The Canine Diversity Project

Longevity in the Standard Poodle

by John B. Armstrong, Ph.D.
Department of Biology
University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

What is a reasonable life expectancy for a Poodle? ...or, for that matter, any domestic dog? This is not information readily available, as neither owners nor veterinarians are obliged to report deaths, and the kennel clubs keep no records. Where such data exists, it has been collected by surveys, and the results depend on how representative the sample is of the population. For example, a Swedish study (Bonnett et al., 1997) based on insurance claims ignores all past age 10 as they are no longer insurable, while an American study (Patronek et al, 1997) is based on deaths at veterinary teaching hospitals and will likely not include many that die of old age. Nevertheless, both rank the Standard and Miniature Poodle among the most long-lived dogs.

Data collection

We collected data from breeders and owners responding to requests placed in breed-specific publications, Internet discussion groups, and on the Canine Diversity Web site. Many of the older reports were from obituaries placed in breed publications. Respondents were also asked to give the ages of living dogs. Though these are not truly random samples, I believe they are large enough to be considered representative of the population. As data collection progressed, we found that the means changed very little after the first 150-200 reports.

Longevity then and now

The determination of the median lifespan is straightforward if one has sufficient data and the period covered is sufficiently far in the past that no individuals are still living. For more recent dogs, one can look at the percent still living from any year and attempt to determine the year for which 50% are still alive. The oldest dog reported still living in 1999 was born in 1982. Analysis of % survival over that period suggests a median lifespan of close to 11 years (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Survival of recent Standard Poodles. The data was collected during 1999. The curve is a best-fit polynomial calculated with Microsoft Excel. N = 627

For older data, the number of reported deaths at each age may be taken as a percentage of the total reported, and is probably most clearly visualized by plotting the data as cumulative mortality, or a survivorship (% still living at age N). The data shown in Fig. 2 shows the survivorship of this group, compared to the recent group.

Fig. 2. Comparison of survival of poodles born before 1982 (N = 361), median lifespan 12.7 yrs, with those born more recently (N = 627), median lifespan 11.5 yrs.

The difference of 0.5 yrs between the two results for the recent group is probably accounted for by the latter analysis weighting the years according to the number of reports. The difference between the recent and the earlier poodles is a more worrisome 1.2-1.8 years. Is this difference real, and if so, what could account for it?

The artifact possibilities include:

The remaining possibilities would include: Though inbreeding has an impact on longevity (see below), the inbreeding coefficients of the two groups were not significantly different.

Effects of Inbreeding - Expectations

A second objective of this study was to evaluate the impact of inbreeding on lifespan and the incidence of genetic problems. Among dogs that are only very slightly inbred, I would expect to find that some die from genetic and others from non-genetic problems. The frequency with which the former appear will depend on how common the "bad gene" is in the population. The frequency will be increased by inbreeding, because inbreeding increases homozygosity. However, if the problem leads to early mortality, continued inbreeding should tend to eliminate it. One might therefore predict that the highly inbred dog could be substantially free of genetic diseases. In contrast, nongenetic problems should be largely unaffected by inbreeding.

However, though I agree that inbreeding can be used to identify undesirable mutant genes, there are several complicating factors. First, a genetic problem may be dismissed as nongenetic, particularly if it is not fully penetrant. Second, a dog may be bred, and it's progeny bred, before a late-onset problem is evident. Unfortunately, even a well-publicized announcement by the owner may not discourage the use of the descendants. These factors may actually increase the incidence of the problem in a highly inbred line.

As an added complication, inbred lines may accumulate sub-lethal alleles that, individually, have no particularly obvious effect (and are not selected against) but collectively reduce overall fitness. The relative frequencies of the different primary causes of death may or may not change as a result.

Effects of Inbreeding - Results

When we break down the results into 4 subgroups according to the level of inbreeding (based on a 10-generation pedigree that is at least 95% complete), the survival of those inbred to less than 6.25% (the equivalent of first cousins who shared no other common ancestry) is significantly greater than for the more highly inbred dogs.
Fig. 3. Standard Poodle survivorship at different levels of inbreeding. Blue diamonds: < 6.25% (N=39); pink squares: 6.25%-12.5% (N=65); red triangles: 12.5-25% (N=141); black circles: > 25% N=71). The solid line is fitted to the > 25% group.

The least inbred group survive, on average, 14 years -- approximately 4 years longer than the most highly inbred. The shape of the survivorship curve more closely resembles that of a non-inbred population.

Cause of Death

Cause of death was indicated for 355 of the dogs surveyed. The most frequent cause cited for the pre-1982 dogs was "old age" (42.7%), whereas cancer was the most common cause in the 1982-99 group (33.7%), with old age only being cited 9.1% of the time. Table 1 shows the incidence of the most common causes of death, treating "old age" deaths as unknown.

before 1982 1982-99
Addison's 2.8% 5.9%
Cancer 41.5% 37.1%
GDV (bloat) 20.8% 27.6%
Immune-mediated 0.9% 7.6%
Kidney failure 5.7% 8.2%
Seizures 5.7% 1.2%
Cardiovascular* 6.5% 3.5%
All other 16.1% 16.5%
* includes stroke

Bloat kills about 30% of the affected dogs (Jan. 1998 Bloat Notes, Fig. 3). That would mean that the risk of a Standard Poodle bloating at least once during its lifetime may be as high as 90%.

There is a very strong correlation between the incidence of bloat and inbreeding (Fig. 4). However, one should not conclude that a dog that has a low inbreeding coefficient is at no risk. The correlation may be due to the genetic predisposition to bloat being carried by those lines that have, in the past, practiced the closest inbreeding. If this predisposition is inherited as a dominant trait, only one parent need be a carrier (see Bloat in the Standard Poodle).

Fig. 4. Percentage of dogs in a particular inbreeding range that were reported as dying of bloat.

The incidence of cancer is also likely to be higher than shown, as there are some dogs who survive cancer. Additionally some proportion of the dogs reported as dying of old age probably have cancer. Cancer shows a slight negative correlation with inbreeding, but the difference between the least and most inbred dogs is not statistically significant.

Cancer is not inherited per se, but the predisposition to a particular cancer may be. To sort this out, we desperately need more data on specific types. If you have a SP with cancer, or had one in the past, please consider registering it with the Standard Poodle Cancer Registry.


John B. Armstrong, 1998, 2000.    Not to be reprinted without permission.

Revised April 17, 2000