"Bad" Dogs More Likely to Die Young

August 3, 2018
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

A new study finds that dogs with aggression or other undesirable behaviors are more likely to die at a young age.

A new study has found that premature death in young dogs is more likely to be linked to behavioral issues than to an underlying medical cause.

Conducted by investigators at the VetCompass Programme at the University of London Royal Veterinary College, the study analyzed 250,000 dogs that died under the age of 3. From the data, the investigators were able to estimate that dogs that possess undesirable behaviors, such as aggression, running away, fighting, over-excitability, or barking, are more likely to die at a younger age compared with dogs considered to be more well behaved.

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The biggest takeaway from the report was that one-third of deaths among study dogs—about 21,000—resulted from undesirable behaviors. The investigators also concluded that male dogs and smaller breeds are more likely to die as a result of these behaviors than female or larger dogs. In addition, the study results revealed:

  • The most common behavior that led to death was aggression (54%).
  • Crossbred dogs were 1.4 times more likely to die from an undesirable behavior than were purebred dogs.
  • Breeds with the highest risk of death were the cocker spaniel (8 times), West Highland white terrier (5.7 times), Staffordshire bull terrier (4.5 times), and Jack Russell terrier (2.7 times).
  • 12.2% of dogs that died had been rehomed previously.
  • 76.2% of the dogs that died were euthanized.

“This study is the biggest ever undertaken on behavioral reasons for deaths in young dogs in the UK,” said Dan O'Neill, MVB BSc, senior lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College. “It suggests the importance of good socialization of puppies by breeders, of sensible breed selection by owners, and of careful dog training after acquiring a dog, to ensure that the lives of dogs and owners are fulfilling for all parties involved.”

In many instances, the unfavorable actions may not be inherent behaviors; instead, they could be a reflection of poor training or undiagnosed medical conditions. Of the dogs that died as a result of behavior, only 12.9% of owners had turned to their veterinarian for advice. In only 3% of cases was behavioral drug therapy used.

Although the study examined dogs living in the United Kingdom, it’s plausible that a comparable study in the United States would produce similar findings. The heartbreaking data underscore the importance of becoming involved in the welfare of patients. Even if the main purpose of an appointment is not to discuss a behavior concern, a thorough patient history can help to uncover underlying issues that might lead to surrender or euthanasia. Veterinary teams should make information about training and socialization readily available to clients.

“Dogs with behaviors that their owners find unacceptable are at risk of compromised welfare,” Dr. O'Neill said, “either because of their own underlying emotional motivations for the behavior (eg, anxiety or fear) or because of how their owners might seek to resolve the problem (eg,the use of punishment such as beating or electric shock collars). Greater awareness of the scale of this issue can be the first step towards reducing the problems and making the lives of thousands of our young dogs happier.”

Even if direct discussions are not held at each appointment, related information in the reception area, on a clinic’s website, or posted to social media could have an impact. It could save lives.