Help your four-legged pals prosper so they remain ready to play for years to come.
Credit: Photo: Na Kim

Pets are living longer thanks to advances in veterinary care, so extending their healthy years is more important than ever. To do so, work to improve their "healthspan." "That's the period of life spent in good health, free from the chronic diseases and disabilities of aging," according to Matt R. Kaeberlein, PhD, professor of pathology at the University of Washington, Seattle, and co-founder of the Dog Aging Project.

"Our pets experience nearly all of the same effects of aging that we do," Kaeberlein says. But exactly how fast or slow animals age depends on their breed, size, and individual circumstances. Cats are considered "mature" at 7, senior at 11, and geriatric at 15. In dogs, it's more variable, and small dogs age more slowly than bigger ones.



Understanding those variables is what the Dog Aging Project is all about. "Our goal is to maximize healthspan by directly targeting the mechanisms of aging and preventing the progression of age-related diseases," Kaeberlein says. Research at the Dog Aging Project and the Morris Animal Foundation's Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, with more than 3,000 dogs enrolled, yields promising anti-aging strategies for all pets. Here, five tips to help your furry friends keep a spring in their step.

Credit: Illustration: Na Kim

• Watch their weight: This is especially important as pets hit middle age, which is when they start putting on weight. Extra weight leads to common age-related issues, from diabetes and heart disease to joint problems.

• Adjust their diet: "Metabolism changes as an animal ages," says Kaeberlein, who consulted with Purina Pro Plan to formulate food for senior pets based on peer-reviewed research. "Ask the vet about your pet's evolving needs, or consult with a veterinary nutritionist," suggest Kelly Diehl, DVM, a researcher with the Morris Animal Foundation.

• Don't skip checkups: Pets should go in once a year—more frequently if they have chronic issues. if you spot changes—a new limp, lump, or behavior—call the vet. Don't forget dental checkups, since untreated oral problems can lead to to other health issues.

Credit: Photo: Na Kim

• Stay active: "Even at older ages, it's important to give your pet regular moderate exercise," says Kaeberlein. "You may need to adjust the impact level," Diehl adds.

• Play with them: "Their emotional well-being feeds into their physical well-being," says Diehl. It's also a chance for you to check for any physical issues—new lumps, bumps, and pains that your vet should know about.