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The Papillon Information Center       
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Papillon Life Span
Owners of Papillons are rightfully concerned regarding the average life span of this breed.  While toy and small breed dogs live relatively longer lives than large breeds, it can be disheartening to read that the Papillon has an average life span of 13 years with a range of 12 to 15 being considered normal.

However, it should be kept in mind that this range is not exceedingly shorter than some other toy breeds.

Let's look deeper into this to learn:

•    The realistic life expectancy of the Papillon dog
•    The leading causes of death
•    Steps that you can take to increase the life span of your Pappy

How 13 Years Became Listed as the Official Average Life Span of the Papillon Dog

It should first be noted that if you took the average life span of all dogs - including mixes as well as purebreds - it would be 11.5 years with a range of 10 to 13.   When owners see the average life expectancy to be only 13 years for the Pappy, it should be kept in mind that when looking at all canines, it is slightly higher than average.

In general, larger dogs age and mature much faster than smaller breeds.   Dogs weighing over 50 pounds (22 kg) live an average of 11 years.   Toy breeds live an average of 15 years.  Owners tend to become concerned because the Papillon, being a toy sized breed, has a shorter life span than those 15 years that one can expect with toys.  It should be noted that while 13 years is the average, a range of 12 to 15 is considered normal.  

There are many Papillons that not only reach those 15 years, but also go on to enjoy another 1 to 5 years, reaching a maximum age of 16 to 20, which is considered a long life for a canine.  Female Papillon dogs live slightly longer than males (average of 13.5 VS 12.7)

It can also be confusing for some, because canine experts tend to agree that with mortality rates, it is the weight of the dog that matters the most and not the height and that the lower the adult weight the longer the life span.   Since the Papillon weighs only 8 to 10 pounds (3.62 to 4.53 kg) fully grown and this makes the Pappy one of the smaller toy breeds, this leads one to believe that the statement about a low weight may not come into play with this breed. (See also: Size)

The main reason that the Papillon breed has a slightly shorter life span (12-15) than many other toy sized breeds (Shih Tzu is 10-16), Pomeranian is (12-16) and a more moderately shorter life span than others (most notably the Chihuahua at 15-20) is due to the breed's predisposition toward certain inherited health problems.   

Even if a medical issue is not fatal in and of itself, it can cause spiral into secondary issues. For example,  collapsed trachea is very common with toy sized dogs, the Papillon included.  This is a condition in which the cartilage rings around the trachea (windpipe) collapse inward.  Mild cases may cause a slight cough or wheezing when exercising.

However, if steps are not taken to treat this (anti-inflammatory medications, use of a harness instead of a collar, etc.) it can worsen.  With moderate to severe cases, breathing becomes very difficult, the dog cannot exercise as he once did, which puts his whole body into a decreased state of health, the Pappy may have a decreased appetite, coughing fits put stress on the diaphragm.  These elements can all combine, causing the dog to be in a weakened, more vulnerable to infections.  The heart can weaken.  Therefore, something such as collapsed trachea which is not officially a fatal condition can lead to early death.

Leading Causes of Death for the Papillon Breed

Puppies -
In regard to premature death of puppies (defined as dogs under the age of 1 year), the top 3 causes of death are: infection, trauma and congenital disease.

One of the newest health concerns for Papillon puppies is a condition called Neuroaxonal Dystrophy Disease.  It is a fatal, progressive disorder in which there is swelling to the brain and spinal cord.  Early signs that often appear as young as 8 weeks old include head tremors, loss of coordination, limp hind legs and/or trouble eating.  Symptoms worsen quite quickly and often by the 4 to 5 month mark, the puppy needs to be euthanized.   Much more research needs to be done in regard to this devastating disease.  At this time it is believed to be genetic, with both dam and sire needing to carry the gene in order for it to be passed down to a litter.

Adults -
In regard to adult Papillon dogs, while it affects many other dog breeds, owners may be surprised to learn that cancer is not common with this breed at all.  The Vet Cancer Registry ranked 50 purebred AKC dog breeds with a 1 given to the breed most often stricken by this disease and 50 given to the breed with the fewest reported cancer deaths.  The Papillon ranked at #50.  There were 4,547 Papillons that were included in this with only 4 dogs dying of cancer.

