As one of the world's most popular breeds, owners are frequently faced with the question, "how long do German Shepherds live?" or "how old will my German Shepherd get?" While the official average lifespan of the German Shepherd is 9 to 13 years, many variables can affect the German Shepherd's life expectancy.
While genetics and environmental factors such as injury play the leading role in how long your dog will live, it is important to remember that quality of life matters just as much length.
What Science Tells Us About the Average German Shepherd Lifespan
A 2017 study found that German Shepherds in the UK live for an average of 10.3 years. However, females were shown to live to a median age of 11.1 years, while male GSDs only lived to a median of 9.7 years.
Purchase From a Responsible Breeder
Although it is always important to purchase from a responsible breeder, the health and sometimes behavioral issues that German Shepherds are prone to are so common in the breed that it is more important than ever to do your due diligence.
A reputable breeder should immediately be able to produce the hip and elbow screening results of both parents. Do not accept a puppy whose parent has dysplasia, as this can be passed on to your puppy.
A good breeder should also give you DNA testing results to check for any hereditary diseases lurking the genetics and never give you a puppy before it is eight weeks old.
One should also be aware of breeders who breed exaggerated features in German Shepherds, such as a sloping back or an over-angulated hind leg. This may increase the strain on the musculoskeletal system.
Finally, although it may not seem directly related to life expectancy, a prospective German Shepherd owner should be sure that the breeder is breeding dogs that will suit their lifestyle and experience.
Too often, overzealous German Shepherds from working lines, or fearful ones from show lines, may end up euthanized in a shelter if they end up with an owner who can't manage extreme personalities.
Life stages of the German Shepherd
Increasing the quality of a German Shepherd's life means understanding every stage of the GSD lifecycle and adapting to meet its requirements.
From Birth to Three Months (the neonatal, transitional, and socialization periods)
From before it's born, the German Shepherd puppy's mother should be on specially formulated food to help his development in the womb. After birth, the first three days of his life are the most critical, when he is most vulnerable to puppy fading syndrome. At this stage, he is helpless and depends entirely on his mother.
Between days 16 and 18, the neonatal puppy will begin transitioning from helplessness to early socialization, and from about day 21, the first most critical socialization phase begins. Here the puppy will start to learn how to interact with people and other dogs.
From this stage, he may also go through his fear periods, which can shape his understanding of the world. These fear periods may come and go throughout his first year.
Between weeks 8 and 12, you will probably be bringing your puppy home. This is perhaps one of the most crucial stages of his emotional and social development, as this is where he will need to be potty trained, begin socialization and obedience work, and learn to be handled.
Juvenile German Shepherd
The juvenile period of a German Shepherd lasts from the end of the primary socialization phase to sexual maturity. She can begin training at this stage, although she won't have the attention span for long sessions.
She may also benefit from a good puppy kindergarten to continue to hone her social skills.
During this stage, she will also begin teething and need firm boundaries and lots of appropriate chew toys to keep from destroying the house!
Adolescent German Shepherd
Around six months or so, your GSD puppy will begin to approach maturity. All their adult teeth would have come in by now, and your puppy may resemble a slightly leggy adult.
Although they look like little adults at this stage, it is essential to remember that it can take up to eighteen months for the growth plates to close, and so exercise should be closely monitored to avoid stress on their young bones and joints.
A good no-pull harness can also help prevent trachea and thyroid issues later in life rather than a collar.
This is also the age where you may want to speak to your vet about the best time to spay and neuter your dog. As the hormones set in, you may see more "testing" behavior, especially from males who may show more aggression to other dogs or scent marking.
Even if neutered or spayed, for the first two years, your adolescent GSD may be a handful and require a lot of stimulation to keep it out of trouble.
Adult German Shepherd
Between two and a half and three years, owners may breathe a sigh of relief as their adolescent becomes an adult and settles down.
At this point, your German Shepherd should be able to exercise and work at full capacity, and if properly trained and socialized, it should make a watchful and integral family member.
Old age can arrive at different times for different dogs, but usually, around seven or eight years, the German Shepherd owner may notice their dog slowing down. They may not be as quick to chase the ball or get out of bed for a walk.
