I’ve never owned a dog that deliberately chased cars, but I’ve had four that somehow managed to catch one. As a result, I’ve haven’t had as much personal experience with elderly canines as I would have liked, but the three with whom I have been fortunate enough to share albeit brief portions of my life were enough to convince me that old dogs are special.
I was a preschooler when an English setter named Queen decided–no doubt quite rightly–that I needed close supervision whenever I went outside to play. Queen was a spry old gal and not only followed me wherever I went around the farm but also was an enthusiastic participant in whatever game I chose to play. I was too young to remember how old she was when she died, but she must have been at least 15.
Lady, an 85-pound black Labrador retriever, came into my life on a fluke. I had stopped at my veterinarian’s office in Warsaw just to shoot the breeze and, purely by happenstance, noticed a “free to good home” notice regarding an 18-month-old female Lab pinned to the bulletin board in his office.
I stopped at the address printed on the ad on my way home but, since I already had “several” dogs, it was only to satisfy my curiosity. For both dog and man, it was love at first sight. After I passed muster with her former owners, Lady jumped into my pickup like she’d been born to ride there, and we went home to a hearty welcome from my two children. When Amber got home from work and saw Lady through the glass kitchen door, her first thought was that there was a bear in the house, but that’s another story.
Getting Lady to understand her role as my upland hunting partner was so easy, I hesitate to call it training. I’ve never seen a dog that was so eager to please while leaving its individuality and spirit completely intact. We hunted together, we worked together, played together and lived together–she slept at the foot of our bed–until she was well into her 16th year. When the time came to let her go, it was one of the most heart-wrenching decisions I’ve ever had to make.
Now an old dog and an old man–relatively speaking, of course–have cast their lots together at the Scott home. Happy–a beagle whose pedigree is far more impressive than my own–and I joined forces when she was eight years old. She turned 11 on July 20, 2014.
I just called Happy an old dog–thankfully, she can’t read–but what is old for a dog? The saying that one dog year equals seven human years is hopelessly simplistic, but it has served to send legions of veterinary medicine and animal nutrition graduate students in quest of more realistic formulas.
The best life span predictors I’ve been able to uncover take the dog’s breed and its weight into account. Some studies separated dogs which died of natural causes from dogs as a whole, and a few looked at gender differences–intact females live the longest.
All things considered, it appears that the adult dog’s weight is the primary factor in its longevity. There are also differences between breeds. Most, but not all of these correlate with size.
According to most experts, a two-year-old dog is equivalent to a 21-year-old human no matter what the dog’s weight or breed. At 4 years of age, a dog weighing less than 20 pounds is 29 human years old , a 20-50-pound dog is 31 human years old, a 50- to 90-pound dog is 33 human years old and a dog weighing more than 90 pounds is 35 human years old. By the time the dog reaches 8 years of age, its “human age” over the same weight ranges is 45, 51, 57 and 63 years. If a human were a 12-year-old dog, he or she would be the equivalent of 61, 71, 81 or 91
years of age, depending on weight. From there on, the spread becomes very dramatic. (Source: petMD)
All dogs don’t die at some predetermined age, of course. In fact average life spans are, at best, the center of a window with a gap of at least two years on either side. Some dogs live well beyond their official life spans. Using the dogs I mentioned here as examples, an English setter’s average life span is 11.2 years, but Queen lived to be at least 15. Labrador retrievers average 12.6 years, but Lady lived to be 16.
Healthy diets would seem to be an obvious factor, but what is a healthy diet. The two longest-living dogs whose ages are verifiable were a 27-year-old border collie fed a vegetarian diet and a 27-year-old bull terrier cross fed primarily emu and kangaroo meat. Go figure.