LOS ANGELES — Going from pup to grandpup doesn't leave much prime time under American Veterinary Medical Association labels that cats and small dogs are geriatric at 7 — and large dogs at 6. But not everyone agrees, and rescuers say those definitions can be a death sentence to older animals in need of homes.
Dr. Emily Pointer, staff internist and medical coordinator at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York, said she considers the last third of life the sunset years. "That seems fairly crazy," she said of the AVMA designations. "I would never consider a person in their 40s or 50s to be senior."
The AVMA said the oldest cat on record was 34, the oldest dog was 29.
Forget the notion that seven dog years equal one human year, the AVMA said. A 7-year-old dog weighing less than 50 pounds is like a 44- to 47-year-old human; 10 equals 56- to 60-year-old humans; 15 is like a 76- to 83-year-old; and 20 is like a 96- to 105-year-old human, the group said.
Pet health improved in the 1950s and '60s when commercial dog food and vaccinations became popular and spaying and neutering increased, said Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA executive vice president and science adviser.
Technology has advanced and today's owners are more willing to go the distance for their pets, Pointer said.
"We find that most dogs become geriatric after age 12, and that at 12ish they are like humans at 65," said Judith Piper, founder and executive director of the rescue group Old Dog Haven in Lake Stevens, Wash.
Most shelters consider dogs old at 8, Piper said, so Old Dog Haven works with dogs 8 and up. The group tries to place the 8- to 12-year-olds they rescue from shelters and find final refuge homes for those over 12.
At age 14, Solomon is one of those final refuge or hospice dogs. Part Dalmatian and part German shepherd, he has been with Lisa Black for 30 months.
Black owns the Stardust Salon and Spa in Seattle and Solomon goes to work with her every day to greet customers. "Old dogs are usually good with other dogs and housebroken. They are easy and don't require a lot of trips to the park. They are usually happy with us and do whatever we want," she said.
Tracie Hotchner of Bennington, Vt., author of The Dog Bible and The Cat Bible, believes the AVMA's numbers are right. "It raises people's awareness of the need to get more frequent and more thorough wellness checks," she said. "Not enough people respect the fairly serious physical changes that take place in older cats and dogs and the kind of preventive care that's available."