I’ll keep this fairly brief. There are three main reasons why cats live longer than dogs.
Initially, I have to say that some people might dispute the “fact” that cats lives longer than dogs. I don’t know of any hard science on it. My experience from reading on the subject is that cats do indeed live around 3 years on average longer than dogs; the cat’s lifespan being on average around 15 years and for the dog around 12 years. However, I am open to criticism on that.
The first reason is fairly obvious. There are far more purebred dogs than cats. This is probably because dogs have been domesticated much longer than cats (around 30,000 years for dogs and about 10,000 years for cats). As a very rough estimate (I can’t find verified statistics) 50% of dogs are purebred while around 10% of cats are purebred.
The wild dog (the grey wolf) has been changed through selective breeding a lot more than the wild cat (the North African wildcat). This is evident in the huge variation in appearance of purebred dogs compared to the classic tabby domestic cat which looks very similar to the wildcat.
“We haven’t changed cats nearly as much as we’ve changed dogs.” (Dr Austad at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, USA).
Certainly in the UK, dog breeders have in some instances screwed up on health. In their desire to create the perfect appearance for the breed, they de-prioritised health to such an extent that the BBC stopped filming the major dog show “Crufts”. Some 5 years ago, there was uproar about the ill-health of Britain’s purebred dogs. Inbreeding can result in a depressed immune system and it can lead to congenital health issues across a wide range of diseases and anatomical conditions all of which reduce the average age of the family dog.
Purebred cats can be inbred too but as there are less purebred cats the negative impact on average lifespan is less than for dogs.
The second reason why cats live longer than dogs is because they are more independent, aloof (this is an inaccurate description) and solitary whereas the dog is a pack animal living more closely with other dogs. This simply means that there is less chance of transmission of disease between animals. That’s the theory, say scientists. This inherited trait, however, is being eroded by the fact that the domestic cat is becoming more sociable. We could argue that cats are sociable creatures nowadays whereas the African wildcat would be described as solitary.
Another reason (a possible third!) is that that cats are “less susceptible to predators because they are so well armed…If you have ever tried to pick up a cat that didn’t want to be picked up, you will have discovered that they have all sorts of weaponry that dogs don’t.” (Dr Austad). This means the cat is less often prey although I don’t see this being a very good reason for the increased lifespan of cats because of complicating issues e.g. there are a lot of full-time indoor cats where they will not meet a predator. Also humans are the biggest predator of the domestic cat and humans use poisons and guns against which cats cannot defend themselves.
Of these three reasons, the most significant will be the breeding aspect of these domestic animals. To be frank it is a great shame that we are able to criticise cat and dog breeders for failing to pay enough attention to what should be the their top priority: the health and welfare of the animals that they create.
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