Daniel Promislow (left) is flanked by Silver, a Weimaraner (bottom left) and Frisbee, a mixed breed (center). Dr. Kate Creevy (right) sits with her Border Collie, Makazi.

The results can significantly help prolong your dog’s life.

That is the conclusion of the authors of a new University of Georgia study that provides a rare and comprehensive look at the causes of death in more than 80 canine breeds.

The study, published in the current edition of the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, can be used to create breed-specific health maintenance programs and is a starting point for future studies that will explore the genetic underpinnings of disease in dogs.

“If we can anticipate better how things can go wrong for dogs, we can manage their wellness to keep them as healthy as possible,” said study co-author Dr. Kate Creevy, an assistant professor in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine.

Creevy and her co-authors examined data from the Veterinary Medical Database to determine the cause of death for nearly 75,000 dogs over the 20-year period of 1984 through 2004. They classified the deaths by organ system and disease process and further analyzed the data by breed, age and average body mass. Eighty-two breeds are represented in their study, from the Afghan hound to the Yorkshire terrier.

The researchers found that larger breeds are more likely to die of musculoskeletal disease, gastrointestinal disease and, most notably, cancer. Smaller breeds had higher death rates from metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease.

Study co-author Daniel Promislow, a genetics professor in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, said the study may help solve one of the great enigmas of canine health. “Normally, if you compare different species of mammals, big ones live longer than little ones — elephants live longer than mice, and sheep are in the middle, for example — and that pattern holds pretty well across hundreds of different species of mammals,” Promislow said. “Within dogs, the opposite occurs; the little dogs live longer.”

Promislow also pointed out that because the building blocks of the dog genome and the human genome are the same, understanding the genetic basis of disease in dogs can also inform human medicine.

“There’s potential to learn a lot about the genetics of disease in general using the dog as a model,” he said.

Story By Elaine Furst For Dog Files