What is My Pet’s “Real” Age?
To calculate your dog’s or cat’s age, the long-standing rule is that one human year equals seven dog and cat years. Cats and dogs do age faster than people, but veterinarians are not sure the 1:7 ratio is completely accurate these days. Instead of determining ages, the American Animal Hospital Association divides dog and cat years into life stages.
How to Determine a Dog’s Real Age
There are six life stages for dogs:
- Puppy: Just born to 6 months
- Junior: 6-9 months
- Adult: 9 months to 6.5 years
- Mature: 6.5 years to 9.75 years
- Senior: 9.75 years to 13 years
- Geriatric: 13 years and older
But these stages don’t necessarily tell the whole story of age when it comes to dogs. As dogs vary in size and breed, the real age of a 7-year-old German Shepherd may differ than a 7-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. Smaller dogs may mature faster than large ones but may not become “seniors” until after their larger counterparts.
How to Determine a Cat’s Real Age
Like dogs there are six life stages for cats:
- Kitten: Just born to 6 months
- Junior: 6 months to 2 years
- Prime: 2-6 years
- Mature: 6-10 years
- Senior: 10-14 years
- Geriatric: 14 years and older
Unlike dogs, cats don’t differ in sizes. Therefore, two healthy 7-year-old cats are the same age.
How Old is My Shelter Pet?
Many times when people adopt an animal, they don’t know its history. Shelter workers do their best to determine the age, but they often don’t know for sure.
While it’s easier to tell how old a puppy or kitten is, it’s a little more difficult for adult animals. Your vet will also try to help determine your pet’s age as that will dictate the care he or she receives. The most common method is looking at the teeth, especially for dogs. For example, older cats and dogs may have tartar build up and/or missing teeth.
Accurately understanding your pet’s age is crucial to its ongoing care.
Other factors a veterinarian may use to determine your pet’s age are:
- fur color (some cat’s and dog’s fur may turn gray)
- skin condition (older pets may have looser skin)
- a physical exam (if your cat or dog shows signs of vision, hearing, or mobility issues)
Note that these methods are based on your veterinarian’s education and experience; they are only approximate.
When it comes to veterinary care, accurately understanding your pet’s age is crucial to their care. Like people, medical needs can differ with age.
As scientific and medical advancements have made it possible for people to live longer, the same is true for cats and dogs. Regardless of your pet’s “real” age, maintaining his or her weight, providing mental and physical stimulation, and annual veterinarian check ups will help keep your furry friend healthier and hopefully live longer.