Longevity in Scottish Deerhounds


Early in 2007, in an effort to approach the issue of longevity in Deerhounds from simply an anecdotal perspective, we placed a call for information on Deerhound males that lived beyond 10 years, and Deerhound females beyond the age of 11 years, in The Claymore and on the Internet Deerhound Discussion-List. We asked a series of questions on age of parents and siblings as well as husbandry of the geriatric.

The comments provided by the owners, and the patterns observed in the information provided for 12 males and 25 females passing the age criteria, are incorporated in the discussion below with reference to the specific factors: genes, gender & size, exercise, food & water, and temperament.  


To place longevity and cause of death in

Deerhounds in perspective, it is useful to review life expectancy in other breeds and varieties first. Data collected from 9,248 individuals in a European study showed a life expectancy of 10.0 years. The mean age attained in various breeds differed, but dogs of mixed breeding tended unexpectedly not to differ from purebreds overall in their life expectancy, or in their cause of death (Eichelberg H, Seine R. 1996)


In a British study of the cause of death of 3,000 dogs (Michell AR. 1999), the mean age at death (all breeds, all causes) was 11 years one month, but in dogs dying of natural causes it was 12 years eight months. Only 8 per cent of dogs lived beyond 15, and 64 per cent of dogs died of disease or were euthanised as a result of disease. Nearly 16 percent of deaths were attributed to cancer, twice as many as to heart disease. Neutered females lived longer than males or intact females, but among dogs dying of natural causes entire females lived slightly longer. In neutered males the importance of cancer as a cause of death was similar to heart disease. There was no correlation between longevity and cardiovascular parameters (heart rate, systolic, diastolic, pulse and mean arterial pressure, or the combination of heart rate and pulse pressure). There is significant research that indicates in domestic dogs that large body size is accompanied by shorter life span (Li Y, Deeb B, Pendergrass W, Wolf N. 1996). Michell’s results also include breed differences in lifespan, susceptibility to cancer, road accidents and behavioral problems as a cause of euthanasia (Michell AR. 1999)


Mortality surveys in Scottish Deerhounds have been undertaken in the United Kingdom over the past fifteen years. A 1993 survey included a sample size of 79 hounds: 33 males, 39 females, 7 unknown, (Cassels KAH, Morgan VM, Morgan BL. 1993). Updated in 1996 by a sample size of 213 hounds: 83 males, 124 females, 6 unknown, (Morgan VM, Morgan BL, Cassels KAH. 1996). This was again updated in July 2001 with a sample size of 412 hounds: 161 males, 247 females, 4 unknown (Brian and Vivienne Morgan, personal communication).

The (UK) Kennel Club/British Small Animal Veterinary Association Scientific Committee, Purebred Dog Health Survey also supplies some breed specific information: sample size 442 live Deerhounds; 287 deaths: median age 8 years and 8 months, minimum 2 months, maximum 16 years & 9 months: (http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/item/549)


In North America, information on mortality and longevity was collected in 1987 from one US breed longevity study of 149 live Deerhounds: 67 males, and 82 females; 81 deaths: 46 males, 35 females. The average male age was 5.4 years; the average female age 6.7; youngest death reported 1 year, maximum age 13 years; 35% of females lived to age 8 or beyond, 19% of males lived to age 8 or beyond (Nissen D. 1987).

An extensive breed survey of health problems was undertaken in the 1990s by Dr. John Dillberger and published in 2000. The results of this influential survey enabled Dr. Dillberger to calculate the “true” lifespan of a Deerhound male as 8.4 years and for a female as 8.9 years. The average ages at death derived from the survey data were for dogs: 7.25 years, and for bitches: 8.42 years.


Using a similar methodology, a “true” average lifespan for UK Deerhounds (Morgan VM, Morgan BL, Cassels KAH. 1996) was found to be 7.6 years for the British male deerhound and 9.5 years for British bitches. Using average age at death, more recent data July 2001 (Brian and Vivienne Morgan, personal communication) found dogs lived on average 7.25 years and females 8.42 years.


Many Deerhounds do live to enjoy double digit years, but the pattern in litter longevity as shown by the breed club surveys, is that a few die young, most live to between six to nine years and a very few continue on to enjoy life beyond twelve and occasionally up to fourteen years of age, possibly with extreme exceptions such as the 16 years 9 months quoted in the KC/BSAVA Health Survey.



