We gauge our lives by milestones: when we arrived in this world, when we took that first wobbly step, when we entered kindergarten and when we departed from high school. No doubt many of us also remember when we got our first car, first job, and first love, though not necessarily in that order. Imagine accomplishing all those things during the first three years of life; that’s nearly what happens to our pets, in the same time it takes a human baby to become a toddler.
It’s not as simple as one animal year being equal to seven human years. In fact, no one seems to agree on a consistent formula. The Feline Health Center website at Cornell University (www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc) states: “Many cats begin to encounter age-related physical changes between seven and 10 years of age, and most do so by the time they are 12… In reality, a one-year-old cat is physiologically similar to a 16-year-old human, and a two-year-old cat is like a person of 21.” The website http://www.peteducation.com says, somewhat obliquely: “Except in young cats, determining the age of a cat is an ‘educated guess,’ at best. The age of kittens up to 4 months of age can be determined by which temporary and permanent teeth are present…In older cats, age is generally estimated by the wear on the teeth.” According to the Iams website (www.thedailycat.com), the first two years of a cat’s life are roughly equal to 1-25 years of human life, and about four feline years for each year thereafter. Pet food manufacturers have tried to keep apace by offering food based on a pet’s stage of development. Starting with kitten food and proceeding through a growing range of products for the aging four-legged crowd, they include varieties to counter dimming eyesight, correct urinary troubles, and to battle midlife’s pudgy waistline. If what you feed your pet can diminish aging, by all means, try stalling the inevitable.
Even less precisely, the website http://www.dogyears.com offers: “The ratio [of aging] is higher with youth and decreases a bit as the dog ages. Depending on breed, a dog experiences the raging hormones of adolescence anywhere from eight months to two years or more.”
So, human parents, there you are. You are not alone. The transition period from pet infant to pet adult, while more rapid than a human’s, is not without its drawbacks. It also means that we should love our pets well, since they won’t have as long a life with us as we might like.