To move closer to understanding the mechanistic underpinnings of sex differences in human longevity, we studied pet dogs to determine whether lifetime duration of ovary exposure was associated with exceptional longevity. This hypothesis was tested by collecting and analyzing lifetime medical histories, age at death, and cause of death for a cohort of canine 'centenarians'--exceptionally long-lived Rottweiler dogs that lived more than 30% longer than average life expectancy for the breed. Sex and lifetime ovary exposure in the oldest-old Rottweilers (age at death, > or = 13 years) were compared to a cohort of Rottweilers that had usual longevity (age at death, 8.0-10.8 years). Like women, female dogs were more likely than males to achieve exceptional longevity (OR, 95% CI = 2.0, 1.2-3.3; P = 0.006). However, removal of ovaries during the first 4 years of life erased the female survival advantage. In females, a strong positive association between ovaries and longevity persisted in multivariate analysis that considered other factors, such as height, body weight, and mother with exceptional longevity. A beneficial effect of ovaries on longevity in females could not be attributed to resistance against a particular disease or major cause of death. Our results document in dogs a female sex advantage for achieving exceptional longevity and show that lifetime ovary exposure, a factor not previously evaluated in women, is associated with exceptional longevity. This work introduces a conceptual framework for designing additional studies in pet dogs to define the ovary-sensitive biological processes that promote healthy human longevity.