Are you just starting on the exciting journey of dog ownership or looking to add to your already established pack of pups? Then you probably want to choose a new canine companion who is likely to stay healthy and happy and be with you for as long as possible.
There are loads of articles that give a “definitive top 10” of the healthiest dog breeds in the world. However, this is a statement that we cannot categorically make because there are 100s of breeds out there, and there hasn’t been a proper scientific study to confirm or refute who truly is the healthiest.
Instead, when thinking about what makes a dog healthy, we should consider several different factors. These factors include their upbringing, whether their parents were healthy, what health conditions their breed may be at increased risk from, and the average breed life span (although this can be misleading as, on average, small breed dogs will live longer than large or giant breeds). Some breeds are healthier than others, but regardless of breed, it is essential to ensure your pup has the best start in life to maximize their chance of growing up healthy.
What To Look For When Picking A New Pup
Do Your Breed Research
Before getting a new puppy, the most important thing you can do is to research the breed you’re thinking of buying. Never buy a puppy on impulse.
For example, a highly active breed such as a Border Collie would be great for a working or active home, but if your lifestyle is more sedentary, this may put your new pup at risk of mental health disorders (yes, this is a thing).
Flat-faced breeds are very on-trend, but did you know that many suffer from severe anatomical deformities that cause serious health issues (and cost you a lot to manage)? Sadly, this is still considered “normal” for the breed, and many people will fiercely defend their appearance despite outcry from animal welfare bodies.
It is your responsibility to make sure the breed of dog you are choosing will fit your lifestyle, and that you can manage its unique needs appropriately. This can massively impact how healthy a breed is in your care.
There are many genetic and screening tests for health conditions available these days, including at-home DNA tests to help identify health markers as well as breed identification.
Responsible dog breeders are working to reduce the prevalence of diseases in their breed by testing when available. If you are buying a dog rather than adopting it from a rescue organization, speak to the breeder about their puppies and testing practices. A responsible breeder will be happy to discuss this with you.
The American Kennel Club website is an excellent place to learn about any health conditions in a specific breed.
When possible, ask to see your new pup in their home environment with their dog mom. The breeder not letting you visit, offering to deliver the puppy to you, or if there are several litters of puppies at the breeder’s house when you get there can be warning signs that maybe this isn’t a well-bred puppy. Responsible breeders will usually want to know a bit about you, your circumstances, and your experience with dogs before letting you come and visit your potential new pup.
Take care responding to ads for “Puppies for Sale” on Craigslist or similar sites. Reputable breeders will usually have their own websites or advertise their litters by word of mouth or through Kennel Club websites. Seeing multiple listings from the same breeder is a Puppy Mill red flag.
Puppy mills are where people excessively breed dogs solely for profit. Often, they have many dogs kept in poor conditions, who are bred continuously until they cannot carry more litters. Usually, these dogs are then abandoned or worse. The red flags for puppy mills include:
- Refusing to let you come and visit the puppy with its mother.
- Many different breeds of puppies are for sale.
- Selling puppies in large numbers or lots of online listings.
- Poor housing conditions.
- Letting pups leave their mother before eight weeks of age.
- Puppies have not had health checks or are being sold with any documentation.
- The breeder is not asking you questions.
Even if you find yourself in a situation that screams “puppy mill,” it can be almost impossible to resist the desire to “rescue” a puppy. We’re only human, and it can be heartbreaking to see puppies suffering. However, it is best to walk away and report the facility to your relevant authority in these situations.
The puppy you bring home will likely develop severe health issues resulting from parasitic or viral infections, which can be expensive and often impossible to treat successfully. This usually means these little puppies will die soon after bringing them home, which can be extremely distressing for the whole family.
Organizations like the ASPCA, Humane Society, and local rescue shelters are great places to find special dogs who are rarely purebred but generally full of heart and love to give. Rescue pets also tend to be much less expensive than those purchased from breeders and help to lower the homeless animal rate in your local community. Rescuing a dog is a wonderful way to save a life and find a special friend for life.