The top 2 leading causes of death for adults Papillon dogs are:

1- Neurological Diseases- This involves diseases of the brain and spinal cord including:

-Intervertebral disc disease (in cases that involved paralysis)
-Myasthenia gravis (an autoimmune neuromuscular disease)
-Degenerative myelopathy (incurable, progressive disease of the spinal cord)
-Encephalitis (caused by a range of sources including viral infection, bacterial infection and parasitic infection)
-Laryngeal paralysis (progressive disease of the larynx - Risk of death occurs when a secondary condition, aspiration pneumonia, develops as a result of the laryngeal paralysis)

2- Urogenital Conditions - This involved conditions relating to the urinary and organs, with the 3 top conditions being:

-Kidney disease
-Pyometra (infection of the uterus)
-Prostate disease

Steps to Prolong the Life of Your Papillon

Just about every choice that you make during a typical day will affect the lifespan of your dog… From the moment you wake up to feed him breakfast to the decision to go for an evening walk.  Here are the top 10 elements that will help keep your Pappy healthy and more likely to lead a long, happy life.

1.  Offer a proper diet.  The repercussions of eating fatty and unhealthy table scraps can add up quickly. Even if you keep a Papillon on a strict diet of dog food, inexpensive dog foods are filled with nasty fillers (used to plump up the 'food'), harmful preservatives and manmade chemicals that dye the kibble.  When you combine this with byproducts and 'cheap energy' ingredients such as rendered animal fat you have a recipe for limited nutritional value, problems with digestion, allergies and more.

It is important to take the time to choose a high quality canine food (either kibble or wet - however with wet you will want to offer crunchy snacks).  The other option is to offer home cooked food which allows you to have complete control over the ingredients and eliminate processed foods all together.

Offer fresh fruit and vegetables for snacks.  Healthy options include raspberries, blueberries,  and raw baby carrots.

2- Exercise your Pappy.  You want to be careful to not over-exercise a growing puppy as it can affect bone plate growth; a daily 20 minute walk is just fine pups that stay active with play.  For dogs over the 1 year mark, purposeful, daily exercise has a huge list of benefits that will help extend your Papillon's life.  This includes maintaining healthy blood pressure levels, keeping a low level of 'bad' cholesterol and higher levels of 'good cholesterol , maintains healthy muscle mass and keeps the heart healthy.  It can also reduce the odds of suffering from a stroke and keeps bone strong (which is so important for this breed).

3- Perform proper dental care. 
This cannot be overstated enough. The Papillon breed is prone to dental problems.  In addition, this breed is very sensitive to anesthesia sedation and if tooth decay and other problems must be treated with surgery in which sedation must be used, this can be very dangerous and even fatal for the Papillon dog.

Daily teeth cleaning is strongly recommended.   Puppies that have their milk teeth brushed will be quite used to this grooming element by the time adult teeth have pushed through.  Offer crunchy, health snacks.   Scraping at home (to remove tartar) is important as well and can be incorporated into daily cleanings.

4- Use a dog collar for ID purposes, but use a harness when on leash. 
  While the predisposition to collapsed trachea can be genetic, this can also be caused by injury to the neck.  When a dog is attached to a leash via a collar ALL pressure of that tension is placed on the fragile neck.  All it takes is 1 leap to the side or 1 lunge ahead, the leash goes taut and the neck is injured… often permanently.  As discussed above, while this condition is not immediately fatal, it can lead to secondary issues that are.  To extend your Papillon's life expectancy, always use a harness.

5- Puppy proof even if your Pappy is no longer a puppy.    Dogs of any age can die in 1 of 2 ways when chewing on something that they should not:  chocking or intestinal blockage.   A survey of veterinarians across the US and Canada told a startling tale of what has been found in the stomach of dogs: necklaces, knee-high nylons, coins, candy wrappers, keys and bread ties.

Owners should scour the floors for any objects that can be mouthed regardless of whether or not it would seem logical that a dog would even want to mouth them.  This should be done at least 1 time per week and include levels that a dog may reach such as coffee tables.

Electrical cords should be placed out of reach and lower level cabinets should have baby-proof locks on them.  All cleaning supplies should be stored away out of reach.  While everyone hears about dogs ingesting antifreeze -which is fatal - many more dogs die from ingesting everything from bathroom tub cleanser to foaming carpet cleaner.

6- Make and keep veterinary checkups.  The vet's office is not just for times of trouble.  Keeping yearly visits can help catch health problems in the early stages which give the dog a much better chance of successful recovery.   Dogs 8 years or older should be having geriatric screenings to check for health issues related to the aging process.

A Final Word

While you cannot prevent genetic conditions, you can make sure that your Papillon lives to his or her full life expectancy by taking excellent care of your canine family member which includes proper diet, exercise, home environment and health checks.
When in doubt about any health issue, it is always better to be safe than sorry and many times just a quick phone call to the vet can offer an answer.

It does not seem fair that our pets do not have as long of a life span as humans do, however when we make the effort to keep our pets healthy, we can rest assured that those years will be as happy and healthy as possible.