Forget 'dog years': Scientists say we've been calculating our pups' ages wrong

Here’s some news that may make you “paws” and reflect.

A new study from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine published in the Cell Systems journal has found that one "dog year" is not necessarily equivalent to seven "human years," as has been commonly thought.
These puppies may be "older" than you think.Getty Images

Researchers have created a better way of determining how to compare the ages of people and their four-legged friends .

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“Since the two species don’t age at the same rate over their lifespans, it turns out it’s not a perfectly linear comparison, as the 1:7 years rule-of-thumb would suggest,” reads a press release on the study.

The scientists say they have a formula that provides a new "epigenetic clock," or a method that determines an organism's age, that takes into account those differing patterns in aging. "Epigentic changes," they write, can offer clues to a genome’s age, much like wrinkles on a person.

The research, which focused on more than 100 Labrador retrievers over a 16-year age range, found the animals age quickly when they’re young, only for it to slow down as they get older.

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“The comparison is not a 1:7 ratio over time,” the release said. “Especially when dogs are young, they age rapidly compared to humans. A one-year-old dog is similar to a 30-year-old human. A four-year-old dog is similar to a 52-year-old human. Then by seven years old, dog aging slows.”

Breathe easy. In addition to sweating through their paw pads, dogs pant to cool themselves off. A panting dog can take 300-400 breaths (compared to his regular 30-40) with very little effort.

“This makes sense when you think about it — after all, a nine-month-old dog can have puppies, so we already knew that the 1:7 ratio wasn’t an accurate measure of age,” said Trey Ideker, a senior author on the study and a professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center.

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While only one breed was analyzed in the study and more research needs to be done, Ideker believes this new method will apply to all breeds. In the meantime, Ideker says he has a new way of looking at his own pet.

“I have a six-year-old dog — she still runs with me, but I’m now realizing that she’s not as ‘young’ as I thought she was,” Ideker said.