by Anne Jones RN, BSNE
Buying a pet should never be an impulse purchase. BFCA wants to encourage potential pet buyers to know as much as they can about the breed. You may want to read the article BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PUPPY to have a better understanding of how to wisely find that new pet. When researching any breed of dogs with intent to buy, one question you may ask is "How long can I expect this puppy to live?" A responsible breeder may in turn have some concerns about how long a family seeking a pet will be willing to care for the dog. Older buyers may be asked who will take care of the dog if the owner is unable to care for it. This only serves to show the breeder's dedication and no offense is intended.
So how long can you expect to have a Bichon with you? Health data kept by BFCA includes information regarding cause of death and age at time of death from BFCA surveys and that provided by both breeders and pet owners, making it is possible to estimate a potential age range. It goes without saying that a puppy from a reliable and educated breeder has a greater potential for a long life. These numbers also include dogs that died of accidental causes, usually misfortune with an automobile, though not high enough numbers to greatly alter the average age of death from natural causes.
The first broad survey done by the BFCA Health Committee in 1994 showed an average age at time of death to be about 14 years. As stated above, there were deaths that were both accidental and health related. Many BFCA club members reported dogs living beyond age 15 or 16. Since that time, data includes pets from all sources, including pet shops and back yard breeders (pets bred to pets). Reports come to the health committee of puppies dying or needing to be put down in their early years due to extremely poor health (often having come from for profit sources, such as puppy mills and with little guidance as to health care). At the same time, educational information for breeders and the general public is more widely available. Since data now includes Bichons from all sources, the average for longevity may not be much higher than 14 years but the potential is for several more years of reasonably good health in a Bichon with healthy ancestors.
Longevity and health in general relies upon several factors, including the knowledge and skills of the breeder and the genetic makeup of parents. It also includes preventive attention to health throughout the life of the dog with veterinary wellness checks at least once - and preferably twice - a year. A Bichon reaches middle age at about 8 or 9 and this signals the time to begin having a geriatric blood panel done annually. Screening and catching signs of developing health issues is important. The cost may be in the range of $75-100 but illness will cost much more, possibly thousands, if not caught early.
An interesting trend among BFCA members has been to have healthy and well bred Bichons live an unexpectedly long life; therefore Bichons living to age 18 or 19 is no longer extremely rare. To answer the question asked above, "how long will my Bichon live?", you need to ask questions regarding the ages at time of death of any known ancestors. You may be surprised to find that some have lived to 18 or 19 and may even learn of an ancestor reaching age 20 or 21 years. We have substantiated reports of Bichons reaching age 21 and unsubstantiated reports of a few that were said to reach age 22. Should you know of a Bichon that lived to a greater age than 20 and can provide proof of date of birth and date of death, you may want to send that information to the BFCA Health Committee. Of course you will probably not be able to obtain ancestral information if the puppy comes from a "for profit" source but anyone selling puppies directly to the public should have such ancestral records available.
Why are dogs living longer? This is not a trick question because breeders keep records and they are indeed seeing longer lived Bichons. Better understanding of inherited health issues along with shared health history on breeding stock, more education on how to deal with any illness that occurs, and sharing of ancestral information on breeding stock will result in healthier puppies. Responsible breeders do not breed two dogs with unknown genetic background and do seek to breed away from any known inherited health problems. Wise breeders seek to have appropriate genetic tests done prior to breeding so as not to produce puppies with a built in potential for inherited disease. (See information about CHIC registration.)
A responsible breeder will provide prenatal care for breeding stock (both sire and dam) and postnatal care for the puppies so that neonates have a good start in life. Now that research has proven the importance of a healthy immune system, veterinarians are getting away from annual boosters and relying on titers to provide information on immune levels, only giving booster shots as needed. All of these measures will likely insure that Bichons may routinely live to at least the age of 18 or 19 years and that more will reach that longer life potential that dog lovers hope for when bringing home an adorable little bundle of fur. You should be able to expect your healthy Bichon to reach age 16 and beyond, though poorly bred Bichons will still cause the average age for longevity to be less. You are reminded to report serious illness and death data via survey sheets available on this web site, which helps BFCA to keep abreast of trends.