The genes a Deerhound is born with clearly influence the individual’s longevity. Scientific research or review predicts a significant hereditary influence in the three principle health problems in Deerhounds: dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), osteosarcoma (bone cancer), and gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV also known as “bloat” and/or “torsion”). Avoiding some or all of these health issues in an individual’s genetic makeup dramatically increases the chances of longevity. Improved medical intervention in responding to these health issues increases longevity as well. Several individuals (10%) in the 2007 survey were alive simply because of expensive and effective medical intervention.


To capitalize on the genetic predisposition of longevity requires a breeder to have an exhaustive knowledge of the cause of death and age at death of individual dogs and their siblings in any extended pedigree. This is only possible with absolute breeder honesty and a willingness to share information. Using breeding stock with proven long-lived antecedents (that also contain the other qualities the breeder is seeking!) is certainly a key to increasing longevity. The likelihood of a Deerhound living a long life seems to be much higher if one or both parents have lived well beyond the breed average.

We are very grateful to Herbert Orschiedt of Germany for providing the following striking example (age at death in brackets):

Sire: Ardkinglas Haydn (12.3)

Dam: Ardkinglas Zamora (14)

Offspring of Haydn x Zamora:   

Quodlibet Canmore (14.1)

            Quodlibet Caledonia (13.9)

            Quodlibet Catriona (13)

            Quodlibet Christie (13)

Offspring of Quodlibet Caledonia:

            Quodlibet Ellentari (13)

            Quodlibet Elbereth (11.5)

            Quodlibet Ellen Douglas (11)

            Quodlibet Eleanor (11.6)

            Quodlibet Emrys (13)


The recent and growing ability to screen, prior to breeding, for heritable diseases such as DCM (with a possibility of a blood test soon being available), cystinuria, and Factor VII, and our increased understanding of GVD from the research of L.T. Glickman & N.W. Glickman and many others, should make a major impact on longevity in this breed and others. It is anticipated in the future that there may be genetic tests for osteosarcoma, DCM, aneurysm, PSS (livershunt), dwarfism, Addison’s disease and epilepsy (communication at SDCA 2007 Health Seminar, April 26, 2007 from Betty Stephenson, DVM).


Gender and size:

Gender and size are two factors that influence longevity that are related. Males tend to be larger and heavier, and they do not live as long as bitches. There is research to indicate that life spans are inversely correlated to the frame sizes of the breeds (Li Y, Deeb B, Pendergrass W, Wolf N. 1996). Survey data for Deerhounds also confirms that bitches live longer than dogs. Maintaining a lean body weight in both males and females also appears to contribute to a longer life. While there were a few large (34’ – 35” high, 115 - 120 pound) males and large (32” – 33” high, 90 – 95 pound) females that lived well beyond the breed average, the majority (89%) of the male and female Deerhounds contributing to the 2007 “longevity survey” were between 70 – 90 pounds and between 29-30 inches in height, irrespective of gender.



Deerhounds love to vegetate as they get older. In many very old dogs, loss of muscle tone and probably the occurrence of some arthritis in the hindquarters cause the inability to easily get up and down from a lying position which signals that the end is near. Self-motivation to exercise seems to be totally absent in the aging Deerhound, so all Deerhounds, especially the sedentary older ones, require long walks and preferably some free running on a daily basis. This does not mean a quick jaunt around a city block. It means, according to the 2007 survey response, a lifetime of dedicated daily exercise that ensures fitness and/or access to running space and the motivation to use it. For some owners it is a mutual fitness regime; for others it is having free access to sufficient space populated with squirrels, rabbits or some other active companionship (youngsters or another higher energy breed were suggested) that will motivate an old Deerhound to run. The dedication of owners, who described in the 2007 survey taking several hours a day to exercise their old dogs, was very impressive. Many of these old Deerhounds had former lure or live coursing careers. Failing hindquarters can sometimes be assisted with chiropractics or arthritis medication. Maintaining long-term muscle tone in the rear seems the most effective way of  postponing the time when the rear legs no longer function and quality of life is reduced to the point where euthanasia becomes a sad but necessary recourse.


Food and water:

Research has suggested that feeding of dry dog foods that list oils or fats among the first four label ingredients can predispose a high-risk dog to a 2.4-fold increased risk of GDV (Raghavan M, Glickman NW, Glickman LT 2006). The addition of canned dog food, raw meats, and other table scraps in a usual diet consisting primarily of dry dog food significantly decreases the possibility of bloat (Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Schellenberg DB, Simpson K, Lantz GC. 1997). Poor quality, adulterated, badly stored and stale feed can contain toxins, pathogens, mycotoxins, which can kill quickly with hepatitis or nephritis-like symptoms, or slowly, if internal tumors develop. Some high fat or spicy products can precipitate pancreatitis. All survey respondents had a twice a day feeding regime, or one prepared meal with free feeding the rest of the day. All participants in the survey mixed with at least one meal some raw and/or cooked “extras” such as poultry, and table scraps. Clean, fresh water, free of chemicals and bacteria was also considered to be important.



