To quote Julie Andrews from one of my favorite childhood movies, “The Sound of Music,” “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.  When you read you begin with ABC.” When talking about our pet’sPet Safety Crusader longevity, that also works for me:

ANCESTRY is what our pet’s doggie & kitty parents gave them, and is what makes them more susceptible to certain diseases and defects based on their genes.  For example, if your doggie’s daddy suffered from Bloat, your dog is more likely to get it as well.



  • Bichon Frises, Border Terriers and Cocker Spaniels are prone to cataracts while a different eye disease, Entropion, is more common in Sharpeis.
  • Dachshunds and Basset Hounds are at risk for spinal injuries while most working and herding breeds are more likely to experience Hip Dysplasia or Cruciate Ligament Ruptures to their knee joints.
  • Doberman Pinschers, Setters, Rottweilers are most inclined to get Von Willebrand Disease, where blood has difficulty clotting.
  • Your Manx could develop Spina Bifida, damage to the spinal nerves, due to genetics of his shortened tail.
  • Ragdolls are susceptible to a heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
  • Abyssinians may become anemic or develop loose knee caps (patellar luxation), while…
  • Scottish Fold cats may develop a painful and disabling condition of the joints.

The American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation has a more complete list to help you learn about which conditions your canine best friend is most predisposed to while University of Glasgow (via keeps a comprehensive listing by cat breed.  None of these conditions are guaranteed to occur, but it’s helpful to know what your breed is most at risk for and maybe then you can find ways to prevent or manage it.


The typical life span for a breed and size.  Giant breeds generally live 6-8 years while medium to large breeds can make it to 10-12 years of age.  Cats and small dog breeds often thrive well into their late teens.

Most veterinarians categorize Senior-hood like this:

Cats & Dogs under 20 lbs. 9 years
Dogs 21-50 lbs. 8 years
Dogs 51-90 lbs. 7 years
Dogs over 90 lbs. 6 years

But another way to look at age is how the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) breaks down life stages:

Puppy or Kitten – Newborn until reproductive maturity (0 – 6 months)

Junior  –                 Reproductively mature, still growing (7 months – 2 years)

Adult or Prime –   Finished growing (2 – 6 years)

Mature –                 Adult to approximately the last 25% of expected lifespan depending on breed

Senior –                  Mature to life expectancy

Geriatric –              Life expectancy and beyond


Besides what canine and feline parents give your four-legged family members, sometimes, like us humans, they are born with parts that just don’t come out the way nature intended, or did they?  Although people often see a person born without an arm or an oddly shaped foot as disabled, critters don’t realize that they were meant to be any different than they are, so they accept it and live life without the mental baggage that causes us humans so much distress.

We know on average that big dogs live shorter lives than their smaller counterparts, and since most cats live their lives in a very similar size-range, size doesn’t seem to play much of a role in their longevity.  Nature doesn’t always follow rules however as the big living shorter lives than small doesn’t hold true with other species:  Mice and rats live average lives lasting 1-3 years while elephants roam the earth for decades like us humans.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Cornelia Kraus from the University of Göttingen in Germany published groundbreaking research to help determine the connection between size and life expectancy in dogs. Analyzing data on the age of death in more than 56,000 dogs of 74 different breeds. Dr. Kraus discovered that small dogs do indeed live longer, and the researchers were actually able to quantify that number indicating that for every 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of body weight, a dog’s lifespan decreases by 1 month. A question I’d like answered is does that calculation also apply to an overweight, inferring that for every 4.4 lbs. of excess body weight, his his lifespan may be shortened by 1 month?  I guess not exactly, as some pets don’t even weigh 4.4 lbs. so this is more of a size rather than fit calculation.  However, I know it can make an impact.

Research suggests that bigger breeds die more frequently from cancer than smaller dogs do. This may be due to the tendency of large breed dogs to grow faster, which may be associated with the abnormally fast cell growth seen with cancers and accelerate overall aging.

Everything in both canine or feline bodies is accelerated from Day One!  Our four-legged best friends go from no teeth to having ALL of their baby teeth by Day 45.  It takes humans 4-7 months for that first set of choppers to come in.  At 6 months of age, most breeds are adults and can be sexually active (not that they should be, mind you, but all the parts start working).  When a female conceives, her puppy or kitten is in the womb approximately 63 days (aka gestation period) while it takes a human baby 9 months to develop before finding her or her way out into the world!

All of this expedited growth hastens the aging process for our dogs and cats.  They work harder to maintain their 101°F body temperature (in part because they don’t possess the number of sweat glands), and their metabolism burns calories twice as fast as ours does, so it just seems their candle burns out more quickly.

On the big vs. little dog calculation however, another risk factor may be that larger breed dogs live more dangerous lifestyles than smaller breed dogs who are more “pampered”, thus increasing their risk factors. Yet, for most of you who are reading this, and my big dogs included, I know many larger canines live pretty doggone cushy lives!

However, if big dogs live shorter lives, is there anything that makes small dogs more likely to live longer? Well, no one knows for sure, but it is believed that smaller dogs live longer because they grow more slowly than large breed dogs, therefore not having as fast a division of cells which can be associated with cancer and accelerate aging.

Additionally, studies suggest that small dogs have lower concentrations of the growth hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) in their blood than big dogs have.  Lower concentrations of this hormone show reduced risk of age-related diseases and longer lifespans.  The proof is that in humans, high levels of IGF-1 have been associated with increased risk of death from heart disease and cancer.

As for a general guideline, it helps to know that dogs are generally considered senior during the last 25% of their life.

Some go on the 7:1 ratio meaning that for every calendar year that goes by, 7 years of a dog or cat’s life has passed, but, it’s not that simple because size, breed, genetics all play a role.

Environment and a pet’s general health however, also determine how long each of animal will live, as does their ability to stay out of harm’s way.  Age is a natural progression – an irreversible weakening of the body’s functions that results in difficulties adapting to internal and external stresses.  Older pets and people become more vulnerable to disease and injury because their ability to renew and repair tissues starts to wane.

Very often animals who look healthy on the outside have problems growing on the inside, so make sure you take your pet to the veterinarian at least once, and maybe twice yearly since dramatic health changes can occur in as little as 3-6 months!

Aging is not a disease…it’s a process we all hope to go through.  It shows we’re growing up and living life.  Nothing, however was meant to last forever (except our love for our animal friends), so dogs, cats, birds, bees and even us humans will wear out over time.  The point is to walk every path, sniff every scent and enjoy the journey together. Which reminds me to encourage you all to adopt senior pets.  They have so much love to give.  None of us has any guarantees and you may spend more time with a senior that with a young pet who contracts a disease or gets injured.


Since I started this blog with a song, I’ll conclude it with one by another of my favs, George Strait,”

Life’s not the breaths you take

The breathing in and out

What gets you through the day,

Ain’t what it’s all about

You just might miss the point

Trying to win the race

Life’s not the breaths you take

But the moments that take your breath away.


Read more in “The Autumn & Winter of Your Pets:  Make Those Senior Years Golden”

Please catch my VLOG on this topic:                    __________________________________________________________

For 20 years Denise Fleck’s Sunny-dog Ink motto has been “Helping people to help their pets,” and she has…teaching more than 15,000 pet lovers animal life-saving skills and millions more on “The Doctors,” CNN, “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life,” Animal Planet and other TV shows.  Denise is a frequent conference speaker, developed a line of pet first aid kits and now offers classes online.  

Note:  The articles on this page are copyrighted.  Please do not reprint or use portions for any purpose without written permission from the author.  Request permission for usage by sending an email explaining how you’d like to use the materials and what parts specifically.  Thank you in advance!