Nevertheless, older German Shepherds are known for being exceptionally sweet dogs, and these final golden years are worth cherishing.
What Do German Shepherds Usually Die From?
The most common causes of death in German Shepherds include:
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Inability to stand
- Spinal cord disorders such as degenerative disc disease
- Brain disorder
- Cardiac disease
- Behavioral issues such as aggression
- Digestive problems
- Renal issues
- Obesity-related health problems
- Addison's Disease
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
- Cancer of the spleen (hemangiosarcoma)
- Osteosarcoma (Bone cancer)
What Health Problems Do German Shepherds Have?
Other health issues that are common in German shepherds but that do not necessarily or directly cause death include:
- Ear infections (Otitis Externa)
- Hip and Elbow dysplasia
- Ligament injuries
- Digestive problems
- Thyroid issues
How Can I Make My German Shepherd Live Longer?
The secret to prolonging a German Shepherd's life as much as possible includes the following:
Exercise regulates hormones, releases endorphins, strengthens bones, promotes heart health, and can significantly decrease behavior problems in German Shepherds.
While exercise should be monitored in growing puppies or older dogs that suffer from disorders such as osteoarthritis, a healthy adult German Shepherd should be exercised for at least two hours a day.
The type of exercise can vary, from walking to jogging on a treadmill to dog sports such as agility or bikejoring.
To give your German Shepherd the best chance of long life, it's important to make sure that they receive their vaccines at six weeks, eight weeks, and twelve weeks.
They should also get a booster shot once a year after that to prevent extremely contagious diseases such as parvovirus or canine distemper.
Tick, Flea, and Worm Control
Heartworm, Lyme Disease, biliary and other parasite born conditions can severely impact or shorten your German Shepherd's life. Ticks and Fleas can easily be controlled with Bravecto every three months, and dogs should be dewormed every four to six months.
Playtime and Keeping Their Mind Active
Often overlooked, playing games with your dogs like fetch or tug or keeping them busy with enrichment activities such as puzzle toys has been shown to improve your dog's quality of life. It may help prevent cognitive degeneration in senior dogs and play a preventative role in some age-related diseases.
A German Shepherd's joints need to be maintained throughout its life. This means monitoring exercise while it is young because too much movement while its bones are growing can be detrimental, and keeping the dog active as an adult. Avoid activities that involve a lot of jumping or slippery surfaces.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Part of maintaining a German Shepherd's joints and bones is not allowing it to become overweight. Obesity can lead to various problems, including early-onset arthritis and heart conditions.
An easy way to check if your dog is overweight is to feel their ribs; if there is a firm layer of fat covering them and you can't feel them clearly, your GSD should go on a diet.
Like any large dog, a German Shepherd is prone to bloat, a potentially deadly condition. It happens when a dog overeats too quickly and possibly drinks a large amount of water afterward.
This may cause excessive gas in the digestive tract and cause an intestine to twist, preventing the dog from vomiting or expelling the gas.
To prevent this, feed your German Shepherd two smaller meals a day and limit water intake immediately after. It is also best to only exercise 30 mins before or after a meal.
Give Your German Shepherd a Job
Genetically, German Shepherds are working dogs, and most of them thrive when given a task to do. Therefore, they excel in police and service work.
A German Shepherd who has the instinct to work but is kept at home most of the day can suffer from a lack of purpose and display compulsive and destructive behaviors.
Teaching your dog to carry your groceries, find lost items or toys, pull weights or carts, or track can all benefit a German Shepherd's mental health and work drive.
High-Quality Food and Nutrition
A German Shepherd's diet should be balanced according to its age and any conditions such as allergies or obesity. A veterinarian can suggest the best quality food for your dog to provide joint and digestive support, as well as prevent allergies.
Properly balanced dog food should provide all the nutrition a German Shepherd needs.
It is best to exercise caution with supplements, as an imbalance can cause more problems. For instance, owners are sometimes eager to add calcium to a puppy's diet to help their bones. However, excess calcium can actually cause bone deposits that cause problems.
On the other hand, supplements such as glucosamine, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics have proven benefits and their use can be discussed with your veterinarian.
