Are ‘Dog Years’ A Real Thing? (And Other Pet Myths)

There are many pet myths out there about dogs, especially, and other animals.
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Image © Charles Deluvio, under a Creative Commons license.

If you’ve ever told your kids that dogs only see in black and white, that cats always land on their feet, or that a dog year is equivalent to seven human years, then you may want to read on. Even the idea that dogs go woof and cats say miaow is a bit of a myth.

Do Dogs Really Age Seven Years For Every One Human Year?

It’s a well-known rule of thumb. Take a dog’s age in years and multiply it by seven to work out how old it ‘actually’ is. So a six-year old mutt lives its life like a 42-year-old human, while a 10-year-old has reached its “three-score and ten”. 

But like all rules-of-thumb, the seven-years-thing isn’t always helpful. Small dogs can easily live to be 15, which would be the rarely-achieved age of 105 in human terms. The oldest canine on record was an Australian cattle dog called Bluey, who died in 1939 aged 29. That’s 203 in human years, and way beyond the possible.

To further muddy the waters, dogs and humans don’t age at the same rate. A dog’s first year is more like a human’s entire childhood and teenage years. By its first birthday, the typical dog is sexually mature and has usually reached its final height. So a more accurate rule of thumb would match each of the dog’s first two years to 10.5 human years, and then four human years thereafter.

Can Dogs Only See In Black And White?

It’s true that doggy vision isn’t quite as powerful as ours. It was once believed that they can see only in black and white -- a dog has just two types of colour-sensing cone in its eyes, whereas a human has three. But recent research suggests that dogs can distinguish blues and yellows from other colours, but not reds and greens. This visual limitation is more than made up for by the dog’s sense of smell, which is almost supernaturally better than that of a human.

Do Cats Always Land On Their Feet?

There are many myths about our beloved pet cats too.
Image © Chunlea Ju, under a Creative Commons license.

Cats can fall from almost any reasonable height and -- whether a short drop or long fall -- usually land on their feet. They have a rare ability to corkscrew their bodies during a plummet, with the top half turning one way and the bottom half the other. It’s instinctive, and known as the righting reflex. They can’t land any fall, however. Fall more than a few storeys and the cat will hit the ground too hard to survive. So this one is largely true, but only up to a certain height.

And Finally… Dogs Don’t Always Say Woof! 

Animal noises are among the first words that children learn. Cats go miaow, dogs say woof, sheep say baaa and pigs go oink. But here’s the funny thing: it depends where you live. The animals themselves make very similar noises all over the world, but different cultures interpret these sounds in different ways. Where English speakers hear a ‘woof’, the Dutch hear ‘blaf’. Spanish dogs make a ‘guau’ noise, while those of Turkey say ‘hev’. A dog in Romania might bark ‘ham’, while the Japanese hound emits a ‘wan’. Most confusing of all is the Korean dog, whose call of ‘meong’ sounds distinctly feline! Never mind “What Does The Fox Say?”; its tamed cousin’s voice is also a bit of a conundrum.


See Also

Woof! Take Your Kids On This London Doggy Trail
Seven Science Facts We All Get Wrong
Mum, Where Does The Wind Come From? Questions About The Weather


Content adapted from the author’s book, Everything You Know About Animals is Wrong.

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