Just how old do you think my cat is in human years?” This is a question that is asked by people on a regular basis. People love to anthropomorphize pets, attributing human characteristics to them. And most of us want to extend our animal friends’ healthy lives for as long as possible. Fortunately, researchers have spent some time in the analysis of this age-old question.
First off, there’s that old-time myth that one regular year is roughly the equivalent of seven years for dogs and cats. Actually, there’s a bit of logic behind it. People observed that with optimal healthcare, an average-sized, medium dog would on average live one-seventh as long as its human owner — and so the seven “dog years” for every “human year” equation was born.
However, not every dog is “average-sized,” so this seven-year rule was an oversimplification from the start. Dogs and cats age differently not just from people but also from each other, based partly on breed characteristics and size. Larger animals tend to have shorter life spans than smaller ones do. And while cats generally vary little in size, the size and life expectancy of dogs can vary greatly — think a Great Dane versus a Chihuahua.
And human life expectancy has also changed over the years. Additionally, veterinarians are now able to provide far superior medical care to pets than even a decade ago. There is now a better methodology to utilize than just the old rule of thumb that counted every calendar year as seven “animal years.”
Figuring out how old your cat is in cat years allows a veterinarian to determine their life-stage — and that’s important because it suggests what life-stage-specific health care the animal might need to prolong not just its life, but also its quality of life.
Doctors already apply this very concept to human age-specific health screenings. Just like a healthy human toddler doesn’t need a colonoscopy, a normal puppy doesn’t need its thyroid levels checked. A woman over 50 years old likely needs a regular mammogram, just like an adult cat needs annual physical examinations. Of course these guidelines are augmented based on a doctor’s or veterinarian’s examination of the human or animal patient.
So the next time you take your cat to the veterinarian, talk about your animal’s life stage and find out what health recommendations come along with it. Watching out for health and behavior changes, and maintaining a healthy weight, could help your cat live long past the “prime” of its life. — Catnip staff