The size-life span trade-off decomposed: why large dogs die young

Am Nat. 2013 Apr;181(4):492-505. doi: 10.1086/669665. Epub 2013 Feb 21.


Large body size is one of the best predictors of long life span across species of mammals. In marked contrast, there is considerable evidence that, within species, larger individuals are actually shorter lived. This apparent cost of larger size is especially evident in the domestic dog, where artificial selection has led to breeds that vary in body size by almost two orders of magnitude and in average life expectancy by a factor of two. Survival costs of large size might be paid at different stages of the life cycle: a higher early mortality, an early onset of senescence, an elevated baseline mortality, or an increased rate of aging. After fitting different mortality hazard models to death data from 74 breeds of dogs, we describe the relationship between size and several mortality components. We did not find a clear correlation between body size and the onset of senescence. The baseline hazard is slightly higher in large dogs, but the driving force behind the trade-off between size and life span is apparently a strong positive relationship between size and aging rate. We conclude that large dogs die young mainly because they age quickly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size / physiology*
  • Dogs / anatomy & histology*
  • Dogs / physiology*
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*