French Mastiff: one of the lowest lifespans among dogs

Why older pets need our attention

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In recent years, more and more people are welcoming pets into their homes. And since we are taking better care of our non-human housemates, more and more of our pet friends are also living into older ages than ever before. Like humans, as animals get older their needs evolve.

Just like us, our pets go through different phases as they age, and each comes with different needs, including health and dietary needs. Your Labrador probably does not want to play fetch like when he was a pup anymore, but he still needs stimulation and companionship from you. So, how can we keep our pets happy and healthy even into later years?

What exactly is a senior pet?

So, when is our furry friend old enough to be “senior”? Cats, for example, reach adulthood somewhere between 3 to 6 years old. And they reach “middle-age” somewhere around 7 to 10 years of age. This is the human equivalent of 40-50 years old.

Indoor cats commonly live to be more than 15 years old, if they have a generally healthy life. A cat is generally considered to be senior when he/she is more than 10 years old. However, as we will see, its breed can change things up quite a bit.

Dogs also reach adulthood somewhere between 1-3 years of age and senior age between 6-10 years. For dogs there seems to be a lot of variation in lifespan depending on the breed, more so than cats. For example the average lifespan of Dogue de Bordeaux or the French Mastiff is just 5.5 years! Whereas a miniature poodle can grow up to be more than 14 years old on average.

French Mastiff: one of the lowest lifespans among dogs
Dogue de Bordeaux

Knowing “how old” your pet is in human years in terms humans can appreciate, is a delicate task. However, knowing this can be important to know the type of veterinary care your pet needs. We all know 3 years old means something entirely different for a dog and for a human. Dogs at that age are old enough to have kids their own!

All this could be the reason for the popularity of the concept of “dog years”. We have all heard it before – 1 dog year is 7 human years. So to get the age of your dog in human years, you multiply your dog’s age by 7. So a 10 year old Labrador is as old as a 70 years old person. He’s basically a grandpa! But where does this magic number 7 come from?

Like other dubious pop theories, this one can also be far from accurate, as discussed in this article from the Wall Street Journal, or this one from Priceconomics.com. The origin of the factor 7 seems to be humans have an average lifespan of 70 (at least in the west) and dogs 10, leading to a factor of 7!

However this calculation fails to account for many subtleties; most of all, the differences in lifespan of different animal breeds. We have seen a couple of examples of how some breeds live much longer than others. Basically, dog-age is determined by a lot of factors both genetic and environmental, that a simple multiplier like 7 can’t account for. But we can all agree it is a good rule of thumb.

Factors that impact how long pets live

A study on factors affecting pet health was conducted by VetCompass. VetCompass is a non-profit research project, a collaboration between The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the University of Sydney. The project collects data from thousands of veterinary practices from all over the UK. Researchers then use these data to study the prevalence of various health risks among dogs and cats. And it revealed many interesting facts.

One of them being, the breed of an animal has a huge influence on how long pets live. So much that the average lifespan more than doubles between the least durable cat breed (the Bengal) and the most durable cat breed (the Birman). The Bengal cat lives an average of 7 years, while the lucky Birman cat has an average lifespan of 16 years.

Which breed lives the longest?

For dogs, the results were even more drastic. The breed with the shortest lifespan, Dogue de Bordeaux, lives to be mere 5.5 years old on average, almost 3 times less than the longest living dog breed considered in the study, the Miniature Poodle. Poodles can live to be more than 14 years old. More reason to get a poodle if you want a long-living pet.

Mixed breeds live longer, Smaller dogs outlive their bigger cousins!

The researchers drew a few more interesting conclusions from the study. Mixed breeds tend to live longer than pure breeds, among both dogs and cats. For pure-bred cats the average lifespan was 12.5 years. For mixed-bred cats the average lifespan was 14 years! In addition, among dogs, the smaller breeds like the Miniature Poodle and Jack Russel and Spaniel live considerably longer than the bigger breeds like the German Shepherd and Labrador.

The reasons behind this are still not clearly understood. If you know any interesting research on this, we’d appreciate hearing from you in the comments.

Check out these cool posters on the VetCompass site for a comprehensive comparison of pet lifespans across breeds of dogs and cats.

How to ensure a long and healthy life for pets

For pet owners like you and me, we want to do the best we can to keep our aging pets happy. And aside from things we can’t change, like our pet’s breed or their genetic make-up, what are some things we can do to ensure a long healthy life for our pets?

