UGA study looks at causes of death among dog breeds

A massive retrospective study by the University of Georgia analyzes causes of death for dozens of dog breeds.

The scientists looked at data from nearly 75,000 dogs whose deaths were recorded in the Veterinary Medical Database (VMDB) between 1984 and 2004. They categorized the deaths by organ system and pathophysiologic process, and hypothesized that these could be segregated by age, breed and body mass.

The result is a comprehensive look at the main causes of death in 82 breeds, which the authors say could help develop breed-specific wellness programs.

"These results should facilitate development of tailored screening and health-maintenance practices," the authors wrote. "Eventually, these results may contribute significantly to ongoing work on the underlying genetic basis of breed-specific mortality."

In the study, the authors identified the leading causes of death for each breed based on either disease or organ system. Some findings included:


  • Risk of death because of musculoskeletal or gastrointestinal system disease increased with breed size
  • Larger breeds had a lower risk of death due to neurologic or endocrine diseases.
  • Neoplastic disease was a more frequent cause of death in dogs from larger breeds, whereas dogs from smaller breeds had increased risk of death because of metabolic processes, such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease
  • Traumatic causes were responsible for death in dogs from larger and smaller breeds at similar rates

The authors note that the data must be taken with a grain of salt. The raw data came from the VMDB, which contains records of dogs that were brought to and treated by university veterinary teaching hospitals.

"This may tend to bias our results to include more severe, complicated, or unusual diseases than are seen in the canine population at large," the study says.

The study, "Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004: An Investigation into Age-, Size-, and Breed-Related Causes of Death," was published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

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