How Old Is Your Pet?
Michael W. Stephan, D.V.M.
Juno Beach Animal Hospital
Dogs and cats age at different rates than we do, and differently from each other. There are also differences between large breed and small breed dogs. Its good for us to have some idea of our pets age in human years, because, as in people, there are certain changes that occur with age and we can be more alert to these changes and help detect them sooner, if we are looking for them.
In the first year in a dog or cats life, they will develop and mature as much as we do from birth to age fifteen! This means that there is a tremendous development of bone, muscle and other body systems occurring and it is the reason nutrition is so important in that first year. Puppy foods and kitten foods are specially formulated to meet the demands of a rapidly growing and changing body and should be fed throughout the first twelve months of life. In the past few years it has been recognized that large breed dogs have different growth and nutrition requirements than small breeds and there are now foods available specifically for large breed puppies. This is not just a marketing gimmick, and if you have a breed of dog who is expected to weigh more than eighty-five pounds as an adult, large breed puppy food will help avoid serious nutritional bone and joint diseases as they grow.
That rapid maturity in the first year also means that it is important to have your pet spayed or neutered well before their first birthday in order to avoid unwanted litters of puppies and kittens. For most pets, this routine surgery is normally done between five and seven months of age. Unless you have purchased a pure bred animal specifically for showing and breeding, they should be spayed at this time. Timely spaying and neutering help to keep your pets personality playful, and is an important factor in avoiding certain types of cancer in later years.
In the second year of life, cats and small breeds of dogs will age about one year every month. Large breed dogs will age one year every two months. This carries them through their teens and into their early twenties. For most pets this is a very healthy time and other than routine dental care and vaccinations, and monthly flea and heartworm prevention, they usually require little medical attention.
From the third year of life on, cats and small dogs will age four years to every one of ours. Large breed dogs will age seven years to every one of ours.
By seven or eight years of age, your pet is entering their forties and fifties. As in their owners, these years are marked by changes in health and lifestyle. Many pets become less active during these years and will start to put on extra weight if their diet does not change to meet their physical activity. Some pets will begin to show other changes and signs of aging at this time. The development of arthritis and the early stages of kidney, liver, and heart disease may occur now. Some diseases such as arthritis may be apparent to you as you watch your pet sit and stand or in the way they walk and run. Other diseases may not be apparent except on changes in your pets blood chemistries, and your veterinarian may suggest routine monitoring of kidney and liver function starting at this age. Many of these diseases, if caught early, can be controlled with changes in diet and lifestyle and these simple changes can add years of quality time to your pets life.
As your pet pushes into their senior years, you may notice fairly rapid changes in their conditions. Remember that they are aging another year with every two or three months that pass. Be sure to report changes in appetite and activity, or the development of any bumps or growths to your veterinarian so that they can be checked and corrected before they become serious or even life threatening problems.
As we have discussed before, preparations for healthy senior years should begin early in life. Providing good routine dental care, following diet recommendations made by your veterinarian, and following through with routine preventative medicine from the very first year of life will make the best of your pets old age and provide you both with quality companionship for as long as possible.