Dolichocephalic Dogs vs. Brachycephalic Dogs: Who Lives Longer?

Larger dogs with flat faces live shorter lives than similarly sized breeds with long snouts. A dog’s skull shape contributes to the health issues they might develop and their lifespan.

Mar 22, 2024By Jessica Montes
dolichocephalic dogs vs brachycephalic dogs who lives longer

Dogs are lovable whether their faces are wrinkly and flat, pointed with excellent sniffing power, or somewhere in between. However, a dog’s skull shape is more than just a physical feature. Keep reading to discover how a dog’s face may contribute to its long (or short) lifespan.

Know the Dog Skull Types

Dog skull shapes
Photo by: SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd

Besides breeds, dogs are often classified based on their facial features, and there are three classes: brachycephalic, mesocephalic, and dolichocephalic. Brachycephalic dogs have round heads and flat faces. Think of all the French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers, Chihuahuas, and Chow Chows you’ve seen; they all share a compact, adorable, wrinkly appearance.

Next are mesocephalic dogs. This middle category belongs to dogs with slightly more oval skulls and longer noses compared to flat-faced pups. These include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Beagles
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Corgis
  • Rottweilers
  • Siberian Huskies

Dolichocephalic dogs are the long-snouted bunch. Their narrow skulls look like triangles from the side, and they developed their lengthy noses for hunting. Salukis, Afghan Hounds, Borzois, and Greyhounds belong in this group.

Every Dog Has Health Issues

Dog vet
Photo by: Tima Miroshnichenko

Regardless of the facial structure, each group has its own health concerns. Brachycephalic dogs can develop breathing problems if the soft palate is too long, or the larynx collapses and blocks their airways. In addition, infections can develop in the skin folds, and they don’t do well with excessive heat or physical activity.

Dolichocephalic canines experience the world through their nose and can come in contact with harmful substances. Long-snouted dogs are more likely to develop fungal rhinitis, a nasal infection triggered by a fungus found in certain soils. This group also has a higher chance of enophthalmos, where the eyes become sunken or partially closed. It’s generally caused by trauma to the area.

Because mesocephalic dogs cover all dogs that fall in between their flat-faced and long-nosed companions, health concerns may vary by breed. Some diseases to screen for are hip dysplasia, a dislocation of the hip joint, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), where the retina’s cells degenerate and cause blindness.

What’s the Average Lifespan for a Dog?

Dog birthday
Photo by: Pet foto

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the average dog lives 10-15 years. There’s a wide range in lifespans, with some breeds only celebrating a couple of birthdays, while other resilient dogs can see their late teens and early 20s. It’s known that smaller breeds have longer lives, and large/giant breeds pass away sooner.

Some of the breeds that live the longest are:

  • Shih Tzus (10-18 years)
  • Dachshunds (12-16 years)
  • Chihuahuas (14-16 years)
  • Toy Poodles (14-20 years)

On the other hand, gentle giant breeds sometimes don’t make it to double-digit birthdays. Great Danes, the world’s tallest dogs who can grow taller than 32 inches, live between 8-10 years. Irish Wolfhounds are nearly as tall and only live 6-8 years.

Research Adds New Perspectives on Dog Longevity

Lancashire Heeler
Photo by: Michelle Barlak | PEOPLE Magazine

Although smaller dogs typically live longer, there are exceptions based on their facial structure. A recent study conducted by McMillian et al. and published in Scientific Reports examined the lifespans of over 584,000 dogs from a United Kingdom database. Researchers noted the dogs’ age of death and whether they were brachycephalic, mesocephalic, or dolichocephalic.

Lancashire Heelers, an Australian breed, had the fullest lives with a median age of 15.4 years. They were followed by:

  • Tibetan Spaniels (15.2 years)
  • Bolognese (14.9 years)
  • Shiba Inu (14.6 years)
  • Papillons & Havanese (14.5 years)

Besides the Tibetan Spaniel, all other breeds are mesocephalic and have medium-sized skulls and noses. Also, Shiba Inus took fourth place and, at 17 to 23 inches tall, aren’t a small breed.

Face Size & Shape Matter

Photo by: Aysun Kahraman Öktem

The study found other breeds that challenged the “small dogs' live longer” stereotype. In 11th place was the Large Munsterlander. As the name implies, this large breed weighs 50-70 lbs, stands 23-26 inches tall, and has an average lifespan of 14.1 years. According to the findings, these pups outlive dogs half their size and weight, like the 11-20 lbs Miniature Schnauzer, who usually lives 13.3 years.

In contrast, the top 10 dogs with the shortest lives were:

  • French Bulldogs (9.8 years)
  • Affenpinschers, Bloodhounds, Neapolitan Mastiffs, Saint Bernards (9.3 years)
  • Mastiffs (9 years)
  • Cane Corso (8.1 years)
  • Presa Canario (7.7 years)
  • Caucasian Shepherd Dogs (5.4 years)

Remove the Bloodhound from this list, and nine out of the 10 dogs on here are brachycephalic. Not only are they larger than pups that are living 14-plus years, but they also have much rounder, flatter, and wrinklier faces. While the cause of death was not evaluated, the health concerns mentioned earlier may play a role in their shorter lives.

How Does Head Shape Affect My Dog?

World map
Photo by: Marina Leonova

Since this study was conducted with a database from the United Kingdom, the researchers share a disclaimer that these figures might not apply to other countries. Dogs are affected by different factors like climate, environment, disease, and diet in other regions. These findings are most relevant to the UK, but other countries can learn more about their dog population’s health by replicating this research.

Lifespans are genetic, and your furry friend will cross the rainbow bridge when it is their time. However, you can add years to their life with one procedure. A 2018 study by Hoffman et al. found that neutered and spayed pets lived 1-2 years longer than dogs that were left intact. It also reduces the chance of developing certain infections and cancers. Moreover, fixed pets decrease the number of unplanned or unwanted litters.

The Verdict’s In: Small Mesocephalic Dogs Live Longer

Photo by: Blue Bird

Although there are exceptions to the study, McMillan et al.’s research in the UK found that small mesocephalic dogs live the longest, and larger brachycephalic dogs have the shortest lives. They hypothesize that the discrepancy is due to flat-faced dogs having more breathing-related health concerns than the other two groups.

Jessica Montes
By Jessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.