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Are ‘Dog Years’ Accurate? New Calculation Says Maybe Not

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For centuries, families and individuals have lived side-by-side with domesticated canines. In all that time, while they realized that dogs have a different lifespan than humans, they may have wondered how to track this aging process compared to humans.

In recent times, owners have relied on a standard calculation that indicates dogs age seven years for each year of a human’s life, but is this calculation accurate? Recently, a group of scientists says it isn’t.

The Process and Science Behind the New Calculation

The new calculation was developed by a team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego, who used DNA analysis to gauge the speed of the aging process in a canine’s body. The team was so certain about their results so far, they published a preliminary paper on bioRxiv.

For the study, the team used 104 labrador retrievers that spanned a 16-year age range. The study took a deep look at these canine genomes to evaluate the differences over time and to look at how methyl groups, a sign of aging in DNA, were added in over time. Lastly, they also compared them to the aging process that took place in human DNA, which helped them to more accurately quantify the canine aging process when compared to humans.

After all that research, how did things turn out? Lessons learned from the survey were enlightening and not without a fair number of surprises.

The Results of the Study

As a result of all of their research, scientists developed a new formula to replace the traditionally used 1:7 ratio for aging. The new formula is only said to be accurate for dogs that are older than one year old. To understand a dog’s age, enter it into a scientific calculator and then click the function key that says “ln” (natural logarithm)  and then add the number 31. Don’t have a scientific calculator? Find one online.

The team made a couple of notes as they released their preliminary study. They indicated that the calculation works best for dogs that are more than a year but still fairly young, and for dogs that are of advanced age. It doesn’t work as well for canines that are middle-aged range. Lastly, and not surprisingly, the calculation works best for golden retrievers, since that breed was the subject of the initial research. As expected, the team is making plans to continue research on other breeds.

The New Calculation Paints a Very Different Picture

Once you look at the calculations carefully, you see how different (and more accurate) the new calculations are. For example, a two-year-old dog is 14, according to the old formula, but 42 according to these researchers. A 10-year-old dog is 67.8 according to the new formula, but 70 if you multiply each of their years by 7. This progression apparently indicates that the biological aging process happens a lot more quickly when dogs are younger and slows down over time.

Can This Process Be Applied to Other Animals?

The process of evaluating genes to determine an animal’s age isn’t just reserved for humans and canines. It can be applied to other species also. Mice, chimps, and wolves are thought to have a similar aging process and a similar research methodology could work for them also. As we become more curious about how we compare to other species, this kind of research can teach us more about ourselves and our place alongside the rest of the creatures on the planet. It can also help us be better caretakers to other species helping them to live as full a life as possible and manage the changes and challenges that come with advancing years.

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