How long pets live and why it matters anyway
This week, news broke that the world’s oldest dog had died at age 147. That’s 21 years for you and me. In its wake came more reports of other dogs vying for the Guinness Book of World Records––including one whose owners are struggling to authenticate their 26 year-old dog’s age.
The fact that we celebrate our pets’ grand old ages as an accomplishment is both wonderful...and slightly creepy, if you ask me.
What can I say? I hate thinking about my pets in terms of their life expectancy. There’s a whiff of the nihilistic about it. Given the concept of living in the moment and all that, I can’t help thinking it plays into our fears...or raises expectations unduly.
Take a peek at some average lifespans compiled by pets.ca:
Afghan Hound (12.0)
Airedale Terrier (11.2)
Basset Hound (12.8)
Bearded Collie (12.3)
Bedlington Terrier (14.3)
Bernese Mountain Dog (7.0)
Border Collie (13.0)Border Terrier (13.8)
Boxer (10.4)Bull Terrier (12.9)
Cairn Terrier (13.2)
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (10.7)
Chihuahua (13.0)Chow Chow (13.5)
Cocker Spaniel (12.5)
Doberman Pinscher (9.8)
English Cocker Sp
aniel (11.8)English Setter (11.2)
English Springer Spaniel (13.0)English Toy Spaniel (10.1)
Flat-Coated Retriever (9.5)
German Shepherd (10.3)
German Shorthaired Pointer (12.3)
Golden Retriever (12.0)
Gordon Setter (11.3
)Great Dane (8.4)
Irish Red and White Setter (12.9)
Irish Setter (11.8)
Irish Wolfhound (6.2)
Jack Russell Terrier (13.6)
Labrador Retriever (12.6)
Miniature Dachshund (14.4)
Miniature Poodle (14.8)
Norfolk Terrier (10.0)
Old English Sheepdog (11.8)
Random-bred / Mongrel (13.2)
Rhodesian Ridgeback (9.1)
Rough Collie (12.2)
Scottish Deerhound (9.5)
Scottish Terrier (12.0)
Shetland Sheepdog (13.3)
Shih Tzu (13.4)
Staffordshire Bull Terrier (10.0)
Standard Poodle (12.0)
Tibetan Terrier (14.3)
Toy Poodle (14.4)
Welsh Springer Spaniel (11.5)
West Highland White Terrier (12.8)
Wire Fox Terrier (13.0)
Yorkshire Terrier (12.8)
Do the math and you’ll find the average lifespan of a dog is 12.8. The average lifespan of a cat? According to Petplace.com, it’s about 12-18 years for indoor cats, 4-5 for outdoor-only felines. You can question these sources (and I do), but my point is more to do with our human preoccupation with death and longevity than with the numerical lifespan per se.
Perhaps that’s because the stress over expiration dates is felt even more acutely by veterinarians who are constantly under pressure to provide estimates of pets’ years left.
“She’s such a healthy ten, don’t you think she’ll live to at least sixteen?”
If I had a crystal ball...
Sure, it’s important to understand what the averages are so we can make decisions about comfort and cost and how it all works out math-wise (callous though it sounds). Because it’s important to point out to owners that, for example, a ten year-old cat with hyperthyroidism will consume on average another $2,000 of methimazole while the one-time radioactive iodide treatment is more like $1,500––and it’s a cure, not a side-effect fraught adventure in drug administration.
But outside the veterinary arena, why all this preoccupation with time?
When my Sophie Sue passed (a couple of months ago), some lamented her young age (“Only eleven? So sorry.”) while others consoled me with “long, beautiful life” platitudes (which I appreciated immensely).
They all give us the time they have to offer. And though too often their lifetime lengths depend on how much we can afford, we should expect no more or less time than what we can responsibly provide.
As to Chanel the wire-haired, "147 year-old" dachshund: She’s not the oldest I know of. In fact, I can confirm at least one older via my medical records (Mr. Scruff was 22). So how come he’s not in the Guinness Book of World Records? I guess some people just don’t care about the stats. Because once our loved ones are gone it’s all about the memories anyway, right?