The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bobi was declared the oldest dog ever. Now Guinness isn’t so sure.

Guinness World Records announced ‘a formal review’ of the dog’s title

Bobi, who was said to have lived to be 31 and set the record for oldest dog ever, is seen last year in Leiria, Portugal. Guinness World Records is reviewing that distinction after a Wired article raised doubts about his age. (Catarina Demony/Reuters)
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When Bobi the dog died last year, he was celebrated as the oldest to have ever lived, a title that Guinness World Records had awarded him nine months earlier. His achievement prompted obituaries eulogizing his life full of frolicking on the farm and articles about how dog owners could help their pets also live for decades.

But did Bobi really live to be 31?

On Tuesday, Guinness confirmed it had launched a “formal review” of Bobi’s title and would “temporarily pause” applications for the records of both oldest living dog and oldest dog ever. The investigation, which will include reviewing old evidence, collecting new information and talking with experts, comes a month after Wired published an article that raised doubts about Bobi’s age.

Bobi’s owner, Leonel Costa, could not immediately be reached for comment. In a statement to the Associated Press, Costa defended the dog’s title, which he said Guinness had spent a year confirming.

Bobi, a Rafeiro do Alentejo born in Portugal, celebrated his 30th birthday last year, breaking records as the world's oldest dog. (Video: Reuters)

In January 2023, Guinness announced that, at more than 23 years of age, Spike the Chihuahua mix was the oldest living dog in the world. His reign was short-lived. Two weeks later, after receiving new information, Guinness gave Spike’s newly minted crown to Bobi, who was 30 at the time, along with a more sterling accolade. Not only was Bobi the oldest living pooch, Guinness proclaimed, he was the oldest ever, beating out a decades-old record held by Bluey, an Australian cattle dog who died in 1939 at the age of 29 years and 5 months.

In announcing Bobi’s Methuselah-like accomplishment, Guinness spoke with Costa, who told the organization that Bobi was never supposed to live beyond a few days. The dog and his littermates were born in 1992, according to Guinness, on the family farm in Portugal inside a building where they stored wood. Costa said his father decided they already owned too many animals and euthanized the puppies.

But his father missed Bobi, who was soon discovered by Costa, who was 8 at the time, according to Guinness. He and his brothers kept that a secret from their parents, revealing it only after Bobi had opened his eyes, clearing the culturally accepted threshold for killing puppies, Guinness said. He became part of the family, and over the years, roamed the farm, ate people food and generally enjoyed a “calm peaceful environment … far from the cities” — all of which his owner credited for his long life.

After Bobi’s death in October, Guinness published an obituary of sorts commemorating his 11,478 days — a remarkable run for a purebred Rafeiro do Alentejo, a breed native to Portugal that is trained to guard livestock and has a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years.

But doubts about his age soon bubbled up.

Days after the obituary, the Guardian quoted English veterinarian Danny Chambers, a council member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, as saying that “not a single one of my veterinary colleagues believe Bobi was actually 31 years old.” Chambers said that he occasionally comes across dogs that live into their late teens, but they tend to be smaller breeds that, unlike Bobi, are not overweight, which made it “even more surprising that he happened to live almost three times longer than average.”

“While my heart goes out to the owners who have lost a much-loved dog, this is the equivalent of a human living to well over 200 years old,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and so far no concrete evidence has been supplied.”

Costa, in a statement to the BBC, attributed the skepticism over Bobi’s longevity to his description of the dog’s diet, which he said went against veterinarians’ recommendations. Bobi ate “human food” instead of pet food, Costa told Guinness.

“Everything would be different if we had said he ate pet food for three decades,” Costa told the BBC.

Weeks later, Wired reported that the Sistema de Informação de Animais de Companhia, a Portuguese government database of pets, confirmed that Costa had registered Bobi in July 2022. Although the owner claimed at the time that the dog was born in 1992, no proof had been provided, according to Wired.

When Costa spoke to Guinness last year, he was asked about the secret to his dog’s incredibly long life. He gave a few reasons but ultimately deferred to the record holder.

“If Bobi spoke,” he told the organization, “only he could explain this.”