Cat and dog years – have you been getting it wrong?
Does your pet act their age? We often talk about our pets’ age in terms of 'cat and dog years', but a study by researchers at the University of California has revealed that we may have been getting it wrong and using a flawed formula to calculate our pet’s ‘age’ in comparison to their human counterparts.
As cats and dogs live for around 12 years (often much longer depending on the breed), we tend to work out their age by multiplying their actual age by 7. So a 1 year old pup (or kitty) is like a 7-year-old human and a 12-year-old pet should be drawing their pension as they are actually 84 - thus giving a fairly good approximation of a human lifespan. However, the scientists suggest that we need to adjust our maths because dogs actually ‘age’ at different speeds throughout their lives.
Old dog photo by Michael on Unsplash
The science bit
Researchers at the University of California examined the DNA markers of 104 Labradors, aged between 4 weeks and 16 years old. As the dog’s cells matured, their DNA changed over time and this information was used to track their biological progress. The findings were then compared to DNA information from 300 humans.
Using this process, the researchers discovered that by the age of 2, the Labrador DNA was equivalent in age to a human in their early 40s - rather than a 14-year-old teen, which the traditional ‘multiply by 7’ formula would imply. But luckily your dog won’t continue to age at this speed, they then go on to mature more slowly in later life.
Essentially this means that your dog’s age progresses along a curve – whereas humans follow a straight line. This means that it can still be calculated – but you’ll need a bit more than your 7 times table to be able to figure it out! If you’d like to know how old your dog really is, in these new, accurate dog years, check out this dog age calculator to find out how old they really are.
Although this study was initially conducted on Labradors, the team at the University of California assert that all dogs, no matter what breed they are, follow a similar ageing process and this new research provides a far more accurate method for working out your pet’s equivalent age. A 7-week-old puppy is around the same age as a 9-month-old human and both begin to get their teeth at this age – but the ageing process then slows down over time so that by the age of 10, your dog’s DNA function is similar to that of a 68-year-old and the equivalent dog life expectancy tallies up with the global life expectancy of humans.
Small dog photo by Charlie Green on Unsplash
What about cat years?
You may be thinking this is all well and good, but what does it mean for your cat? According to Purina, you can work out your pet puss’s age in a similar way.
In the past we’ve also worked out our cats age by multiplying it by 7. But it turns out this probably isn’t true either. Some cats can live to be 20 years old which is 140 in human years, and the oldest human ever lived to be 122.
Purina suggest that a 1-year-old cat is the equivalent of a teenager and the first 2 years of your cat’s life are roughly equivalent to the first 25 years of a human’s. After this, every year is equal to about 4 human years. So if your cat is 13 years old then they are actually around 68, in human terms. You can find a really useful cat age calculator on their website if you want to work out how old your cat is.
Ginger cat photo by Ekaterina Zagorska on Unsplash
What have we learned from all this? Your best friend may be younger (or older) than you think! The scientists at the University of California are continuing their research, using this information to better understand the ageing process in humans and dogs so that they can develop solutions to some of the negative aspects of getting old.
Were you surprised by these findings? How old is your pet in dog or cat years and do you think that they act older or younger than they are? As always, let us know in the comments section below.
Main photo by Jon Grogan on Unsplash