In a cool new study done on the longevity of dogs in Hungary, the researchers found that the biggest deciding factor for a dog’s health aside from its breed was his or her weight! Unsurprisingly, the sicker animals in the data obtained in the research were without fail on the heavier side, got less exercise than required or lived with owners who smoked. This is why ensuring a healthy environment for your pet to live in, combined with a healthy diet and an active lifestyle is so important.

What’s the ideal weight for cats and dogs?

Is my senior dog too heavy? How often or how much should I feed my senior dog? To answer these questions, we need to know the ideal weight for our pet for a given size. For those of us who are not veterinarians, knowing what is the correct weight for our pets can be hard. This is only more complicated by different dog and cat breeds.

A reliable and easy way to figure out your pet’s health status is called the body condition score. It is a technique developed by Royal Canin, the popular pet food brand. And it is easy enough that any of us non-specialists can use it to judge our pets’ weight condition.

Body condition chart for cats

How to Tell if Your Pet Weights Right

Basically you can tell if your pet is overweight or underweight by examining three key areas of her body: spine, ribs and the abdomen. And the tools you need? Just your eyes and fingers! And this works for both cats and dogs.

Basically you can tell if your pet is overweight or underweight by examining three key areas of her body: spine, ribs and the abdomen. And the tools you need? Just your eyes and fingers! And this works for both cats and dogs.

As a first step, if you can see your pet’s backbone ridge just above her tail, or her ribs or if she has a prominent visible abdominal tuck, then she’s too skinny.

A pet with normal weight will have be a thin covering of fat around the backbone and ribs and the abdominal tuck shouldn’t be too pronounced. Once your pet passes the “skinny eye test” as I like to call it, you need to do the finger test.

Gently feel for the ridge of the backbone just above her tail, and her ribs. If you can’t feel her ribs or the ridge above her tail at all, or you have to really dig in with your fingers to feel them, your pet is on the heavier side. A cat on the heavier side will also have an abdomen that is loose and hanging. A cat (or a dog) with an ideal weight will have an abdomen slightly tucked up, and an obvious waist.

Small changes can go a long way

In fact the study on Hungarian dog lifespan showed that older dogs received less medical care, which further worsened their health and reduced their longevity. This was also because the owners were not well-informed about geriatric care for dogs. Dogs with an active lifestyle, and on a dog-specific diet rather than table scraps were also found to live longer.

So, it’s clear that lifestyle and diet can greatly impact the life expectancy of dogs. This is just as true for cats. Interestingly, cats fed on canned cat food tend to live longer and healthier lives compared to those fed on raw fish and meat or dinner-table scraps.

Also, as we might expect, indoor cats tend to live longer than outdoor cats. A completely outdoor cat may only live up to 5 years, while an indoor cat can easily live to be older than 15 years. Outside, a cat is just exposed to more threats – cars, predators like coyotes, and even parasites like the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). So, no more guilty feelings about not letting our cats out!

My own experience

Having not one, but two pets pushing 11 this year made me think about how to best take care of them. How can I make sure they live long fulfilled lives? From having no pets I ended up being an owner of a 10 year old Labrador Staffordshire mix and a slightly older Calico cat — still two grown-up girls, but completely different in how they behave.

And I would never trade them for anything. Even though they aren’t as frisky as before, older pets have a lot of love to give. Senior dogs and cats can be very affectionate and loving towards their owners, more so than younger animals. My cat would look for me at night and curl up in the nook of my elbow. She sacrifices the comfort of her soft cat-mattress just to be near me! This is why I love senior cats: they are very cuddly.

Why you should adopt older pets

Adopting a senior dog or a senior cat is also a charitable decision. Every year, more and more senior animals are abandoned by their owners due to old age, or because they can longer take care of them. Senior animals also have a hard time getting adopted out of animal shelters and most likely end up getting put down. Most people want a young animal in tip-top shape to gift their young children.

But it is also a decision that comes with responsibilities. Veterinary expenses are higher for older pets. But if your pet had a healthy life he/she shouldn’t have too many problems growing old. Having an older animal we are faced with many questions:

  • How can keep them entertained or active without tiring them?
  • What is the recommended amount of food for my senior dog? How can I get my senior dog to eat correctly?
  • Can my senior dog or cat eat raw food?
  • How to avoid dental or periodontal diseases in my senior cat or dog?
  • How can I prevent or limit other common diseases in senior pets?
  • What are some animal products that solves problems specific to older pets?

This blog is our attempt to answer these questions. And bring support and help for owners of older pets. If you have older pets, I would love to hear from you and about the challenges you face from day to day? Please feel free to share your stories in the comments below!

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