Myth or Truth: Do Dogs Really Age 7 Years Faster Than Humans?

Have you heard the old adage that 1 year of a dog's life is equal to 7 years of a human's life? That may have been somewhat true when the average American lived to be 70. However, as the average human lifespan has improved so has the science that allows us to determine dog years in terms of human years. So, how fast do dogs age? Let’s take a look.

How Fast Do Dogs Age?

One thing is certain — dogs age far more quickly than their humans would like them to! Technically, certain dogs age faster than others. Certain breeds, sizes, and backgrounds all play a role in how your dog ages. In fact, even a dog’s environment impacts its age rate. From bouncing on and off the couch during the indoor zoomies to needing dog stairs to even get on the couch, a pet's dog years catch up with her quickly.

You can do your part in slowing down the aging process by helping your dog live the best life possible.

  • Feed them the proper amount of high-quality food
  • Provide regular vet care (including wellness care and any necessary dental care)
  • Use heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives as needed
  • Get your dog fixed. The sooner you get your pup fixed, the less chance they have of developing reproductive system infections (like pyometra) and cancer.
  • Protect them from accidents both in the car and during walks
  • Make sure they always have a clean and healthy coat
  • Help them get plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation

Most importantly, spend lots of quality time with your pup. A dog that is enjoying life is apt to live longer. And what's more enjoyable than spending quality time with the person who loves them the most?

Why Do Small Dog Breeds Live Longer Than Large Dog Breeds?

Scientists have long been baffled by the fact that small dogs live longer on average than their larger counterparts. The American Kennel Club (AKC) reports that "Although large mammals tend to live the longest, small body size within a species is associated with longer life and slower aging." Since all dogs, from Chihuahuas to Great Danes, belong to the same species this might account for the fact that the tiniest dogs generally live the longest.

One reason for the discrepancy may be the difference in how quickly a dog grows from a cute little puppy to adulthood. A 250-pound English Mastiff obviously grows a lot faster than a 5-pound Yorkshire Terrier! Some scientists believe that such a huge leap in size over a relatively short period of time contributes to a large dog's accelerated aging. This may happen because of abnormal cell growth that contributes to higher rates of death from diseases like cancer.

Another factor might be the amount of inbreeding that was needed to develop each distinct breed. That inbreeding was focused on looks or behavior and tended to ignore health. A scientific study based on dog DNA showed that larger breeds often have more inbred DNA than smaller breeds. The study also showed that mixed breeds generally lived an average of slightly over a year longer than purebreds of the same size. Those lucky mutts!

The Science Behind Dog Aging

Is there real science behind dog aging? Of course! According to Science magazine, there's a new dog age calculator that is more accurate in calculating your dog's age. It uses the age-related changes in a dog's DNA to estimate that dog's age in human years. Chemical changes in the DNA over the course of a dog's lifetime create an epigenetic clock.

That "clock" showed how quickly the DNA of the targeted breed (Labrador Retrievers) aged in comparison to human DNA. More studies in other breeds/mixed breeds will be needed to determine just how accurate this clock really is. One thing's for sure — it's bound to be more accurate than the old 7 human years to 1 dog years adage!

FAQs

Do you still have questions about dogs and how they age? Read on for more on the subject!

Why do different breeds age differently?

Some breeds are more susceptible to diseases than other breeds. For instance, Golden Retrievers are genetically predisposed to certain cancers and may not live as long on average as a result. Hard-working breeds like Australian Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, and Belgian Malinois are more likely to die in an accident than a breed that spends most of its life as a couch potato.

Do dogs live longer than wolves?

An article discussing spinal damage in canids in Science points out that wild wolves rarely live longer than five years due to their risk of injury while hunting prey. Wolves in zoos that don't have to hunt their food live much longer and show the same type of age-related spinal degeneration as our pet dogs.

How can I help my dog live longer?

A decline in their beloved pet's quality of life is responsible for many pet owners making the painful decision to end their pet's suffering. Many times, a pet is suffering because of painful joints. Unfortunately, there's only so much a veterinarian can do to relieve an animal's suffering through pain meds.

As your dog gets older, providing her with aids such as comfy orthopedic pet beds, dog steps or ramps, and a mobility harness can help reduce stress on her aging joints. That, in turn, can help her live longer by helping stave off the pain that is so responsible for a deteriorating quality of life.

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