Things you can do to help senior dogs and cats live comfortably.

Cats and dogs are living longer, and sometimes presenting care issues for their owners.

The average life expectancy of a cat has nearly doubled since 1930, with indoor cats living an average of 8 to 16 years, according to the Peoria (Ill.) Humane Society. The average life expectancy of a dog is 12.8 years, but the number varies widely depending on breed and size.

"Pets are living a lot longer. They get better nutrition, better medical care and aren't out wandering neighborhoods having accidents," says Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, coordinator for community practice at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

Here are some tips on caring for elderly pets, from Ruch-Gallie:

  • Schedule regular checkups with a vet, and have blood work done periodically. The tests can catch kidney and other ailments early.
  • Make a list of what your animal is capable of when he's young; then watch for signs of deterioration so you can catch problems early.
  • Give your pet senior diet products, available from many pet food companies. These special foods contain supplements that help ease arthritis and are good for sensitive stomachs.
  • It's essential to provide fresh water. Cats are particularly finicky and won't touch "old" water.
  • Consider giving your pet supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin, which are good for healthy joints. And nonsteroid anti-inflammatories can help keep them moving and manage pain.
  • Watch for fearful behavior, which sometimes shows up as aggression.
  • Some animals get cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is similar to Alzheimer's. Symptoms include disorientation, less social interaction, altered sleep patterns and house soiling, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Treatments are available to manage the symptoms.
  • Continue playing with your pet, and give it regular exercise. But don't overdo it.
  • Groom your pet often. As animals get older, the natural oils aren't distributed as well. This will also help you feel suspicious lumps early.
  • Consider treating them to massage, acupuncture and physical therapy, which are good to keep them mobile.
  • Don't let them become overweight. It can contribute to diabetes and cause joint pain.
  • Dental hygiene is important. Start when they are young by brushing their teeth and getting them regular checkups.
  • Keep their environment enriched with interesting things to look at, and which allows them to safely move around -- no dangerous stairs or high perches.
  • Talk to your veterinarian early on about warnings that indicate an animal no longer has any quality of life, so you can plan a comfortable, rather than painful, death.

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