Research carried out by Dogs Trust has found our dogs may not be in the age category we think they are, and the findings will enable all of us to take better care of our four-legged friends.
Many people believe that dogs age seven years for every one human year, but the charity’s researchers have discovered it’s not that simple. Dogs mature more quickly than people do. Many one-year-old dogs have usually reached their full height, and most will have also gone through puberty or be approaching the end of it, so they’re most definitely not the equivalent of a seven-year-old human.
In Ireland, the average lifespan of a pet dog is approximately 12 years, but some reach the ripe old age of 15 and over. As some breeds live far shorter lives than others, it is common to adjust a dog’s estimated age by their breed life expectancy to decide when they are ‘senior’ or ‘geriatric’.
Dr Naomi Harvey, Research Manager at Dogs Trust explains: “Certain dog breeds are expected to have shorter lifespans, with some, such as the Great Dane, having an average life expectancy of just six years. In terms of their health, sadly these dogs do decline quickly, meaning they need additional veterinary care when they’re much younger than other dogs. However, while their bodies may be affected by health issues when they’re still young, there’s no evidence that short lived breeds age behaviourally as they appear to be following the same trajectory as other dogs. In other words, short lived dog breeds are not aging faster, they are simply dying younger.
The language we use to describe dogs and consider their age matters. By saying that these dogs are aging faster and using language such as ‘geriatric’ to describe a dog that is objectively still young, and a dog that should be in the prime of its life, we’re masking the health and welfare issues associated with certain breeds of dog.”
The review concluded there is evidence to suggest that a one-year-old dog is indeed still juvenile just coming out from puberty (so the comparison to a 15-year-old is about right) and that dogs don’t become mature adults until they’re two, which marks the end of adolescence (equivalent to when people are aged around 25). Dr Harvey found that dogs can be considered to be entering their senior years (when an animal is older but typically still quite healthy) at age seven, and that they can be classified as geriatric (a stage of aging where poor health or death becomes most likely), at age 12 and over.
Pic credit: Fran Veale