Health Surveys

Since the breed was recognized in 1996, the Health Committee of the Havanese Club of America, Inc. has sponsored two large general health surveys (one in 2004 and a second one in 2012). In 2017, a third more focused survey was conducted to precisely evaluate the longevity of the breed and in 2018-2019 a fourth survey was conducted to better understand the leading causes of early mortality in the breed, whose existence was suggested by the 2017 Longevity Survey results.

Another survey (The Search for the Oldest Havanese) was conducted in 2022 to understand with better statistics the extreme upper end of the breed’s longevity curve.

In 2023 data was accumulated on HCA membership’s practice in vaccinating for Leptospirosis. This was conducted in part to dispel hearsay associated with early versions of the vaccine. The data is currently being analyzed and a report from the committee is forthcoming in 2024.

Now spanning two decades, these surveys suggest that the Havanese breed has remained healthy overall, with a natural lifespan of about 15 years. As with any breed, there are inherited diseases that affect Havanese, but we are fortunate that most of those problems are non-life-threatening. Our most recent surveys however point out the need for watchfulness, especially as dogs progress through their middle years, to proactively address issues which may impact quality of life in old age. Through diligent health testing protocols that are guided by these regular surveys, Havanese breeders hope to continue maintaining the health of the breed.

The reports from the 2004 and 2012 general health surveys, the 2017 Longevity Survey, the 2018-2019 Rainbow Bridge Survey and the 2022 Search for the Oldest Havanese) are available below. A description of the Leptospirosis vaccination history, and the 2023 Leptospirosis Survey questions are also given below.

The 2023 Leptospirosis Survey


This following information is based on a National Institute of Health article:
Leptospirosis is a bacterial – borne disease usually contracted by dogs through ingestion or contact with stagnant water or garbage containing infected rodent and/or other animal urine/feces. The incubation period is usually 4 to 12 days after exposure, and the disease is manifested by hemorrhaging, jaundice (liver), and renal (kidney) issues. While it is most prevalent in warm climates having a lot of rainfall, it is seen to occur everywhere in the US. Cases are most frequently observed in rural and farming areas, but it is also common in urban areas, where the presence of large rodent populations, and stagnant puddles, may spread it. Treatment of infected dogs is by an extended course of antibiotics and intensive veterinary care. As the disease can be spread to humans (it is zoonotic) care must be taken, as dogs may still shed the bacteria for several weeks after treatment. The bacteria themselves have a helical or spiral shape with a hook on one or both ends. The Leptospira genus has at least 10 pathogenic species and over 250 pathogenic serovars (strains). While there are many strains of the bacteria that produce the disease, the current vaccines focus only on the four most common ones in the US. These leptospirosis vaccines are inactivated bacterins, that have been purified to reduce the prevalence of adverse allergic reactions from residual growth media or other contaminants therein. The quadrivalent vaccines contain the serovars: Canicola, Icterohaemorrhagiae, Grippotyphosa, and Pomona and have been available in North America since 2001. The vaccine is also available in combination with other vaccines such as DHPP. The vaccine is usually administered as early as 16 weeks, in two doses about two to four weeks apart, and then an annual booster is given. Leptospirosis is not an AAHA “core” vaccine and its use should be weighed against the risk of environmental exposure to Leptospirosis, as there is always a finite chance of a reaction (see below). It is frequently recommended to not give the vaccine in conjunction with other vaccines, to further reduce the chance of reactions, especially in small dogs (<10kg).

The Leptospirosis Vaccine:

The earliest versions of the Leptospirosis vaccine for animals appeared many many years ago (indeed in the early 1900’s). A specific canine version was licensed and approved in the 1960’s, but significant improvements in purity of the growth medium, and the consistency in production processing (most notably introduced in 2001) have helped reduce the incidence of allergic reactions. A published US study of over 1.23 million dogs from 2002 to 2003 showed a reaction rate of ~38/10,000 (or ~ 0.4%) within 3 days of vaccination. The rate was larger (~0.6%) for small breeds, possibly correlated as well to administration in conjunction with other vaccines. Indeed, the authors noted that young adult, small-breed, neutered dogs that received multiple vaccines per office visit were at greatest risk.( At the time of the survey, combined vaccines were not available.) A somewhat smaller 2015 survey of 57,200 dogs in Japan suggested a somewhat higher incidence (0.63%) in canines overall, however it is speculated that this is the result of the larger percentage of “small dogs” in the Japanese population. It should be noted however that the dogs in that study were vaccinated with non-rabies combined vaccines.

