I lost my cocker spaniel almost a year ago who I'd had for over 14 years. He was my best friend and I still miss him every day. I've always known that one day this would happen, but now that it has I know it's harder than I thought it would be.

My question is, is there anyone out there trying to breed dogs to live longer? If not so, why not?

People breed dogs for all kinds of purposes. Fighting dogs, hunting dogs, racing dogs, but will they ever admit that companion dogs give to you just as much as you give to them.

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    I would imagine that, in the UK at least, far more dogs are bred as pets that as working animals. But one problem is, how would you (simply) select for longevity? By the time a dog has beaten the average lifespan it is probably well past breeding, and is a (several greats) grandparent.
    – BoBTFish
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:14
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    In theory you could then breed some of their younger offspring.
    – Cedric H.
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:22
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    Yes. Note the (simply). I doubt that is really feasible. (disclaimer: I am guessing wildly)
    – BoBTFish
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:23
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    @BoBTFish I think you have the foundation for a great answer here. Throw in some references about life span, age to stop breeding and maybe point out how many non-long life dogs would be interbred with the long life descendents by the time you pick them out. You might also point out that 'hip dysplasia' is identified much earlier and has not been breed out yet. Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 15:27
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    You could select for longevity on the male side at least by freezing seamen. You could potentially select for it on the female side by then breeding the female offspring of a male that was selected for longevity. But I would argue that many breeders do breed for longevity by breeding animals that don't have other health problems that would contribute to a short lifespan.
    – Beth Lang
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 20:25

2 Answers 2


Pets die from illnesses and injuries as well as just "wearing out". For example, hyperthyroidism and kidney disease are VERY common illnesses in older cats. While we could try to breed these diseases out, veterniary schools study them to determine why our companion animals get these illnesses and how they can be treated to extend life (comfortably).

This research is complementary to research on similar human illnesses, as the drugs developed for human diseases are often used for our companions, and disease models developed in companion animals are often used as a starting point for human models. Breeding animals specifically to live longer wouldn't help US learn these things with research.

In addition, breeding a set of long-lived companion animals would require that you breed all candidate animals (and their offspring) for 10-20 years before knowing which lines were worth keeping. That's a LOT of additional animals for the overcrowded pet/shelter/rescue system to absorb, considering that each puppy/kitten you place in a home is one less that is rehomed from a shelter or rescue.

Loosing a pet is a terrible feeling, and I'm sorry for your loss. I've lost 3 of my cats. One (that we rescued at 17 years old) died of old age, the other two of weird exotic illnesses that stumped even the specialist vets. In order to extend the lives of our pets we have to conquer disease and injury. It's not just a matter of breeding "longer lived" animals.


I'm going to take a slightly different perspective than Zaralynda - in breeding out many of the issues that cause pets/working animals to die younger, and in providing animals with better care, we've effectively run into the same "wall" that is happening with human longevity.

It looks like there is a built-in genetic "fuse" that determines the maximum lifespan of a given animal. That hasn't changed - in humans, the limit appears to be in the range of 110 - 120 years, but the average lifespan is shorter because of disease, accidents and so forth.

What I think is happening is that as we improve the level of care we give our pets and companion animals, their lifespan gets closer to their genetic maximum - which is something research doesn't understand yet, but it's being worked on (Google longevity research... There's some very interesting things going on there, and some that I think is pretty crackpot).

In my lifetime, the "typical" age when a pet cat would die has gone from 12-14 range to the 16-18 range, and 19-20 isn't rare anymore (and I'm not that old). Large dogs have gone from when a 10 year old big dog was rare and amazing to 10 for a big dog being commonplace.

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