How old is your dog, really?

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Teddy having fun. KARIN SPICER

Teddy having fun. KARIN SPICER

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Teddy having fun. KARIN SPICER

Dogs age faster than humans.

Shocking, right? You’re probably shaking your head, thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know.”

OK, how about this:

As humans age, doctors check physiological parameters such as blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate. They track strength, endurance and flexibility. And there are cognitive tests involving memory, language and decision-making.

But there are no such clearly defined parameters to monitor or predict the aging process in dogs, which makes the topic all the more worthy of study.

So in 2018, the Dog Aging Project, founded by three doctors, received a grant from the National Institute on Aging, a part of the National Institutes of Health, to support its work on health and aging in companion dogs.

They started accepting dogs into their program in 2019. In January, we signed up Teddy, our rescue Lab.

DAP is studying how genes, lifestyle and environmental influences impact how dogs age, using the information collected to help pets and people increase their quality of life.

So how old is Teddy, really?

Size is one of the primary factors that determines the rate of aging in dogs.

Teddy is 7 and weighs 57 pounds. The American Kennel Club’s “How old is my dog in human years?” chart says Teddy is 50, considered a senior dog by these measures.

To me and my family, Teddy doesn’t seem like a senior.

Physical aging in dogs can be fairly easy to recognize. A white muzzle is usually a sign of an older dog. Even though Teddy is all black, he has always had a white muzzle, even as a pup. So other physical factors need to be considered.

Common physical changes include such things as Teddy’s coat. Is it greasy, matted, rough looking? Does it have the shine it once had? Is there hair loss? Teddy’s coat is still shiny, thick and soft to the touch.

Cloudy eyes? Teeth worn? Muscle loss and/or a decrease in mobility? Teddy’s eyes and teeth are in good shape and he still loves to go on long walks and climbs stairs with ease.

Common behavioral changes that may happen with age include increased time sleeping, restlessness (particularly at night), less activity and a decrease in eating and drinking. Teddy is a “no” in each of these areas.

The American Animal Hospital Association recommends owners consider their dogs “senior” when they are in the last 25% of their predicted life span.

The AAHA identifies four stages of a dog’s life: puppy, young adult, mature adult and senior. Plug your dog’s age (years and months) and breed (the most dominant breed in case of mixed breed) into their calculator to see what stage your dog is in.

The AAHA gives detailed advice to owners about the well-being of their dog in each stage.

Teddy, we’d like to think, is a mature adult, which makes perfect sense. He isn’t young or old.

The Dog Aging Project, meanwhile, wants to “identify factors that maximize healthy longevity and help future generations of dogs live their best lives.”

Teddy and I are all for that.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more about the Dog Aging Poject and/or to nominate your dog for the project, check out dogagingproject.org.