If you have your heart set on a purebred dog, there are also many breed-specific rescue organizations that can help you find the right dog to fill your home and heart with love.
Raising A Healthy Dog
Building a trusting relationship with your local veterinarian can be hugely beneficial when you bring a new puppy into your life. They will be able to guide you on important things, such as vaccination schedules and anti-parasite medications relevant to your geographic area.
They will also be able to help you make informed choices when it comes to your new puppy’s nutrition and things like training, socialization, exercise, and spaying or neutering. Knowing these things can allow you to give your pup the very best start in life, which sets them up for good health in adulthood.
Things To Remember
There Is No Such Thing As Perfect
Even with perfect breeding and care, any dog can get poorly. As a vet, I have had many clients blame themselves when their fur baby presents unwell. Thankfully I can say this has rarely been the case. Sadly, injury and illness are sometimes unavoidable in pet ownership in even the ‘healthiest” breeds. Each breed has a list of diseases for which they are at risk, and in-depth breed research can allow you to make informed decisions when choosing your new puppy.
Pet insurance or at least a savings account for your pup’s medical expenses should be considered an essential part of pet ownership. There is no escaping that veterinary costs can be extremely expensive, sometimes prohibitively depending on your financial situation. Having a good insurance policy allows you to make the best health care choices for your pet without worrying too much about the money. Keeping your policy paid and active ensures coverage for your pet’s lifespan (within the policy details) and should not leave you high and dry if your pet develops a chronic illness.
10 Examples Of Healthy Dog Breeds
While there are no definitive top 10 healthiest dog breeds, below are some examples of dogs considered healthy when responsibly bred and raised correctly. A recently published study from the Royal Veterinary College in the UK has sampled 30,563 dogs across 18 different breeds to assess average life expectancy. A few of those with long lifespans in that study have made our list.
Labs are sweet dogs that make our list thanks to an average life expectancy of 10-12 years and screening tests available for most predisposed conditions.
We can count Greyhounds in our ten healthy dog breeds with a life expectancy of 10-14 years and very few disease predispositions with screening tests available.
Australian Cattle Dog
The Guinness World Record for the oldest dog ever is held by an Australian Cattle Dog called Bluey at 29 years and 5 days. The average life expectancy of this breed is 12-16 years.
Beagles have an average life expectancy of 10-15 years, and screening tests are available for predisposed conditions.
Border collies have an average life expectancy of 12-15 years, and responsible breeders can screen for health conditions putting them firmly on our list.
Parson Russell Terrier
These lively, inquisitive little dogs are generally happy, healthy little souls with an average life expectancy of 13-15 years.
English Springer Spaniel
Generally speaking, English Springer Spaniels are very healthy animals, albeit a bit accident-prone. Responsible breeders should screen for disease predispositions in their litters. English Springer Spaniels have an average life expectancy of 12-14 years.
Yorkshire Terriers have an average life expectancy of 13-16 years and were found to have the highest life expectancy in the RVC study. Breeders should screen for health predispositions in their Yorkshire Terrier litters.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
These muscular, hardy dogs have been carefully bred away from their fighting roots to be friendly and loyal family pets. Staffordshire Bull Terriers have an average life expectancy of 12-14 years, and breeders can screen for many hereditary conditions.
What About Cross Breed Dogs?
There are many cross-breed dogs out there, from designer crosses to genuine accidents. In general, cross-breeding is thought to encourage “hybrid vigor.” This is where mixing breeds lead to “superior” genetic traits. However, this isn’t always the case, especially if breeds carry the same risk for genetic conditions. The recent RVC study found the average life expectancy of cross-breed dogs to be 11.82 years.
Hopefully, this information gives you confidence when looking for a healthy new canine companion to join your family. Taking the time to research where your pup is coming from and walking away if you think things aren’t right can save you a lot of heartaches later down the line. Once your pup is home, work closely with your veterinarian to ensure you are doing everything to allow them to live a full and healthy life.