet foods that use artificial ingredients, flavors, and colors.
  2. Use portion control and regularity to manage your dog’s diet.
  3. Smaller meals more often work better for this breed and reduce the chance of bloat.
  4. Clean your pup’s teeth regularly and provide them with periodic professional cleanings and preventive dental care. Aim for daily brushing.
  5. Keep up with regular veterinary care, especially preventative visits. You should not only get to know your veterinarian during an emergency. Your veterinarian is your teammate, keeping your pup healthy and alive as long as possible. You can even investigate pet insurance to see if it will help offset some of your pet’s medical care expenses.
  6. Along with regular preventative care, stay current on all vaccinations and immunizations throughout your pup’s life. This includes flea, tick, and heartworm prevention.
  7. Always seek veterinary treatment if your dog is experiencing odd behavior, pain, or digestive issues that do not clear up quickly.
  8. Make sure to spay or neuter your puppy at the right age. Discuss this procedure with your veterinarian when your pet is a few months old, and set a plan for when the right time is to do it. This will differ for females and males as they mature sexually at different times.
  9. Safety should always be a priority. Canines as large as these should never be allowed off-leash unsupervised. Their large size and reputation will scare people, causing them to become anxious. Accidents can happen quickly, like a dog running into traffic. Injury and accidents cause death for far too many animals, especially large breeds.
  10. Keep your dog away from harmful environmental factors. These include cleaning chemicals, outdoor chemicals, secondhand cigarette smoke, human medication, marijuana, candy, coffee, inedible items like string, etc.
  11. Start training and socialization with your puppy when still relatively young. Make sure he knows how to behave around people and other pets. Socialize him with people and other pups. This is especially important for large intimidating breeds like the German Shepherd.
  12. Always pay close attention to your pet’s behavior. Animals communicate with us differently. Obviously, they cannot speak to us, so they share information through their behavior. If your bark baby is behaving oddly, seems sick, lethargic, disoriented, disinterested in food or water, or otherwise off, it is always best to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is your most significant resource for keeping your Alsatian dog healthy, regardless of the life stage a pet is in.

Your veterinarian is always happy to help ensure your canine pal is as healthy as possible. It is far better to err on the side of caution than to wait until something becomes an emergency. As pet owners, we carry a great responsibility. Having these animals accompany us on our life’s adventures is a tremendous privilege, but we are 100% responsible for their health and safety.

How long they live is directly impacted by how well we care for them. Large breeds like the German Shepherd require a lot of care. They are big, eat a lot of food, need expensive supplies, and are prone to some health conditions. Owners must understand what they are taking on when they bring one of these beautiful Alsatian pups home.

Frequently Asked Questions

German Shepherd Dog Wearing Tactical Harness
German Shepherds are a remarkable breed.

Can German Shepherds live to be 20 years old?

German Shepherds generally live between 10 and 13 years old. Some live to be older, around 15 or so. While it is always possible for one to live longer, it is doubtful that many members of this breed live up to 20 years. There are always claims of animals that have lived exceptionally long lives, but many of those claims are hard to confirm. 20 years old is incredibly long-lived for any canine and not something that happens very often, regardless of breed.

Is my 10-year-old German Shepherd considered old?

Yes, your 10-year-old German Shepherd would be considered a dog in their senior years. For larger breeds, this happens earlier, sometimes between about five and seven years old. Because your dog is so large and carries a lot of weight, their joints will hurt, and they may develop conditions like arthritis. Pay attention and ensure they are getting the right food, supplements, beds, and exercise to keep them as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

What is the most common cause of death for a German Shepherd?

This is a tricky question to answer, but a few different things can cause death in this breed. Keep in mind that age plays a role. It is said that about 50% of all canines that are over 10 years old die from some form of cancer. German Shepherds are at a higher rate of developing and passing away from musculoskeletal conditions like myopathy and hip dysplasia.

Can my German Shepherd live to be 15?

Yes, it is possible for your German Shepherd to live to be 15 years old, but it is also not something that owners should expect. All canines have individual health conditions, care, and environmental circumstances that will affect how long they live. You should always do your best to keep your dog healthy, but there is no way to know exactly how long they will live. While this breed can live to be 15 years old, there is no way to tell if one specific dog will.

Final Thoughts

GSDs require a lot of love and care. This breed is large and, because of that, is prone to certain health conditions that may impact their expected lifespan. Alsatians live between 9 and 15 years or so old, though most live between 10 and 13. Many factors, including genetics, age, underlying health conditions, care, and environmental factors, will impact how long any specific dog will live. With this breed, a few conditions like bloat, heart disease, and musculoskeletal disorders to watch out for.

There are many things owners can do to make sure their pets are getting the highest quality of care, which will help increase their expected lifespan. Hopefully, our German Shepherd lifespan overview has helped you understand how long this breed lives and what owners can do to keep them around as long as possible.

Please remember that the information we provide is to educate and inform only and is never intended to be a substitute for advice from your veterinarian about your specific dog. Always consult your veterinarian if you are concerned about your dog’s health, nutrition, development, or any other concerns.

Yorkie at the vet with owner holding him and signing clipboard that vet is showing owner with expenses for services

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