These may especially be handy if your dog is given a raw food diet since this may be lacking in the extra joint or digestive support a German Shepherd needs.
Improve Dental Health
Brushing your German Shepherd's teeth two or three times a week can reduce plaque, decay, and gingivitis. This may not seem as important as other aspects of your dog's health, but good dental hygiene actually reduces the risk of heart disease in your dog.
Regularly Visit Your Vet
Regular check-ups and consultations with your vet from the time your German Shepherd is a puppy until it has reached old age can help you maintain your dog's overall health.
A vet can help you with nutritional decisions, check for underlying conditions, give advice, or catch an ailment early while it is still treatable. If the vet's bills are daunting, consider taking out health insurance for your dog.
Accept When Your Dog is Growing Older
While some German Shepherds may live well into their teens, sooner or later, you will inevitably see them begin to decline. Signs of aging include a greying muzzle, milky eyes, and difficulty moving.
An older dog may also become more anxious or confused as their mental faculties fade, and they may sometimes need pee pads or doggy diapers to help with accidents in the house.
While there is nothing you can do to prevent old age from setting in, you can always find acceptance in making the most of these last years or months together. Runs can turn into gentle walks, and games of fetch can be replaced with long naps together on the couch.
It is crucial at this time to understand that your dog needs you as much now as it ever did as a puppy. Even if they are less active, knowing that you are close to them as much as possible will help soothe you both through this process.
How To Know When Your German Shepherd May Be Near the End of Its Life
Knowing when your German is going to pass away is not an exact science. It is mostly up to the owner's instinct and intuition to tell them when it's time, although a vet should be involved in the process.
Most owners will choose euthanasia over prolonged suffering when the time comes. This is a deeply personal and difficult decision for every dog owner.
In general, if a dog is in chronic pain with no chance of getting better, if he or she can no longer stand up or enjoy any activity they used to enjoy, and if they struggle to eat or drink, it may be time to say goodbye.
Being a dog owner means making the hard choices and being there for them every step of the way, and this final choice is your last act of service for your dog. Please remember, no matter how hard it is, do not leave your dog alone at this critical time or step outside while the vet puts them to sleep. They need you to be present to soothe them and love them in their final moments.
Reaching the end of your dog's natural life is one of the most bittersweet—mostly bitter—that every dog owner has to experience at some point. While grieving the loss of your canine best friend is devastating, knowing that your dog enjoyed the best quality of life he could have while he was alive is the best we can hope for as owners.
American Kennel Club. “Health Testing Requirements –.” American Kennel Club, www.akc.org/breeder-programs/akc-bred-with-heart-program/requirements/health-testing-requirements. Accessed 10 Dec. 2020.
Arrieta, Iza. “Playtime Is Quality Time for Dogs.” The Bark, June 2020, thebark.com/content/playtime-quality-time-dogs.
“Banfield Pet Hospital.” Banfield, www.banfield.com/pet-healthcare/additional-resources/article-library/dental/reduce-your-pet-s-risk-of-disease#:%7E:text=The%20risk%20for%20heart%20disease,dog’s%20risk%20of%20heart%20disease. Accessed 11 Dec. 2020.
Colgate. “Helpful Tips for Exercising with Your Dog.” Hill’s Pet Nutrition, 10 Dec. 2019, www.hillspet.com/dog-care/routine-care/exercising-your-dogs.
“GSD Development - An Illustrated Guide to the First Year.” Total German Shepherd, www.total-german-shepherd.com/GSD-development.html. Accessed 11 Dec. 2020.
O’Neill, Dan G., et al. “Demography and Disorders of German Shepherd Dogs under Primary Veterinary Care in the UK.” Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, vol. 4, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1–12. Crossref, doi:10.1186/s40575-017-0046-4.
Williams, Krista, and Ernest Ward. “Fading Puppy Syndrome in Dogs.” Vca_corporate, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/puppy-fading-puppy-syndrome-in-dogs. Accessed 11 Dec. 2020.
Shivers, Ian. “Fear Periods.” Bondi Behaviour, www.bondibehaviourist.com/fear-periods#:~:text=A%20fear%20period%20is%20a,occurs%20between%208%2D11%20weeks.