Basenji Lifespan: Average Life Expectancy and More!

Written by Sharon Parry
Published: March 10, 2024
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Active, curious, and quiet – these are just three words used to describe Basenjis who you may know as the ‘barkless dog’. If you are considering sharing your home with one of these gorgeous animals, the last thing you want to think about is them passing away. Yet, dog’s life expectancies are shorter than those of humans and this is a sadness that most dog owners will have to face. The good news is that the Basenji lifespan is relatively long because they are a smaller breed. Their average life expectancy is 13 and 14 years – it can be even longer. The breed carries only a few inherited diseases such as an eye condition called Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM). You can help your Basenji live longer by feeding them an appropriate diet to control their weight, providing plenty of exercise, and getting regular health checks and vaccinations.

Origins of the Breed

Basenjis are one of the most ancient dog breeds. Many of them still live and hunt with tribesmen in the African Congo. You can see depictions of Basenjis in Egyptian, Babylonian, and Mesopotamian art. Following the collapse of these civilizations, they led a semi-wild life and were introduced to the West late in the 1800s. It was not until the 1930s that they were introduced to the United States. Now, they are an AKC-recognized breed in the Hound Group. Whilst they are not the most well-known or popular breed in the US, they have a stable and dedicated following and there is a Basenji Club of America which was formed in 1942.

Modern-day Basenjis are compact, poised dogs with glistening short coats that can be chestnut red, tri-color (pure black, chestnut red, and white), brindle (black stripes on a background of chestnut red, or pure black. They can arrange their wrinkled foreheads and almond-shaped eyes into human-like expressions that make their owners’ hearts melt. And, yes, they are indeed barkless! Although, they do make a chortling sound if they want to get your attention.

Basenji Lifespan: Bought and Rescued Dogs

Basenji puppies and female basenji dog laying on green floor

You can get a Basenji pup from a responsible breeder.

©alekta/iStock via Getty Images

You can obtain Basenji puppies from experienced and reputable breeders. Sadly, some do end up in rescue situations. This is often because the owners did not appreciate the demands of caring for these active dogs. Regional Basenji clubs or the AKC can help you locate a responsible breeder or rescue organization. By buying from a reputable breeder you are much more likely to get a dog with a longer lifespan because they will probably avoid the health conditions and genetic defects associated with dogs from puppy mills and backyard breeders. Because Basenjis have such a long lifespan, even if you adopt a mature dog you are still likely to have many years of happiness together.

Why Do Basenjis Live So Long?

The American Kennel Club breed standard for Basenjis describes them as a ‘small’ hunting dog. Male Basenjis have an ideal height (to the shoulders) of 17 inches, a length (from the front of the chest to the point of the buttocks) of 17 inches, and a weight of 24 pounds. Females should be 16 inches high and long and weigh 22 pounds. This makes them quite a small dog and smaller dog breeds have longer lifespans (although there are exceptions to this such as some of the brachycephalic breeds). For example, the Bernese mountain dog has a lifespan of just 8 years but Jack Russells can live twice that.

The leading cause of death in larger breeds is cancer and this gives us a clue about why they die so young. The latest research on dog lifespans suggests that larger breeds grow so quickly (thanks to selective breeding) that their natural defenses against cancer have not had time to catch up. Luckily, this is not the case for Basenjis.

What Is the Maximum Life Expectancy for a Basenji?

If you check out Basenji owner forums, you will find several examples of owners reporting that their dogs have lived to 15 and even 18 years of age. The validity of these Basenji lifespan claims cannot be confirmed but even if they are true, that does not mean that your dog is guaranteed to live that long. The lifespan of every dog is individual and is governed by a combination of genetic and environmental factors including their diet and lifestyle.

Do Basenjis Have Common Health Problems?

Portrait of smiling african basenji breed dog on brown background

The Basenji breed has relatively few inherited health conditions.

©Irina Nedikova/iStock via Getty Images

On the whole, Basenjis are active and healthy dogs but they can suffer from the usual infections and injuries that all dogs can get. When it comes to genetic (inherited) diseases, there are relatively few that you need to worry about. Here is a summary of some of the main Basenji inherited conditions.

Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM)The membrane covering the eye in pups pre-birth is not re-absorbed as normal.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)The retina (lining at the back of the eye) deteriorates leading to sight loss.
Fanconi SyndromeKidneys cannot reabsorb nutrients as normal.
Hemolytic anemiaA blood disorder first diagnosed in Basenjis in the 1960s.
HypothyroidismA condition that can lead to inactivity and weight gain.

How Can You Keep Your Basenji Healthy?

A healthy diet is critical for giving your dog a long and healthy life. Obesity will harm their joints and heart and reduce their life expectancy. Dental health is also important so make sure that you regularly clean your dog’s teeth. This breed also needs plenty of exercise! Make sure that you dog-proof your home and yard – remove potentially toxic substances.

The full Basenji lifespan can be reached if you keep an eye on your dog and consult your vet if they display any early-warning symptoms of ill health. These can include a loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea, excessive thirst, or difficulty breathing. Also watch out for lameness, excessive scratching, and head shaking. Regular health checks and vaccinations also play a part in keeping your dog healthy.

Basenjis thrive on exercise so many owners choose to sign up for fun activities. These include obedience training, rally obedience, coursing, and agility.

Looking after Your Senior Basenji

Senior (elderly) dogs need special care and attention to keep them happy and healthy. Owners of older Basenjis have described how the breed ages. According to them, you will first notice a few grey hairs on their snout. Then, your pet will gradually become less mentally alert and may want more attention. Eventually, your older dog will become less steady on their feet and move around less. However, you can also expect the odd burst of zooming around like a puppy! Check in with your vet regularly to make sure that you are feeding your old friend the correct diet and that they are not in any pain or discomfort. This is the time when you can repay your Basenji for their years of companionship by giving them all the care and attention they need.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © SergeyTikhomirov/iStock via Getty Images

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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