A happy content dog based on both the individual dog’s intrinsic temperament and also how stress free and content the home life is, seems to contribute to a longer life. Deerhounds with a fearful temperament are more prone to GDV. Most of the respondents in the 2007 survey commented on the outgoing temperament of their old dogs and the dog’s enjoyment of social situations. Most of the owners described their long lived individuals as “easy”, “happy”, “funny”, and only three of the thirty seven individuals were described by their owners as the “worrying type”, “reserved”. These three individuals all had GDV-bloat (and survived) sometime between the ages of four and eight years of age.


Other Factors:

It was striking that a number of the respondents to the 2007 longevity survey commented on not “over vetting” their dogs and letting them live a “natural life”. Clearly the dogs were not neglected, but neither were they rushed to the vet for every sniffle. A “wait and see” approach seems to have been developed by many owners in caring for their pet. While the survey neglected to specifically request information on neutering, about one third of the respondents had neutered/spayed their dogs after the age of six. It is not evident from these data that neutering has contributed to longevity. Many owners felt that “change”, “youngsters” and “walkies” stimulated their dogs and this assisted in their enjoyment in life and will to live.



More than one long-term breeder has observed that Deerhounds have a small black cloud hovering over their heads. There seems also to be a very large element of luck in owning a twelve-year-old Deerhound. There are however, many factors affecting longevity that are within the control of Deerhound breeders as a result of their decisions which influence the genetic makeup of individual dogs or litters. Likewise, the husbandry decisions Deerhound owners make can also affect longevity.




The information contained in this article is condensed from the chapter on “Longevity in Deerhounds” in a forthcoming book, The Scottish Deerhound: Its History and Preservation.

Any comments and additional input would be appreciated. Our sincere thanks to: Heidi Groebli, Ellen Pilling, Diane Murray, Christie Biehl, Lyn Robb, Carmen Rasmussen, Mary Ann Rose, Heather Smith, Maryann Yuran, Terri Campbell, Herbert Orschiedt, Jeanne Case, Lynn Kiaer, Susan Trow and the many people on the Internet Deerhound Discussion-List who contributed to this chapter through a very comprehensive longevity discussion in April 2005.


~ Barb Heidenreich and Richard Hawkins (bh@fernhill.com)


Photo credits:

(1) Nelungaloo Fair Dinkum at 11 and a half years age, photo by Barbara Wickli.

(2) Ch. Fernhill's Electra at Fitzhugh F.Ch. still lure coursing competitively at 11 and a half years age, photo by Dan Gauss.



Cassels KAH, Morgan VM, Morgan BL. The survey of mortality in Deerhounds. The Deerhound Club Newsletter 1993 Winter: 9-12.


Dillberger JED. Health problems of Scottish Deerhounds, The Claymore.2000 May/June:14-19. see also http://www.deerhound.org/health_study.shtml


Eichelberg H, Seine R. Life expectancy and cause of death in dogs. The situation in mixed breeds and various dog breeds. Berl Munch Tierarztl Wochenschr. 1996 Aug;109(8):292-303.


Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Perez CM, Schellenberg DB, Lantz GC. Analysis of risk factors for gastric dilatation and dilatation-volvulus in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1994 May 1;204(9):1465-71


Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Schellenberg DB, Simpson K, Lantz GC. Multiple risk factors for the gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome in dogs: a practitioner/owner case-control study. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 1997 May-Jun;33(3):197-204.


Li Y, Deeb B, Pendergrass W, Wolf N. Cellular proliferative capacity and life span in small and large dogs. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 1996  Nov;51(6):B403-8 ).


Michell AR. Longevity of British breeds of dog and its relationships with sex, size, cardiovascular variables and disease. Vet Rec. 1999 Nov 27;145(22):625-9.


Morgan VM, Morgan BL, Cassels KAH. The Deerhound mortality survey: update. The Deerhound Club Newsletter 1996 Winter: 14-17.


Nissen D. Deerhound Longevity Study. The Claymore. 1987 May/June: 2-6.


Raghavan M, Glickman NW, Glickman LT. The effect of ingredients in dry dog foods on the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2006 Jan-Feb;42(1):28-36.