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Pug Lifespan: Everything You Can Expect and Why

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Pugs are one of the most popular small breed dogs. Their wrinkled faces are capable of varied expressions that endear them to people. Unhappily, when it comes to health, they rank high on potential problems. That list of health concerns could lead to a low Pug lifespan.

Pug Lifespan

The Pug tends to live between 11-15 years. So what contributes to that lifespan?

These canines are robust – unusual among small dogs. With activity limited to short bursts, they aren’t prone to traumatic injuries. In fact, Pugs prefer to spend the majority of the day snoozing on your lap. (Napping never hurt anyone)

No, most of their health problems stem from genetics and the design of their skull:

  • They’re a brachycephalic breed, leading to concerns with
    • Breathing issues
    • High temperatures
  • Those bulging eyes predispose them to ocular problems
  • They have a genetic risk for a couple of neurologic diseases
  • Though sturdy, they can have orthopedic problems
  • There’s a high risk for

In short, if you’re considering bringing a Pug into your life, it’s a good idea to consider getting pet insurance. Also, establishing a rapport with your veterinarian isn’t a bad idea. Odds are, you’re going to become fast friends anyway. (Pugs make frequent trips to the vet)

Brachycephalic Breathing

Pug lifespan is impacted by the shape of their skull

The Pug has a brachycephalic skull. This gives them the distinctive “flat-faced” appearance that everyone loves so much. It also causes a lot of complications that contribute to a lower Pug lifespan. Pug’s don’t have a snout. This means their airway is extremely short – almost non-existent. Such a short pathway leads them to snort, wheeze, and make the various “Pug noises” that people adore. Unhappily, those noises are the result of air NOT moving through the system appropriately. This is also why Pugs snore. It’s cute, but it’s also a big concern.

Brachycephalic breeds and their inability to breathe are of particular concern in high temperatures. Their short faces mean they can’t pant properly to cool themselves. Pugs quickly succumb to heatstroke. You should NEVER leave them unattended outdoors when it’s warm. They should NEVER be outside for more than a few minutes. At the first whisper of a change in their breathing, they need to come inside.

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, Pugs have another possible breathing problem. Some dogs have a congenital condition (something they’re born with) called collapsing trachea. They have a small or narrow trachea. When exercising, they cough or struggle to breathe.

Pug Eyes

Pugs have large, bulging eyes

As part of the skull design, Pug eyes bulge away from the skull. We love those big, sparkly eyes. However, the fact that the eyes are so prominent leads to a variety of ocular problems.

  • Dry Eye: Dry eye occurs when the tear ducts don’t produce enough tears to keep the eye moist. If dryness persists, a black spot forms on the cornea (pigmentary keratitis). The pigment spreads across the eye, leading to blindness. Medication is life-long for both, but they’re available.
  • Corneal Ulcer: Those eyes are out in the open, so injury is easy. Signs of concern include squinting, excessive tears, and redness. Ulcers are treated with medication and an E-Collar to prevent further trauma. If left untreated, blindness can occur, or the eye can rupture (really gross!).
  • Proptosis: Pug eyes already sit on the edge of the eye socket. Any pressure (pulling on a collar, trauma, rough play, etc.) can easily dislodge the eye. When this happens, get to the vet right away! (Just in case you didn’t have that in mind)
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: PRA is the gradual degeneration of the blood vessels supplying the retina. You’ll initially notice your Pug having trouble seeing at night (night blindness). This progresses to complete blindness. Unhappily, there is no treatment.

Scary, right? If you choose to buy your Pug, there’s hope. Reputable breeders obtain a certificate from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). This certificate tells you that your Pug’s eyes are normal. Fewer eye complications can lead to a longer Pug lifespan.

“On My Nerves”

Pugs are prone to a couple of genetic conditions affecting the nervous system. Unfortunately, there are no cures. The Pug Dog Club of America and the American Kennel Club sponsor ongoing research projects to understand them better. With luck, there may be a cure down the road. For now, these neurologic conditions have the potential to shorten your Pug’s lifespan.

  • Pug Dog Encephalitis: PDE is an inflammatory process in the brain unique to Pugs. PDE affects young dogs, causing seizures, circling, blindness, and, eventually, coma and death. The progression is fairly rapid (days to weeks). There’s no test available.
  • Degenerative Myelopathy: Like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, degenerative myelopathy causes weakness in the hind legs. Other canines are susceptible, but Pugs have a higher incidence. The hind legs grow progressively weaker, eventually becoming paralyzed. There are suggestions for comfort (physical therapy, supplements, acupuncture). There IS a genetic test available.

Pug Bones

Pugs aren’t as delicate as other small breed dogs. Many believe they’re descended from mastiffs. However, they still have some orthopedic concerns.