A Historical Perspective on the Origin of the “Leptospirosis Stigma”:

Historically, many Havanese breeders and owners have been reluctant to give the Leptospirosis vaccine. One can speculate that this stigma may have developed because of the historical coincidence between the 1960’s release of the earliest approved vaccines (having relatively high reaction rates compared to those released after 2001), and the arrival of Havanese in the southeastern states of the US during that same timeframe. Leptospirosis being more prevalent in those geographical regions, may have made the likelihood of a breeder/owner trying the new vaccine somewhat higher. The problem may have been further compounded by the lack of knowledge of the increased potential for a reaction in small dogs and/or when given in conjunction with other vaccines, which the current studies described above suggest.

Please fill out the following questionnaire (one for each of your dogs) and then email back to by the end of July 2023.


The 2022 Search for the Oldest Havanese


Who is the Oldest Havanese ?   The Health Committee of the Havanese Club of America, Inc. conducted an informal survey to get a better sense of the actual upper end of the lifespan of Havanese.  Click on the following link to view the results of the survey: HCA Survey to Find Oldest Havanese PDF

2018-2019 Rainbow Bridge Survey

The 2018-2019 Rainbow Bridge Survey is a new and more detailed follow-on survey that is distinct from the 2017 Longevity Survey.  One of the surprising results of the 2017 Longevity Survey was that while most Havanese will typically live to 15 years or older, about 20% of males and females appear to die much earlier than the rest of the population – closer to about 9½ years of age.

The new 2018-2019 Rainbow Bridge Survey compiled information about the deaths of 156 dogs provided by the members of the Havanese Club of America, Inc. and the broader community of Havanese owners. The new survey has been able to isolate the most frequent causes of death as a function of age and sex within the Havanese population and also explores correlations with the canine’s lifestyle and spay/neuter age.

Indeed, it provides a detailed picture of all the most commonly occurring health issues in the breed and their individual contributions to the lifetime distribution of males and females. This information allows us to define what we call the “natural lifespan” of Havanese.

Evidence is presented for distinct differences between males and females, both in the frequency and age of occurrence of certain categories of diseases. These differences explain the observations of the 2017 Longevity Survey: namely, that one or more health issues are sufficiently prevalent to lead to a lifetime distribution wherein a modest portion of the population succumbs at an age well below the natural lifespan of Havanese.

The Health Committee would like to recognize the owners of all the dogs that have been included in this survey, for taking the time to participate in and to provide detailed information about the health and lifestyle of their Havanese. For while they have passed over the Rainbow Bridge, their legacy is now being preserved. The information compiled in this report, will no-doubt prove invaluable for developing more effective testing protocols which may result in the improved quality of life for many dogs.

You can read the Executive Summary of the 2018-2019 Rainbow Bridge Survey Report at the following link:  Executive Summary

You can view the full Rainbow Bridge Survey Report at:  Rainbow Bridge Survey Full Report

For questions about the survey results, please feel free to contact one of the authors:

Dr. Rafe H. Schindler:
Sara Dellorto:

2017 Longevity Study

The Health Committee of the Havanese Club of America gathered data in the last quarter of 2017 to estimate the longevity of today’s Havanese and the age distribution of older-living Havanese. The survey includes data on 512 Havanese, largely from HCA members. The results of the survey have been analyzed and can be found by clicking on the link below. For your convenience, a brief summary has been included at the beginning of the report.

Link to 2017 Longevity Survey Report

If you have comments or questions, feel free to send them to Rafe Schindler, (Chair of the Health Committee)

2012 General Health Survey

The 2012 Survey To download and review the document… click here.
1721 Dogs
68% Owner and 32%  Breeder
44% Male and 56% Female

2004 General Health Survey

The 2004 Survey Part 1    Overview and Results
719 Dogs Part 2    Results (cont)
46% Male and 54% Female Part 3    Results (cont)
Part 4    Appendices
Part 5    The Survey