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How to keep your aging pet comfortable through the years

A pet's life is never long enough for those of us who love him or her. However, barring disease or trauma, today a pet can live at least an average of 10 to 12 years due to advances in nutrition and medical care. • Of course, there are many pets that live well past 12 years, depending on the animal type. Older pets have different veterinary and nutritional needs and can benefit greatly from specialized care, health testing and dietary planning. The following tips will hopefully help you keep your senior pet in good shape over the years. So, with good genes and excellent care, you can be sure that your pet's life will be a long and happy one.

Make it easier for your pet to get up and down from the furniture, if that is allowed. By providing a ramp or steps up to your sofa or bed, you can lessen the likelihood of a fall. Some pets may also need to be carried up and down stairs both inside and outside of the house.

Make sure your pet's bedding is extra comfy. Those old bones need warmth and cushioning more than ever. Choose a bed that best fits your pet's needs. Make sure that the bedding is also washable to account for the possibility of incontinence issues.

Give your pet plenty of opportunities to go out to eliminate. The aging bladder may not have the holding capacity of its younger years, so spare your pet the embarrassment of having an accident in the house. Take your pet out several times throughout the day, and do not scold him if an accident does happen.

Provide mental and physical stimulation. Just because your pet is older does not mean that he or she won't still enjoy a fun game or a short walk. Exercise maintains muscle tone, enhances circulation, promotes digestion and helps maintain a proper weight.

Keep brushing those teeth. Dental disease is often the scourge of many older pets. It is critical for your pet's overall health to maintain good oral hygiene. Professional teeth cleaning by a veterinarian has been shown to extend older pets' lives.

Maintain regular at-home and professional grooming throughout your pet's life. Just as with dental care, grooming cannot be ignored. For those pets that required professional grooming early in life, the importance of proper grooming is of utmost importance for good health. For example, even the simple tasks of plucking ears and nail trims help to maintain the quality of an older pet's life. Also, grooming associated with the face, feet and fanny can provide better hygiene in these critical areas on an aging pet. Plus, for those who have their pets professionally groomed, you can see the pick-me-up it provides to your pet, just as a human feels better after a day at the spa.

Dr. Tracy Acosta is a veterinarian at Biloxi, Miss., Animal Hospital.

Signs of aging

Pets start to enter their golden years about age 7. Giant breed dogs enter this stage even earlier, because of their shorter life span. This classification is based on the principle that pets on average age seven times faster than humans, which in turn means that most pets at age 7 are considered as senior or geriatric.

With age, your pet will probably start to slow down, and the aches and pains are often unavoidable. Your pet's joints may be a bit creakier, and he may not tear through the house at his old rate of speed, moving instead at a more dignified pace. Diseases associated with aging are more easily identified if you report small changes in appearance and behavior to your veterinarian or if you take your pet in for checkups twice a year after reaching the age of 7. So, as with your own human health, prevention is paramount when it comes to the health of your older pet.

Besides just having a thorough physical exam to check your pet for stiffness, heart murmurs, bad breath, skin lesions and other typical signs of aging, a geriatric exam usually includes blood work, urinalysis and other diagnostic tests to determine the status of your pet's organs' functions and body chemistries. These tests can help identify diseases in their earliest and most treatable stages. Your veterinarian may also ask if you have seen signs of disorientation or other behavioral changes and may recommend lifestyle changes such as a different diet, an increase in exercise or minimizing stress by creating a more stable routine.

How to keep your aging pet comfortable through the years 03/09/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 9, 2009 4:15pm]

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