There’s a reason they call old age ‘the golden years’ — so many good things can be said of senior pets. As they get older, their personalities fully develop and they tend to mellow out a bit. They also have improved focus, proving that you really can teach an old dog new tricks. Some pets even get distinguished gray fur or whiskers. And, just like people, pets’ needs change with age.

First things first: what does it mean to be “senior”? It changes from one pet to the next, as well as between breeds. Large dogs generally have shorter lifespans, so they reach “senior” status earlier than smaller breeds, while cats tend to live to about 15 years. No matter what, you’ll want to start looking for signs a few years after your pet has matured. One telltale sign is increased lethargy — think more naps than usual.

Since pets can’t communicate their needs, here are a few things you can do to serve your gracefully aging pet:

  1. Monitor their behavior closely. This is the single most important thing you can do, so practice your hawk eyes! A change in behavior — such as sleep patterns, appetite, or mood — can be an indicator of larger physiological changes.
  2. Develop a close relationship with your vet. Cats in particular tend to minimize their symptoms, so it’s good to have a doctor who can detect issues that might fly under the radar. It’s also a great idea for older pets to have twice-yearly physicals, or more if they have a pre-existing health issue.
  3. Be ready and willing to adapt your pet’s exercise routine as his energy level starts to decrease. Try not to let him fall out of shape — exercise promotes joint health and boosts your pet’s mental well-being. Here are more tips.
  4. Take older dogs for more (but not necessarily longer) walks — they may have less bladder control.
  5. Older pets have a harder time jumping and are more prone to falling and injury. Consider adding ramps or stairs to furniture, favorite surveying spots, or inside the car. If your floors are slippery, carpet or traction socks go a long way. Soft bedding soothes tired, achy joints — your pet will thank you! And a litter box with lower sides makes it easier for cats to enter and exit.
  6. Pay extra attention to diet, which is a valuable tool for combating the health issues — like overweight, underweight, heart and kidney disease — that arise with age. Dehydration can also be a problem, which you can prevent with wet food or a pet fountain. Ask your vet, too, about supplements to add to your pet’s food.
  7. Don’t forget oral hygiene! Healthy habits here are one of the best ways to improve your pet’s overall health.
  8. Be mindful about the changes that are happening in your dog or cat. If he’s hard of hearing or has worsening eyesight, learn to approach him more slowly and gently — sudden movements can make them startle easily. Increased caution promotes trust between the two of you.