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Most breeds of dogs live between 10-15 years and the average lifespan of cats is 20. Many pets do live to a ripe old age, but often experience the same aches and pains of old age that we suffer from. While it's impossible to breathe new life into an old pet, there are ways to reduce suffering and provide comfort to tired, old friends.

SEE THE VET
Once your dog or cat enters mid-life, it's a good idea to let your vet look at her at least once each year. "Middle age" in dogs is generally considered to be around the age of seven, and 8-10 in cats. Regular checkups will allow your vet to more easily identify changes and illness based on a baseline examination.

OLD AGE HIDDEN CONCERNS
High blood pressure is just as dangerous to your pet, as it is to you. Be sure to encourage your vet to check your pet's blood pressure on each visit. High blood pressure in canines can lead to blindness and strokes, and is often a symptom of high thyroid levels in felines.

EXERCISE
Keep your pet's paws moving daily! Exercise will help to keep your aging pet slim and flexible, possibly staving off age-related disorders like arthritis and digestive problems. Walk your dog for at least 20-minutes, twice daily. Cats should be played with as often as they will allow.

KEEP AN EYE ON THE SCALE
The number one problem in the pet population is obesity. Age related disorders like arthritis and heart disease tend to keep dogs less active. Check out your dog's figure by placing your hands on either side of her ribcage. You should be able to feel the rib bones. If you can't, put your friend on a diet. Reducing treats and switching to a low fat, high fiber diet is usually all that's necessary to shed extra pounds.

Cats can suffer from obesity, as well. For overweight cats, try a low calorie cat food and cut the treats out altogether.

DIGESTION
Poor digestion is a common problem in aging dogs. Adding more fiber to the diet can help an older dog better absorb needed nutrients. High fiber dog foods and treats are available commercially, as are fiber pills.

TRY FRESH FOODS
Holistic veterinarians often recommend feeding pets vegetables, fruits and grains to help boost the immune system. Sample a few of your favorite veggies and see if your dog will allow you to replace 1/2 cup of their daily intake of dry dog food with a fresh fruit or vegetable. Most dogs enjoy white rice, which is easily substituted for dry food.

Cats are less likely to enjoy a change in diet and are most often finicky eaters. Most cats however, do enjoy sprouts. Try mixing them with their regular food once per day.

DON'T FORGET THE VITAMINS
Instead of slipping your dog a biscuit, try rewarding your animal with a pet vitamin. Most vitamins are low in calories and are flavored so that dogs are eager to take them from you.

WATER
Many pets naturally drink less as they age, which can lead to dehydration. Try keeping several water bowls in different areas of the house to encourage your pet to lap it up. If you have a dog that doesn't get around much anymore, be sure to set a bowl close to her sleeping quarters. You can monitor how much water your pet is downing by measuring what's left in the bowls at night.

CLOSE TO HOME
Many aging pets lose some of the their hearing as they age, making them more vulnerable to accidents. Keep older pets confined indoors or on a leash when outside to prevent such occurences.

PAIN
Many dogs and some cats suffer degenerative disorders which leave them in pain and uncomfortable. Dogs often feel the benefits of aspirin therapy or a holistic alternative. Daily exercise, especially swimming, can help dogs reduce painful inflammation and remain active.

BLADDER PROBLEMS
Many older pets need to be let out more frequently. Incontinence is a common problem of both dogs and cats. Be sure to allow your dog out immediately after eating and drinking and before bedtime. Older dogs often require trips outside every few hours. Doggie diapers and floor mats can help your dog ease into old age more gracefully.

Older cats should be given several litter boxes in various areas of the house to accommodate their needs.

WHEN TO VISIT THE VET
Older pets are prone to a host of minor diseases and ailments. Contact your vet immediately if you notice any of the following:

LUMPS. Any unusual lump deserves your vet's attention. Lumps can be cancer, infection or a warning sign to several other disorders.

OUT OF BREATH. If your cat or dog often appears short of breath, she should be taken in at once. Heart problems often present themselves this way initially.

APPETITE CHANGES. Kidney failure, the flu and several other disorders may become apparent through your pet's eating habits. Pets who do not feel well, generally don't eat.

WEIGHT LOSS. Although pets do commonly lose weight as they age, any dramatic weight loss should be brought to your vet's attention.

EXCESSIVE WATER CONSUMPTION can indicate kidney disease and diabetes. If your pet (especially dogs) is drinking and urinating more, it may be time for a checkup.