Mortality in north american dogs from 1984 to 2004: an investigation into age-, size-, and breed-related causes of death

J Vet Intern Med. 2011 Mar-Apr;25(2):187-98. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-1676.2011.0695.x. Epub 2011 Feb 25.


Background: Anecdotal beliefs and limited research suggest variable patterns of mortality in age, size, and breed cohorts of dogs. Detailed knowledge of mortality patterns would facilitate development of tailored health-maintenance practices and contribute to the understanding of the genetic basis of disease.

Hypothesis/objectives: To describe breed-specific causes of death in all instances of canine mortality recorded in the Veterinary Medical Database (VMDB)(a) between 1984 and 2004. We hypothesized that causes of death, categorized by organ system (OS) or pathophysiologic process (PP), would segregate by age, body mass, and breed.

Animals: 74,556 dogs from the VMDB for which death was the outcome of the recorded hospital visit.

Methods: Retrospective study. Causes of death from abstracted VMDB medical records were categorized by OS and PP and analyzed by age, breed, and breed-standard mass of dog.

Results: Causes of death, categorized by OS or PP, segregated by age, breed, and breed-standard mass. Young dogs died more commonly of gastrointestinal and infectious causes whereas older dogs died of neurologic and neoplastic causes. Increasing age was associated with an increasing risk of death because of cardiovascular, endocrine, and urogenital causes, but not because of hematopoietic or musculoskeletal causes. Dogs of larger breeds died more commonly of musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal causes whereas dogs of smaller breeds died more commonly of endocrine causes.

Conclusions and clinical importance: Not all causes of death contribute equally to mortality within age, size, or breed cohorts. Documented patterns now provide multiple targets for clinical research and intervention.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Breeding
  • Cause of Death / trends*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Dog Diseases / mortality*
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mortality / trends*
  • North America / epidemiology
  • Sex Factors