The Truth About Dog Years

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For many pet owners, their animals are more than companions — they are true members of the family. It’s therefore no surprise so many people are interested in trying to understand how to translate dog years to people years, improve pet health, and increase the dog lifespan.

Translating dog years to people years is far from an exact science, especially given the fact that their life expectancy varies greatly depending on the size and breed. “Large breed dogs, such as Mastiffs and Newfoundlands, live typically 9 to 11 years while small or toy breeds, such as Chihuahuas and Toy Poodles, can live 18 to 21 years,” says Kenneth Porte, DVM, owner of Tri City Veterinary Clinic in Vista, Ca. “Typically most dogs are mature adults by 2 years. The usual guess is 12 years for the first year, 10 years for the second, with following years equaling seven and later years five to three.”

Timnah Lee, DVM, an associate veterinarian at Tribeca Soho Animal Hospital in New York City, likes to compare a dog’s lifespan to stages of people’s lives. For example, a 6-month old puppy is similar to a toddler, testing to see what he can get away with, putting everything in his mouth, and playing (and sleeping) hard.

What About Cat Years?

Cats typically live 14 to 18 years, though some can survive into their early twenties. The type of breed can play a role, with some experiencing shorter lives and others, such as the Siamese cat, tending to live longer. Equating cat years to people years is a little more challenging than with dogs, but a general rule of thumb is that early years equal seven people years, while later years translate to about five. Keep in mind that indoor cats have fewer risks that shorten lifespan, such as being hit by a car, getting hurt by another animal, or getting an infectious disease or parasite.

Other Pets With Long Lifespans

A variety of animals have lengthy lifespans. Horses can often live to 30 or older, as can certain birds. Large reptiles like snakes and lizards can also be long-lived. Tortoises, too, can survive amazingly long. Dr. Porte’s wife, also a veterinarian, recently treated a California desert tortoise that had been with its current owner for 64 years — and that’s after it had outlived its first owner.

How to Encourage Good Pet Health

While genetics do contribute to how long a pet will live (if possible, check out an animal’s parents and grandparents for a good indication of what to expect), there are many things owners can do to promote good pet health. Good nutrition with high quality food that changes at different life stages is crucial, as is proper veterinary care and immunizations. Finally, don’t forget exercise. “Many problems that we deal with are due to [pets] being overweight,” says Duffy Jones, DVM, founder of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta. Walking is great for dogs, and playtime is crucial for both dogs and cats.

Keeping a pet healthy for the long term ultimately revolves around the same lifestyle habits that keep us healthy: a good diet and plenty of exercise. Your pet, and maybe even your own waistline, will thank you for it.



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