The age-old belief that smaller dogs tend to outlive their larger counterparts has been a topic of intrigue for pet lovers and scientists alike.
Now, a new study dives deeper into the connection between a dog’s size and its aging trajectory.
Surprisingly, it’s not just about lifespan, but also how dogs age in terms of behavior and cognitive abilities.
The Canine Aging Paradox: Big Dogs Age Differently
Researchers from the ELTE Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest analyzed data from over 15,000 dogs to understand this phenomenon.
They discovered that while larger canines might start showing signs of age-related decline earlier (around 7-8 years) than smaller ones (around 10-11 years), their decline rate is slower.
Moreover, even though these larger dogs might have a shorter overall lifespan, they tend to maintain their cognitive health for a more extended period, exhibiting less age-related decline than smaller breeds.
Differences in life expectancy among dog breeds have always been evident, with some giant breeds living up to seven years and smaller ones making it to fourteen.
While the impact of purebred status on lifespan has been studied, less is known about its relation to behavioral and cognitive decline.
This study, published in GeroScience, provides enlightening insights into this correlation.
How Size Influences Cognitive and Behavioral Aging in Dogs
The findings also showed that dogs generally start their behavioral and cognitive aging around the age of ten and a half.
However, the commencement and the rate of aging are heavily influenced by the dog’s size.
For instance, dogs weighing over 66 lbs experience the onset of age-related decline two to three years earlier than their tinier counterparts.
Yet, their rate of decline is notably slower.
Interestingly, very small dogs, weighing less than approximately 14 lbs, have a four times higher prevalence of cognitive decline in their later years compared to larger dogs.
This discovery supports the notion that bigger dogs, despite a potentially shorter lifespan, might enjoy a reduced degree of cognitive decline.
Another intriguing revelation was the higher risk of cognitive decline in old age for long-nosed (dolichocephalic) breeds like greyhounds and purebreds compared to other dogs.
Additionally, dog owners seem to perceive their pets as “old” by the age of six, irrespective of the dog’s size or purebred status.
This perception might arise from subtle changes like graying, as noted by Enikő Kubinyi, who leads the Senior Family Dog Project.
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10-30 kg a possible “sweet spot”
One of the takeaways from the research is that body size doesn’t just determine a dog’s lifespan but also its health span.
This revelation suggests that only the extreme size groups, like very small or very large dogs, show significantly different aging patterns.
For potential dog owners considering size as a factor, opting for a dog weighing between 10-30 kg might be the best choice, as these dogs tend to have a more balanced health span relative to their expected lifespan.
Key Details of the Study:
- Title: “Differential behavioral aging trajectories according to body size, expected lifespan, and head shape in dogs“
- Publication Date: 23 September 2023
- Journal: GeroScience
- Authors: Borbála Turcsán, Enikő Kubinyi
- DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-023-00945-9