  • Hemi-Vertebrae: Brachycephalic breeds tend to have misshapen vertebrae. No one is sure why. Sometimes, only a few vertebrae are affected. Those Pugs have a normal lifespan. Others become uncoordinated when just a few months old. This progresses as they age, and they end up paralyzed. Surgery can help.
  • Hip/Elbow Dysplasia: Hip/Elbow dysplasia occurs when the hip/elbow joint is deformed. This isn’t unique to Pugs – plenty of dogs (large and small) develop this problem. Surgical correction is available.
  • Legg-Perthes Disease: Many small breed dogs are prone to LPD. The blood supply to the femur decreases and the joint connecting the femur to the pelvis disintegrates. Puppies start limping by 4-6 months, and the leg shows signs of wasting (atrophy). A special surgical procedure is performed, and a normal Pug lifespan follows.

Similar to the CERF for eyes, a reputable breeder obtains a special certification for hip and elbow dysplasia. This comes from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and you can check for these certificates on their web site.

The Pug Life

Despite having a higher than average list of health concerns, Pugs still have the same lifespan as other dogs their size. If you’re considering bringing one of these clowns into your life, do your homework. Find out all you can about their health concerns. Research pet insurance. Have a long conversation with your vet. And prepare for a whole lot of love for the years to come.

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria grew up in a pet-friendly household. On weekends, the family made trips to zoos and aquariums in the area. So it wasn’t a surprise when she gravitated toward a career with animals.

After six years working among the background operations at the Philadelphia Zoo, she gained a unique insight into the veterinary world. The vet staff provided her first lessons in terminology, the identification of medical equipment, and glimpses of radiographs (x-rays). She also enjoyed plenty of opportunities to talk with everyone, including the veterinary technicians. And they offered an alternative for someone NOT interested in surgical pathways: Namely, their course of study.

Andria enrolled at Harcum College. Philadelphia boasts two programs for vet techs, but only Harcum works with the Ryan Veterinary Hospital and New Bolton Center (University of Pennsylvania’s small and large animal facilities, respectively). Harcum’s vet tech students receive six months of hands-on teaching and experience alongside Penn’s vet students.

With the opportunities and connections available with one of the top veterinary schools, the decision was easy for her to make.

New Bolton Center: Large Animal Medicine
Andria ended up trudging through snow up to the knee and shivering in subzero temperatures during her winter semester, but she wasn’t disappointed with her choice. New Bolton provided a thorough grounding in large animal medicine. A horse-lover as a child, the experience renewed those old emotions.

And a few memories stood out and remained to this day:

  • Standing alongside a Clydesdale and feeling TINY
  • Holding the reins of a horse galloping at top speed on a treadmill
  • Nursing tiny foals through the first days of their life

Ryan Veterinary Hospital: Small Animal Medicine
Veterinary students can legally work at a practice while studying. Andria took advantage of the opportunity, gaining “real life” experience while attending class. It provided a slight advantage when she entered her three months at the small animal hospital.

However, as Ryan Veterinary Hospital offers treatments unique to the veterinary community, she continued to gain valuable experience. For instance, she spent a day working alongside their Chemo Team. The positivity of everyone she encountered – staff, clients, and patients alike – left a lasting impression.

Additional standout moments included:

  • An afternoon spent with the head of the feline kidney transplant program
  • A day serving as the anesthesia technician in their new radiation unit
  • Recognizing a radiograph of a giant elephant shrew (applying her previous zoo knowledge)

Emergency/ICU Veterinary Technician
Accompanying her Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology, Andria received a passing score on the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). The two led to her certification/license as a veterinary technician – first in Pennsylvania (CVT) and later in Virginia (LVT).

Emergency medicine appealed to her from the beginning. The flux of ailments, injuries, and even species kept her mind sharp at all times. The knowledge required to handle cats, dogs, exotics, and even wildlife is highest in an ICU setting. When a vet tech never knows the patient’s stability coming back to the treatment area, skills and the ability to respond in an instant always stay in peak shape.

With treatments evolving at a constant basis, Andria sought out the best Continuing Education opportunities. She attended the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (IVECCS) Conference whenever possible. This allowed her to discuss the latest wound treatments, medications, and advancements in diet formulations.

Cardiology Veterinary Technician
With the increased knowledge and experience, Andria noticed gaps in her abilities. Her grasp of cardiology remained at the basic level. She wanted to boost her skills and understanding as much as possible, improving her patient care. When an opportunity within the practice arose to move into the cardiology department, she accepted.

She sharpened her ability to read ECGs, recognizing arrhythmias of every type. Speaking with the cardiologist, she learned to read echocardiograms, picking out the most common disease processes. And, courtesy of her position in the department, she took in everything she could regarding the grain-free diet concern.

And throughout her ten-year career, she built her store of client interactions. She learned stories of heartbreak and hope. In the middle of the night, she shared touching and humorous conversations. Every moment taught her to engage with people. And the skill blended into her writing ability, capturing the interest of pet-lovers everywhere.

Check out Andria’s LinkedIn here

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