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Q: We just had our cat put to sleep; he was 20 years and 4 months old. How long do cats and dogs usually live? – L.S., Bradenton, Fla.

A: I’m so sorry to hear about your cat, but at least he enjoyed a long life, longer than most. Increasingly, though, cats are living (and in good health) to age 20 or longer.

While there is no national database on pet health, Banfield the Pet Hospital maintains an amazing database, which includes information from over 800 hospitals. It can likely provide an accurate snapshot. According to the Banfield State of Pet Health 2013 report, pets are living longer: The average lifespan of a cat in 2012 was 12 years, which has increased by 10 percent since 2002, adding a full year to a cat’s life. The average lifespan of a dog in 2012 was 11 years, a 4 percent increase adding a half a year to a dog’s average lifespan.

Additional findings in the 2013 report include the impact of spaying and neutering on a pet’s lifespan. Data reveals neutered male cats live, on average, 62 percent longer than unneutered males, and spayed female cats live, on average, 39 percent longer than unspayed female cats. An increase in longevity was also seen in dogs. Neutered male dogs live, on average, 18 percent longer than their unneutered counterparts, and spayed female dogs live, on average, 23 percent longer than unspayed females.

We also know that being proactive by taking a pet for regular preventive checkups to maintain good health and diagnose illness early when it may be easier (and less expensive) to treat, adds to longevity and quality of life. I believe quality of life is what’s most important for our pets; it’s not how long they live but how well they live.

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Q: I read your recent column on preventive care. Does teeth cleaning matter? – R.S., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

A: “Absolutely,” says Dr. Kate Knutson, president of the American Animal Hospital Association. “The secret to effective oral care is starting with a clean mouth. Otherwise, you may be brushing on abscesses (infected teeth). It may feel like taking a scrub brush to an open wound. It hurts, so no wonder the pet doesn’t take to brushing.”

Knutson, of Bloomington, Minn., is an enthusiastic supporter of X-rays for pets’ teeth for similar reasons that human dentists X-ray our teeth. Since X-rays in animals are done under anesthesia, Knutson notes that it doesn’t cost much extra money to then have clinic staff conduct a cleaning.

“Appropriate dental care prevents bacteria from building up, which could otherwise lead to disease,” she adds. “Also, living with bad teeth and gums is painful. For example, many cats (and small dogs) aren’t being finicky, the truth is it may hurt to eat.”

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Q: Why doesn’t my beagle bark? He howls (a lot) and makes sounds like he’s talking, but he doesn’t bark. – F.G., Knoxville, Tenn.

A: Howling is the default for many beagles. Or maybe your pup is doing sort of a howl/bark fusion you call a howl.

You didn’t mention your dog’s age. Sometimes it takes a while for puppies to “grow into” their bark. Newly adopted dogs may take some time to muster the confidence to bark.

Believe me, I know a few beagle owners who wish they were in your shoes!

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to petworld@stevedale.tv. Include your name, city and state.