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How Old is Your Pet – Really?

Do you still count your pet’s age in "dog years," figuring one dog year equals seven human years? If so, it’s time to throw out that old one-to-seven rule of thumb.  Canines don’t age the same way humans do.  In fact, different dog breeds age at different rates depending upon size. 

Because pets today are living longer – thanks to better healthcare and nutrition – it’s important to change the way we view the aging process can provide the exercise and diet that are appropriate and most beneficial for his age. 

The canine aging process
Researchers agree that puppies age fastest during the first two-three years of their lives. It’s well-known that dogs reach puberty during the second half of their first year, so it’s not surprising to learn that the average "puppy" reaches the age of 12-15 by his first birthday.  It certainly explains why many puppies go through adolescent rebellion during that period.

It’s also well-documented that smaller breeds (under 50 pounds) generally live longer (14-17 years) than the largest breeds (8-10 years).  For example, the life expectancy of an Irish wolfhound is significantly less than that of a toy poodle.  Some scientists believe this is because the bodies and organs of larger dogs have to work harder than smaller dogs.   In addition, particular breeds are also more susceptible to genetic diseases or certain types of cancers, which also affect life expectancy.

Once beyond puppy hood, the rate of aging slows – to approximately 4 human years/dog year for the smallest breeds (under 20) pounds up to 7 human years/dog year for the largest breeds with mid-sized dogs falling in between. The chart below provides an approximation of dogs’ rate of aging.

Getting on…
Regardless of breed or size, many the most important factors in determining a pet’s life span are within your control: good nutrition, regular exercise, routine health care and safe habits:

  • You can maximize your pet’s life span with good health care.  Be sure to visit your veterinarian regularly:  at least once a year until your dog hits middle age, then at least twice a year there after.
  • Keep him safely in your yard with fencing and proper use of a leash and teach him key obedience commands so he doesn’t run out into traffic.
  • Keep him slim with a healthy diet, not too many treats and adequate exercise. 

Fortunately, our dogs don’t worry about the gray around the muzzle.  But, like humans, dog have different needs as they become older.

They may be less playful, preferring to nap a little longer and run a little less.  Be sensitive to these changes and provide thicker bedding, ramps to make climbing stairs easier.  Consult your vet about shifting your pet’s food to address changing nutritional needs.

As your pet ages, he may develop arthritis, hearing and vision loss, or other problems. Watch for signs of limping, a change in gait, a decrease in appetite, or any indications of illness that may require a visit to the vet.

How Dogs Age

In the chart below, find your dog’s approximate age by comparing his weight with his age in human years.

age chart