Many of us grew up hearing that every year that a dog lives is equivalent to 7 human years. This is no longer thought to be true; there are many theories and opinions on how old a dog is in human years but the fact of the matter is, every dog is an individual and lifespan is dependent on many different factors. Smaller-breed dogs generally live longer than the giant breeds... but the 'average' lifespan is only an estimate - it means that there will be pets who will have longer lives (and those who will have shorter lives) than the average. Here are a few things that can influence a pet's lifespan.
1. Breeding and genetics.
Some breeds or types of dogs can be more prone to certain health problems. These can include issues like hip dysplasia, spinal issues, respiratory problems, cancer, or heart problems. Poor breeding can also result in genetic defects. Sometimes genetic conditions are known when pets are young but this isn't always true. Medical conditions may not become known until the pet matures. Pet owners may need to compensate for known medical conditions by making some lifestyle changes; for instance, dogs with joint issues need not engage in strenuous hikes but could instead do more swimming or go for shorter, easier walks.
"You are what you eat" - there's a reason why this saying is so popular. We all need good nutrition to feel our best, and the same goes for our pets. Good nutrition isn't just about feeding our pets enough (although that's important too); it's about feeding fresh, high-quality, and species-appropriate food that helps our pets feel their very best.
Pets who receive poor or inadequate nutrition while they are still young and growing may also develop other health conditions, such as joint issues. Likewise, pets who are overfed can be just as unhealthy as those who are malnourished; obesity in pets is a growing and serious problem that can result in shortened lifespans and health complications as a result of the extra weight the pet carries.
Extremely active pets, pets with medical conditions, very young pets, and aging pets may have different nutritional requirements. Some pets will also develop allergies to certain types of foods, which commonly result in skin and coat problems. Enlist the help of a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist for advice on a good diet for your pet - but remember, you know your pet best and if your pet doesn't appear to be doing well on a certain diet, then speak up and make changes.
A ready supply of fresh water is also important in keeping pets well-hydrated and feeling good.
Adequate and appropriate exercise is a critical part of good health for our pets. Some types of dogs will require strenuous daily exercise to remain in good physical (and mental) health, but this isn't true of all dogs. For example, dogs who have hip dysplasia, or who are prone to these issues, may benefit from a lighter exercise routine. Arthritic pets can benefit from forms of exercise such as swimming, which is gentler on the joints. Instead of one long, strenous walk each day, older dogs may benefit instead from shorter, easier, and more frequent walks.
There are many fun ways to exercise with your dog, who are often game to join you in whatever activity you like! It's more of a challenge to ensure cats get enough exercise, but for those of us who share our lives with cats, there are ways to keep them active as well. These include both toys they can enjoy on their own as well as interactive toys - many cats even enjoy playing fetch! Cats can even be taught to do agility.
Pets recovering from injuries, aging pets, or pets with neurological issues or other medical conditions may still be able to safely exercise. Ask your vet for advice and if available, consult with a canine physiotherapist who can demonstrate appropriate exercises to help pets exercise safely. Generally, exercise is considered beneficial for most pets as it helps to keep muscles strong and joints limber, and helps to maintain mobility that is important for quality of life.
4. Appropriate Veterinary and Health Care.
Health care is critical to a pet's well-being. A minor injury can become a much bigger problem if it isn't addressed. Pets who primarily live outdoors don't always have close contact with people, and so health issues may go undetected or may develop further before they are detected. Even a flea or tick infestation can become life-threatening if left untreated.
Health care isn't limited to just veterinary or medical care; it's also something as simple as keeping pets clean and well-groomed to remove mats, loose fur, and foreign objects that can become lodged in the skin or paws.
5. Environmental Factors.
Cats and most dogs are significantly smaller than human adults. That means that they are affected by a smaller amount of pollutants or toxins. They're also closer to the ground, use their noses to explore the ground and the air much more than we do, and groom themselves with their tongues. That means they more easily ingest and absorb toxins like chemical lawn fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides, de-icing agents, and other chemicals.
Pets who spend most of their lives outdoors are also subject to additional prolonged stress from exposure to the elements. This includes temperature extremes and harsh weather like heavy rains, snow, hail, and the baking heat. These types of stressors can age pets faster.
6. Mental Stimulation and Emotional Connection.
We all need to be loved to get the most out of life. Our pets need it too! Having an emotional bond with their families - whether human or with other pets - helps pets to feel more relaxed and happier.
Mental stimulation is also important; lying around all day with nothing to do causes a different sort of stress, but it is stress all the same. Exercise is a good way to stimulate the mind as well as the body. Playing games (like nose work for dogs) is another great way to stimulate a pet's mind.
7. Living the Good Life.
Yes, it's true... living the good life can help pets live a long (and happy) life! Pets who have comfy lives have drastically less stress dealing with many of the things previously mentioned. They have little environmental stress to deal with, are loved and well-cared for. Pets with fewer stressors, better health, and lots of love have a higher chance of living long and happy lives.
"Animals are reliable, many full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to." (Alfred A. Montapert)