The Fountain of Youth, that life-enhancing pool of precious water has been talked about, searched for and sold in many ways for the past 2500 years. When it comes to our pets, there is no mythical liquid of life to draw from so we have to expect our pets are not going to be with us forever and if you share the same outlook as me, that is a very sad thought.
Fortunately with good nutrition, good health care and protective homes our pets are living longer than ever before. Dogs who lived in the 1950’s and 1960’s had an overall lifespan of 5-6 years. Those same breeds today live 9-10 years and it is not uncommon to see pooches passing their mid teen years. Cats have always been longer lived but they too have had an increase in longevity to an average of approximately 12 years with many reaching their late teens and early twenties.
The oldest dog on record was Max, an Australian Cattle dog who died in May 2013 at 29 and ¾ years. Crème Puff holds the record for the Methuselah of cats. She passed at the ripe old age of just over 38 years.
Certain dog breeds are more likely to be with us longer. A study published in the April 2013 edition of the American Naturalist entitled “Why Large Dogs Die Young” looked at 50,000 dogs and from 74 breeds. The study examined the link between lifespan and size. The study found small dogs, Yorkshire terriers, miniature Poodles, Chihuahuas are more likely to reach mid to late teen years whereas large dogs including Great Danes, Mastiffs, Newfoundlanders have a median age of only 5-8 years. Other studies looking at both dogs and cats find a direct correlation with animals allowed to roam outside and shorter lives. A third study looked at the effect of excess weight on life span and showed leaner pets live an average of 2 years longer than chubby buddies.
There is no doubt about it, our pets will live longer today than if they lived in the 1960’s. We feed them better, we care for them better and we give them better health care. Vaccinations against common diseases have greatly influenced the length and quality of our pets’ lives. In the ‘60s, Panleukopenia, a viral infection, prematurely ended many cats’ lives. Today because of vaccinations, this disease is almost never seen. Canine parvovirus reared its head worldwide in 1983 and this also lead to the deaths of many dogs. Again, due to effective vaccination this disease is rare.
Since there is no Fountain of Youth containing the elixir of life, how do we keep our beloved companions with us as long as possible? Preventive health care including vaccinations, appropriate diet, keeping pets close to home have all been shown to extend lives. Yearly blood tests to detect early signs of illness allows diseases to be managed before they shorten lives and at least yearly examinations by your veterinarian help to keep pets comfortable and vibrant in their later years. In short, pets who are lean, immunized, kept close to home and those with regular health care live longer than chubby, free roaming unvaccinated pets. We owe it to our pets and to ourselves to keep them healthy so they live long lives with us.