Bernese Mountain Dog lifespan: how long do Berners live?

Bernese Mountain Dog lifespan: how long do Berners live?
Bernese Mountain Dog lifespan: how long do Berners live?

How long do Bernese Mountain Dogs live?

Short answer:  7-10 years on average, usually closer to 6-8 years.

There is one big downside in owning a Bernese Mountain dog, and it’s, unfortunately, their very short lifespan. Not unlike a lot of large dogs, Berners don’t live very long, even in excellent conditions. You need to take this into account when thinking of owning a Berner. They bring so much joy into the life of their owners, but it is so difficult and heartbreaking to say good bye.  Are you ready to face this aspect of Berner ownership?

Why do Bernese have such short lifespan?

Bernese Mountain Dogs have a fairly short lifespan

Bernese Mountain Dogs have a fairly short lifespan

On average, large dogs do tend to have shorter life spans, and the larger the dog, the shorter lives they generally have. When it comes to Bernese in particular, it is several health issues that the Bernese have that generally lead to their short lifespan. Cancer is the most important one. Multiple autoimmune conditions may also rare their heads. Bernese Mountain Dogs also often have issues with their bones as they age.

UK Bernese Mountain Dog Death Survey analyzed the leading causes of death in the Bernese (only the UK Bernese were studied). The results show that the leading cause of death (42%) was cancer (general cancer), which takes the life of a dog on average at 7.8 years of age. Histiocytosis was the second leading cause, at 25%, and cutting an average Bernese Mountain Dog lifespan at  7.2 years old.

Histiocytosis is a type of cancer characterized by the abnormal growth of certain type of immune cells called histiocytes. Almost 5% of all Bernese Mountain Dogs died from kidney failure. 4% – from orthopedic problems (rare legs). Almost 4% – from heart issues.

Bernese Mountain Dogs also often have issues with their bones as they age.

Bernese Mountain Dogs also often have issues with their bones as they age.

Bernese Mountain Dog lifespan: Degenerative Myelopathy

Among other medical conditions affecting Bernese Mountain Dogs, Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is one of the most prominent ones. Degenerative Myelopathy is a disease affecting the dog’s spinal cord – particularly the nerves that “connect” the spinal cord to the dog’s legs. It starts with your dog becoming a little clumsy – stumbling or dragging claws on the floor, or falling unexpectedly without any obvious reason.

Slowly, the nerves degenerate to where the dog loses the function of its legs and can’t walk or stand. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just end with the legs. The affected dog might start developing further paralyses in the whole body, and might end up not being able to eat or even breath.  Although the condition itself is painless for the dog, it may still hurt itself because of not being able to control its body resulting in constant falls or bumping into things.

Of course it is a very hard decision to put down your dog even with such grave condition as DM. A lot of owners prolong the dog’s life by adapting and managing their DM as best as possible, protecting the dog from bumping into things, or even creating a device with wheels for the dog’s rear legs so the dog can still move for a little while longer.  Of course, no matter what the owner does, the end will come sooner or later, and it is a matter of being a rational and compassionate owner to know when to stop prolonging the dog’s life.

DM is genetic, and a good breeder should be able to test for DM in their breeding dogs so as to have a minimal chance of getting DM-affected puppies. This is one of the multiple reasons why working with a good breeder is critically important when choosing a Bernese for your family.

Malignant Histiocytosis, or "histio", is a common issue that Bernese Mountain Dogs

Malignant Histiocytosis, or “histio”, is a common issue that Bernese Mountain Dogs


Malignant Histiocytosis, or “histio”, is another common issue that Bernese Mountain Dogs have. It’s a type of cancer characterized by the abnormal growth of certain type of immune cells called histiocytes. It’s a rare and, unfortunately, very aggressive form of cancer which up to 25% of all Bernese Mountain Dogs will have in their life. This is a large number for such a serious condition. A dog with histio will rarely survive longer than 2 months.

As if it wasn’t already bad, the tricky part with histio is that it can be hard to diagnose early on, because the symptoms can manifest in different parts of the dog’s body.  If a dog has this form of cancer, it may display such symptoms as lethargy, anemia, general aches and pains and lack of energy. Another telling symptom, is tumors which can appear in various parts of the body.

Thankfully, if there is a bright side to this disease, is that it normally affects senior dogs (which for Bernese Mountain Dogs would be about 7-8 years old), although it certainly is not completely uncommon in even younger dogs. Unfortunately, with the aggressive nature of the disease and lack of treatment methods, the best course of action is usually not to prolong the dog’s suffering.

Bernese Mountain Dog lifespan and Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is another condition that can affect Bernese Mountain dogs, although it is not extremely common. Hip Dysplasia occurs due to malformation of a dog’s hip socket and can lead to limpness and arthritis of the joints in a dog. The symptoms of hip dysplasia in Bernese Mountain Dogs include limpness, reluctance to go up/down the stairs, loss of muscle mass, lack of activity, signs of pain and stiffness.  Treatments include a diet to keep the dog’s weight in order, physical therapy, pain killers, corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory medications.

Screening for a good breeder is critical

Screening for a good breeder is critical

How to tell that your Bernese is sick

It is fairly easy to see when your dog is starting to get sick, if you pay attention. Here are a few signs and symptoms that something may be going wrong with your pup.

  • Visible changes in your dog’s appearance: increased salivation, pus or blood in the dog’s eyes, ears, mouth, nose, anus , etc.
  • Appetite changes, normally lack of appetite
  • Changes in respiration: difficulty breathing, quick breathing, shallow breathing, coughing etc
  • Digestive issues: diarrhea, constipation, painful bowel movements, blood in the excrements, vomiting,
  • Excessive thirst, or reduced thirst
  • Changes in activity levels: reduced activity, fatigue, excessive sleeping, or, on the contrary, agitation and excessive activity
  • Abrupt weight gain or weight loss

It is heartbreaking to have a dog get ill or worse, have to put it down. One of the best ways to prevent such heartbreak is to pay close attention to choosing who you get your dog from. If you are adopting from a shelter or a Bernese Mountain Dog rescue, you generally get what you get, although a lot of shelters test their dogs’ health before adopting them out.  But if you are purchasing a puppy from a breeder, you are in luck in that you can can increase your chances of getting a pup that won’t have most of th common health issues.

Screening for a good breeder is critical. If you have a few breeders in mind, ask each one of them about the measures they have in place to make sure their dogs are healthy. What genetic screening do their breeding dogs (moms and dads of the puppies) go through? What testing do puppies go through? Can they provide you with health certificates for their dogs? Obviously, the testing has to go beyond regular deworming and basic health check. The more careful you are at the stage of choosing your future dog, the more chances you have to get a healthy dog. Don’t skip these steps.

Don’t let the shorter lifespan of Bernese Mountain Dogs turn you off of this wonderful breed. But do make sure to do your homework before making decisions.



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