Why Do Big Dogs Tend To Die Younger Than Smaller Dogs?

Veterinarian examining Great Dane

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For most animals, being bigger means living a longer life. For example, elephants tend to live longer than mice. But for some reason, the opposite is true for dogs. Great Danes don’t usually live as long as, say, Yorkshire Terriers. Large dogs tend to die younger. The reason for this is debated in the scientific community, but a new study could give clues as to why big dogs don’t live as long.

Picture poodle puppy playing with senior amstaff

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The main culprit may be oxygen free radicals. When an organism grows, it’s cells break down food to make energy for the body, but this process can also produce free radicals. These molecules are missing electrons, so they steal them from other cells. The process damages cell membranes and can lead to cancer and diseases. Some scientists believe it also leads to aging. A new study out of Colgate University tested dogs to see if free radicals might be responsible for larger dogs dying younger.

Chihuahua on Great Dane's back

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Samples were collected from large and small breeds. In adult dogs the amount of free radicals was about the same, but in puppiesĀ it was not. Large breed puppies had more free radicals, probably because large breed puppies have faster metabolisms. In order to grow so big that quickly, they need more energy than small breeds. The resulting cell damage from free radicals can have effects that last throughout a dog’s life.

Jack Russell closer to a bullmastiff. Care and love between two different breeds.

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The findings from these studies don’t necessarily prove that free radicals are the main cause for large dogs to die sooner, and other theories have been put forth. But if free radicals contribute to larger dogs dying more quickly, it could be possible to fight the aging process with antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals. More studies will have to be conducted to find out for sure.

Do you find this study interesting? Do you think we may one day find out how to prolong larger dogs’ lives so they can live as long as smaller dogs? Let us know in the comments below!

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