Friday, April 30, 2021

Old Dogs, New Research: We may have been off when aging dogs


Dogs mature more quickly than we do. Many one-year-old dogs have reached their full height, and most will have gone through puberty or be nearing the end of it, so they’re not the equivalent of a seven-year-old child.

Most specialists agree that a dog that has just turned one is equivalent to a human around 15. However, these age calculators usually adjust their calculations based on how long certain breeds are expected to live.

It’s customary to read statements that say dog breeds age at different speeds, with some dog breeds aging much faster or slower than others. But today, I want to look at whether this is true.

Scientific review

I have searched through scientific publications on signs of behavioral aging and development in dogs aiming to work out at what age a dog can be considered a puppy, juvenile, adult, senior or geriatric.

In my review, I have concluded that evidence exists to suggest a one-year-old dog is indeed still juvenile just coming out from puberty 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).

Senior or geriatric?

I also 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 a senior (a stage of aging where poor health or death becomes most likely) at age 12 and older.

The average lifespan of a pet dog is 12 years (across all breeds). Still, some dog breeds live on average far shorter lives than others, and it is common to adjust a dog’s age category by their breed life expectancy to decide when they are “senior” or “geriatric.”

Dying younger

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.

These dogs do decline quickly in terms of their health, meaning they need additional veterinary care when they’re much younger than other dogs. But while their bodies may be impacted by health problems when they’re still young, there’s no evidence that short-lived breeds are aging in the true sense of the word, as behaviourally, they appear to be following the same trajectory as other dogs.

Basically, short-lived dog breeds are not aging faster – they are simply dying younger.

Health issues

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 an objectively still young dog 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. 

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