How your dog’s size influences their aging and health

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We’ve all noticed that smaller dog breeds, like Chihuahuas or Dachshunds, tend to have longer lifespans than their larger buddies like Great Danes or Saint Bernards.

But did you know that the size of your furry friend might also influence how they age in other aspects, such as their behavior and thinking abilities?

Researchers from ELTE Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, have dived deep into understanding how the size of our canine companions impacts their aging patterns and cognitive health.

Their fascinating study, which peered into the lives of 15,000 dogs, brought to light that larger doggos tend to start showing signs of aging, like changes in behavior and cognitive abilities, earlier than their smaller counterparts – around 7-8 years compared to 10-11 years in tinier pooches.

However, here’s an interesting twist: although larger breeds may show signs of physical aging earlier, they seem to maintain their cognitive health for a more extended period during their shorter lives.

In simpler terms, bigger dogs might have bodies that age faster, but their minds stay sharp for a longer portion of their lives compared to small pups.

In the doggy world, there’s a remarkable variance in life expectancy among different breeds.

Giant breeds might live up to seven years, while some small breeds can enjoy a hearty life until the age of fourteen!

Also, if your pup is a delightful mix of different breeds, they’re likely to live a bit longer than their purebred buddies.

The researchers wanted to understand better how these lifespan differences connect with changes in behavior and cognitive functions as dogs age.

To get to the heart of this, they studied a variety of behavioral traits and the occurrence of canine cognitive dysfunction (kind of like dementia for dogs) among the furry participants.

They investigated how quickly these aspects changed with age, and how factors like the dog’s size, head shape, and whether it was a mixed breed or purebred influenced these changes.

Here’s something that might raise your eyebrows: dogs that are either on the smaller scale, weighing less than 7 kg (around 14 lbs), or on the larger scale, weighing over 30 kg (about 66 lbs), showed significantly different aging patterns compared to medium-sized dogs.

The larger ones encountered physical health issues earlier but maintained their mental sharpness quite well into their golden years.

On the other side, smaller pups faced a four times higher chance of cognitive decline in their older age, despite generally living longer.

Borbála Turcsán, one of the key researchers, shed light on these findings, explaining that while larger breeds might face physical challenges earlier due to accumulated illnesses and sensory functions degrading, their mental faculties remain quite resilient.

The study also threw a curveball by revealing that long-nosed breeds and purebreds seem to be at a higher risk of experiencing cognitive decline as they age, compared to their short-nosed or mixed-breed counterparts.

Another heartwarming discovery was that irrespective of size or breed, dog owners started seeing their four-legged family members as “old” around the age of 6. Enikő Kubinyi, who leads the Senior Family Dog Project, believes this perception might stem from subtle, sometimes unnoticed changes, such as a bit of greying.

The research importantly underscores that a dog’s size impacts not just how long they live, but also their journey through aging, revealing that healthspan (the portion of life spent in good health) also wavers between different size categories.

If you’re looking to welcome a new pup into your home and are pondering over size, Turcsán recommends opting for a dog within the 10–30 kg size range if you wish for a balance, providing a longer healthspan relative to their lifespan, without the sharper cognitive decline seen in smaller dogs or earlier physical health issues observed in larger breeds.

The findings from this research not only enhance our understanding of our beloved pets’ health and aging but also give us precious insights to cherish and care for them through every bark and tail-wag of their lives.

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Source: Eötvös Loránd University.