You have all heard that one human year is the same as 7 years in a dog, right? Well it turns out it is not that simple. It actually depends on the weight of the dog. Small dogs age slower and larger dogs age faster. Here is a summary from a dog aging chart developed by Fred Metzger, DVM at Pennsylvania State College:
Dog’s Weight Years per 1 human year:
So a 20 year old 20 lb dog is only the same age as a 96 year old human but a 16 year old 90 lb dog is the same age as a 123 year old person.
So What Does This All Mean?
It only means dogs age faster and explains why their lives are shorter. It should not be used as a measure to evaluate whether a dog should be given certain drugs, treated for certain diseases or undergo medical procedures requiring anesthesia. We don’t tell an 80 year old women needing knee replacement surgery not to do it. Doctor’s do various tests to make sure that the reward of surgery is far greater than the risk of anesthesia and surgery.
Veterinarians do the same thing. The age of the animal is not nearly as important as the consequences of the problem without surgery and that the risk is minimized by the appropriate testing. Dental procedures are a good example.
As a holistic veterinarian, I am an advocate of anesthesia-free dental maintenance. But some dogs and certain breeds develop tooth and gum disease that can’t be treated conservatively. These dogs have such rotten teeth that the mouth bacteria associated with it can cause heart, kidney and liver failure. The pain of eating, especially hard, dry food, and the ill feeling from bacteria circulating in their blood reduce the quality of their life. They need dental work and extractions that can only be done under anesthesia. The risk of dying from dental induced disease can be greater than the risk of anesthesia, especially if the veterinarian does the proper testing to minimize the risk of anesthesia.
What is the relative risk of anesthesia? Advancement in testing, anesthetics and anesthetic monitoring are far superior than they were just 10 years ago. Believe or not, the risk of your dog being killed in a car accident involving your car on the way to the vet is greater than your dog’s risk under anesthesia at the vet.
Don’t use “dog years” to decide against the necessary medical and surgical treatments that your dog needs. Life quality is important for old dogs too.