For many people, animals play an important role in their everyday lives. Pets reduce stress, offer companionship, and provide hours of entertainment in the form of cute videos on the internet. Yet for all they give us, one fact of pet-ownership remains less than ideal: Furry friends often experience much shorter lifespans than their human counterparts.
Animals like dogs and cats have a higher metabolic rate than humans, which means they age faster. For dogs, this amounts to an average lifespan of 13 years. Cats live slightly longer—their average lifespan is around 16 years. But what about animals that live longer?
Some pets, like the Lhasa Apso, have been bred to survive harsh conditions, and thus have longer average lifespans than other breeds of dogs. Other pets come by their longevity naturally. Turtles have slower metabolisms, and it simply takes them longer to grow old. Some pets have lifespans that vary wildly. Domestic goldfish may only live a couple of years, but goldfish in a garden pond will probably live over a decade. Their cousins, the wild carp, generally live twice as long. The oldest known captive goldfish lived to be 43.
Parrots are among the most remarkably long-lived creatures. Science tells us that in the wild, small birds have many predators, and their lives run on a rushed timetable with high metabolism as they procreate as fast as possible. Big parrots, on the other hand, have few natural predators and their life cycles move at a less-frenzied pace. They have innate antioxidant systems that protect against cell damage as well. Many domestic parrots outlive their owners, making it necessary to provide for them in wills and estate planning.
The same characteristics that make pets like parrots such entertaining company, however, are the traits that can pose a challenge to their owners. African grey parrots, for example, are renowned for being great companions, but they can be sensitive and needy. Without a lot of attention and stimulation, they become depressed and fall sick. As their lives span decades, they may pass among several owners, which also makes them unhappy. A long-lived pet may require more care than owners realize.
Still, many people will put in the work if it means having a friend for life. With that in mind, Stacker compiled a list of the longest living household pets using a variety of scientific sources and pet owner resources, including Pet Helpful, Reptiles Magazine, Lafeber Company, and a Genetics paper on dog traits.
Read on to see if your pet is likely to be around for the long-haul.
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- Average lifespan: 5-12 years (varies by species)
Lizards are unique pets that live a relatively long time. Green iguanas may live up to 15 years, and leopard geckos for over 20 years. Lizards live far longer in captivity than in the wild, especially when given good nutrition and in the absence of predators. One key to aiding their longevity is providing the right environment with ideal lighting, space, temperature, water supply, and humidity.
- Average lifespan: 10-14 years
The common goldfish lives longest in an outdoor pond that resembles its natural environment, lasting an average of 10 to 14 years if they have ample space to grow. A goldfish in a bowl or small aquarium is likely to die after two or three years. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest known goldfish lived 43 years.
- Average lifespan: 13-15 years (varies by breed)
Smaller dog breeds live significantly longer than larger breeds, particularly Jack Russell, Parson Russell, Cairn, and West Highland White terriers. According to a study cited by the American Kennel Club, larger dogs grow into adulthood faster and age more quickly than smaller dogs. Along with common-sense steps to keep pets healthy, such as exercise and good veterinary care, experts say to avoid overfeeding them to stave off heart disease, get them neutered or spayed to ward off certain cancers, and maintain their teeth in good health to keep potentially dangerous bacteria out of their bloodstreams.
- Average lifespan: 15 years
Pomeranians are small descendants of Icelandic and Lapland sled dogs. According to PetPom, the oldest known member of the breed lived to age 21. While their story may not be linked to natural longevity, two Pomeranians survived the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, apparently because they were small enough to be carried onboard lifeboats.
- Average lifespan: 15-16 years
Known for living long lives, fluffy white Bichon Frises were used, probably due to their hardiness and small size, as barter by sea-faring sailors in the Middle Ages. Later, they became popular among the French aristocracy during the Renaissance, and “bichon” comes from the French word for pampering.
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- Average lifespan: 15-16 years
Toy poodles are among the breeds that live “appreciably” longer than larger breeds, according to one well-respected study of canine genetics. Given that small dogs outlive bigger dogs, the under-10-inch-tall toy poodle has a longer life expectancy than its miniature and standard-size relatives. Toys’ most dangerous health problems tend to be skin tumors and Cushing’s Disease brought on by overactive adrenal glands.
- Average lifespan: 16 years
Lhasa Apsos were bred to survive in the Himalayan mountains. They are strong, good at conserving heat and staying warm and have large lungs to help them breathe at high altitudes. The progenitors of the breed in the United States were gifts from the Dalai Lama. The oldest known Lhasa Apso died at age 29.
- Average lifespan: 17+ years
Indoor cats long outlive their outdoor counterparts, which survive an average of just two to five years. Indoors, cats do not face the same risk of injury from cars, other animals or accidents, they do not have the same exposure to infectious diseases, and their owners might identify any health problems more readily. But inside, cats need lots of activity to keep fit, and they should not be overfed. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest known cat lived 38 years.
- Average lifespan: 10-20 years (varies by species)
As pets, snakes can live long lives, especially the corn snake, ball python, Burmese python, and king snake. To flourish in captivity, they need an environment with the right temperatures and humidity, a heat source, a cool spot for retreat, a hiding place and structures to climb. One survival mechanism is that snakes can go for weeks without eating by lowering their metabolism. The oldest known snake is believed to be a ball python that lived to be 48.
- Average lifespan: 20 years
Cockatiels, native to semi-arid regions of Australia, are friendly and outgoing. They like to whistle at people, their toys, or their reflections. The oldest known cockatiel lived 29 years. To maximize their lifespan, the birds need to fly outside their cages for exercise, up to 12 hours of sleep at night, and a lot of mental stimulation such as toys and social interaction.
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- Average lifespan: 30+ years
Loud and social, macaws are colorful, with long tail feathers and big beaks. They are native to South and Central American rainforests. In captivity, they need big cages, play space, toys to destroy, and food to forage. If properly cared for, they can outlive their owners. The oldest known macaw is said to have lived to age 112.
- Average lifespan: 30+ years
Parrots live longer than other types of birds, and they have bigger brains and more communication skills as well. Smart and chatty, African Grey parrots are intelligent, form bonds with humans, and can be emotionally demanding. They require attention, socialization, and exercise.
- Average lifespan: 30+ years
The oldest known cockatoo lived to be 83. The birds are needier than other parrots and will scream for attention. Studies of cognitive skills have found that cockatoos can be as smart as human toddlers. Also, like toddlers, they throw tantrums.
- Average lifespan: 15 years (40 years in Japan)
In Japan, koi fish live a remarkably long time compared to elsewhere. In the West, the fish have been bred faster and fed richer diets, shortening their lifespans. Koi also are more likely to hibernate in the cold winters of Japan than elsewhere, and hibernation increases their longevity. The oldest koi in the world lived to be 226.
- Average lifespan: 40+ years (varies by species)
Turtles such as red-eared sliders and painted turtles live for several decades, especially when they have proper heat sources and light. One reason for their long lives is their slow metabolism, which means they suffer fewer diseases and age more slowly. One study found that genes in a western painted turtle worked to protect its organs from oxygen deprivation, potentially providing a clue as to why they live longer than most other creatures.
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