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How Long Do Saint Bernards Live?

Written by Ella White

Updated

Saint Bernard lying on grass

If you’re welcoming a Saint Bernard into the family, there’s plenty you’ll need to know. Including their care and exercise needs, any hereditary diseases, and their average life expectancy. Learning the life expectancy of a Saint Bernard – or any dog – can affect your choice of pet as it can be an indicator of health issues. 

So here, we’ll explore the average lifespan of a Saint Bernard, any genetic diseases to be aware of, and how to promote the healthiest life possible for your Saint Bernard pup.

Saint Bernards can be traced back to Roman Molossian dogs, but their history as a life-saving dog dates back to the 1660s. They got their name from the St Bernard Hospice, which was a refuge for travelers between Switzerland and Italy, and where the giant breed developed its working roots. They would pull carts, act as watchdogs and pathfinders, and even find lost travelers and stay with them until help came. 

Saint Bernards are thought to have saved over 200 lives, with one, Barry, saving 40 alone. So it’s no surprise that this affectionate and loving, yet hard-working and instinctive, breed has become one of the most popular pets in America.

Though large, the muscular Saint Bernard is known to be calm and gentle. They are intelligent, patient, enjoy the company of children and prefer colder temperatures so are best suited to home with gardens they can roam in freely.

The average life expectancy for a Saint Bernard is 8 to 10 years. This might sound short, compared to other breeds. This is because large and giant dogs mature and age at a faster rate than smaller dogs. Their size can also make the Saint Bernard prone to various health issues that can also contribute to a shorter lifespan.

Neutering or spaying your Saint Bernard if you’re not planning to breed them can help increase their life expectancy by preventing some reproductive illnesses and cancers. And, as with all breeds, well-trained Saint Bernards are likely to be safer and less susceptible to accidents and illnesses caused by anxiety.

Most dog breeds have some genetic conditions that they are predisposed to. For a Saint Bernard, most of these issues can be spotted and treated before they affect your dog’s life expectancy. In all of these cases, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy, also known as DCM, causes the heart muscles to become thin and weak so they can’t contract as they should. This means the heart has to work harder to pump blood which can lead to enlargement. This disorder is probably the most dangerous condition the Saint Bernard is susceptible to. Owners should look out for depression, weight loss, coughing, an enlarged abdomen, and difficulty breathing as signs of an abnormal heartbeat or heart failure.

Cataracts

Cataracts can affect a Saint Bernard’s vision and even cause blindness. In itself, this is not a problem but if your pet can’t see they are at greater risk of other accidents. Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to go cloudy or opaque. It’s easily solved with surgery and is more common in older dogs.

Entropion

When hairs rub the cornea, it can cause a dog’s eyelids to roll inwards. This condition is known as entropion and is usually inherited genetically. It’s common in Saint Bernards and can cause pain and irritation, ulcers on the cornea, and perforation. It can be corrected with surgery and usually develops within their first year.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy in dogs presents itself in a similar way to epilepsy in humans. It’s a neurological condition that causes seizures. Primary epilepsy in genetic and electrical disturbances in the brain will lead to recurrent, seemingly unprovoked seizures. Secondary epilepsy is caused by an external factor, like an infection or toxin, which provokes the seizure.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

Hip and elbow dysplasia are disorders caused by abnormalities in the joints. Giant and large breeds like Saint Bernards are prone to these conditions due to their size and weight as they grow. Dogs can have either one or both types of dysplasia, and those known to suffer from the condition should not breed as it’s inheritable.

Because dysplasia is caused by the ball and socket of the hip and/or elbow joints not fitting together, it can cause pain and limping and sometimes lameness. It can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication and usually occurs at around five months.

Though we’d love our dogs to live forever, there’s nothing we can do that will affect their breed’s life expectancy. But what we can do is help them to live the longest life possible by promoting a happy and healthy lifestyle. 

Genetic factors will always be one of the main contributors that determines how long your dog lives. But consider these environmental elements and you might get to enjoy a little longer with your beloved companion. 

Genetic history

The larger a dog is, the shorter their lifespan is expected to be. But if you know the genetic history of your dog’s family, you can be prepared to look out for and treat any hereditary conditions that they might develop. 

Exercise

All dogs need exercise to maintain a healthy weight and physical fitness. But with a giant breed, staying active is especially important. Although Saint Bernards don’t need as much exercise as other active breeds, they do need at least an hour of exercise every day, alongside opportunities to play and explore outside alone in the garden.

Keeping your Saint Bernard’s muscles strong will help keep their joints and body healthy as they age, so they can enjoy their exercise for longer.

Regular checkups

Because they’re prone to a few genetic conditions, it’s important to make sure you make your annual vet checkup and see to it that your dog is always up to date with their vaccinations. This will help increase their lifespan by protecting them against viruses and other contagious illnesses, and staying on top of any other conditions that might develop and go undiagnosed without trips to the vet.

Safe living environments

The cleaner and safer your home is, the happier and healthier your Saint Bernard will be. As intelligent working dogs, they require mental stimulation that involves spending time outdoors. So they’re best suited to homes with enclosed gardens that they can explore without the risk of wandering off. Due to their giant size, they aren’t the best choice for those living in a small apartment where the pet won’t have much space.

Diet

Like all dogs, Saint Bernards require a healthy diet packed with nutrients to live long and healthy lives. Which is why choosing a high-quality, protein-rich dog food is essential. Dog owners should know the recommended calorie and portion requirements for their dog to prevent over- or under-feeding. This can also inform the 9:1 rule whereby dog treats and snacks should never make up more than 10% of their daily calorie intake.

Front of the Pack’s air-dried dog food is vet-approved and made with pure animal protein, fruits, vegetables, and other natural ingredients to help your dog thrive. Air drying the food low and slow locks in all the goodness of the ingredient, and creates a jerky-like consistency that’s easy and fuss-free to store and serve. This makes it one of the quickest and simplest ways to feed your dog all of the vitamins and minerals they need in a day. And unlike kibble, it’s completely free from added fillers and nasties.