Q: I just adopted a miniature poodle puppy. How long should I expect her to live?
A: People like to equate one year of life to seven “dog years.” While this age-old formula will give a rough idea of your pet’s age, it is far from accurate.
Most pets are full grown by roughly one year of age. In the first twelve months, they may age the equivalent of twenty human years. In addition, the larger the dog, the more rapid the aging process will be. A ten year old Great Dane is somewhat equivalent to a human in his eighties. However, a ten year old miniature poodle is somewhat equivalent to a person barely in her fifties.
Life expectancy is a tricky number. It represents the average age of death. In people, we talk about like expectancy in terms of roughly seventy-five years. However, it is actually more common for people to die in their sixties or eighties than in their seventies. Seventy-five is simply the average.
Those with good genetics, healthy diet, regular exercise, and frequent preventive care at the doctor and dentist have a good chance of living into their eighties. Those with genetic propensity toward illness, poor dietary habits, sedentary lifestyles, and lack of healthcare and dentistry have a worse chance of ever seeing age seventy.
The same factors in human longevity apply to pets. In practice, I do not see many pets dying at their “life expectancy.” Using your miniature poodle as an example, we would expect roughly fourteen years to represent a reasonable average life expectancy. In reality, I see many miniature poodles die when they are eleven or twelve. Just as commonly, I see them live until they are sixteen or seventeen. Usually, I can detect the difference by the age of seven or eight.
What makes the difference?
Good genetics is one factor. If a dog has a family history of cancer or heart disease, they are not as likely to live as long. That is the only factor that cannot be completely controlled by the owners.
The remaining influences on longevity are completely under the control of pet owners. Pets who lead a healthy lifestyle (confined to the owners property, spayed or neutered, and get regular exercise) are likely to live much longer. Pets being fed a high-quality, name brand pet food are likely to live longer, happier lives. Pets who visit the veterinarian every six to twelve months for preventive care, and who get regular dental cleanings are much more likely to make it to older ages in good health.
In the past sixty years, the life expectancy of dogs and cats has doubled. Sixty years ago, if I had said miniature poodles would commonly live to seventeen years of age, people would have called me crazy. At that time, a similar sized dog was expected to live only seven or eight years. Advances in nutrition, vaccinations, medical treatments, and lifestyle have made the lion’s share of the impact. I predict that in the next twenty or thirty years, we will see the same-size dog commonly live into his twenties.
Thorough examinations every six months, routine well-pet blood and urine panels, and earlier, more frequent dental cleanings are only just beginning to show their impact. Fifty years ago, cleaning a dog’s teeth was unheard of. A veterinarian was only needed if an animal was ill. Now we know regular dental care can add up to five years to a pet’s life.
Now we can detect the earliest stages of kidney disease and other metabolic problems before symptoms ever develop, doubling a pet’s expected life after diagnosis.
Now we have the nutritional knowledge to customize diets to a pet’s particular age, size, and metabolic state to reduce aging and slow disease.
Now veterinarians are more highly educated and specialized medical professionals than at any other time in history.
All of these factors can benefit your pet today. While it may be decades before wide acceptance adds another ten years to the average “life expectancy,” your puppy can benefit today. She just may end up living much longer than you expect.