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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


This question, typically rephrased as, "How long will my cat (or dog, horse, chinchilla, etc.) live," is something veterinarians hear on a daily basis. Of course, nobody can tell you how long a particular individual’s life span will be, but statistics can give us a general idea of what to expect.

The feline life expectancy that I came up with when I was doing the research for my book, Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian, was 10 to 15 years. I averaged the somewhat disparate values I found in several reliable references to come up with these numbers. Another statistic that I commonly use in practice is that cats that spend significant unsupervised time outdoors tend to live to be about 7-years-old, while indoor-only cats can be expected to make it to around 14 years of age.

I can hear your howls of protest, but remember these numbers cover what we typically see across a large population. Owners invariably think of their pampered, ancient kitties and claim that these numbers are way too low, but you can’t forget to include the unfortunate ones that died early from disease or accident.

Here’s a good example. My kitty, Keelor, is still going strong at 17 (knock on wood). He came from a litter of four, one of whom died when he was only a few months old. His sister was euthanized just last year at 16, but his other brother died at a relatively young age (around 10, if I remember correctly) from necrotizing pancreatitis. So if you look at the litter as a whole, they will fall on the low end of that 10 to 15 year range, despite Keelor’s and Scout’s longevity.

The oldest cat I ever had the privilege of knowing was 25. Rosie had lived with her owners ever since she was a kitten, and they didn’t seem the boastful type, so I believed them. Plus, Rosie looked 25 when I knew her! She was a calico domestic long hair, probably a little Persian thrown in there because she had a face like an Ewok. I can still picture her fur sticking up every which way around her pursed little old lady face.

I was her doctor at the end of her life when she was dealing with chronic kidney failure. She probably weighed about four pounds, had no teeth, and would have walked with a cane if she could. She still had a lot of fight left in her though. We even managed to get her through a particularly nasty kidney infection with a course of imipenem (an intravenous antibiotic reserved for the worst of the worst) and bought her another six months of good quality of life. I remember her owners carrying her into the clinic on her pillow to begin this treatment. She was the queen and knew it.

I hope I have half of Rosie’s spunk when I’m her "age" … which would be 116 by my calculations!

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: Old Cat With Attitude by puck90

 old cat, how long do cats live, cat lifespan

Comments  21

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  • Life Span
    08/08/2011 07:08am

    Unfortunately, there are diseases kitties get as they age. Hyperthyroidism is very treatable. Chronic kidney failure cannot be reversed, but is many things can be done to slow the progression of the disease.

    I had one gray girl of steel that was adopted when she was already hyperthyroid. Her heart was slightly enlarged from being hyperthyroid for so long and had bad teeth. She had pellets (or b-bs) lodged in her shoulder, but seemed to have been there for along while and didn't seem to be doing any damage. She went to Camp Iodine, had a dental and did well for years. We figured her at about 12 years old at the time.

    I'm not sure if CRF or cancer finally took her, but I'm convinced she was about 21 years old when I lost her. She was, after all, a gray girl of steel.

    Ivy Elizabeth was 18 1/2 and was lost to what was basically old age and pancreatitis.

    Winston Alexander was 14 and was lost to lymphocytic lymphoma.

    Darlene Yvonne was a month short of 16 when she was lost to cancer.

    A kitty with good vet and home care can easily get to be 20 years old if cancer or CRF doesn't rear their ugly heads.

  • 08/08/2011 04:17pm

    I love the names of your cats! at least you knew what died from. No one could tell me with any certainty what my Pepe Francois died of at the age of 5. It was so sudden I was devastated.

  • 08/08/2011 09:40pm

    I am glad to see that I'm not the only person out there whose cats have middle names, haha. :)

  • Francois died at 5
    08/08/2011 04:40pm

    You know I never shared this with anyone and feel relieved to have this forum to do so. I've had this deep-rooted concern/suspicion that something went afoul when my Pepe Francois was at vet or hospital. He was only five years old. One evening when I came home from work, he didn't greet me at the door as usual. Then he didn't want to eat dinner. Then he slept under the bed (which I didn't realize until following morning) and wouldn't eat breakfast next morning. At that instant I rushed him to the vet. They found nothing wrong and released him. Just as I was putting him back in his stroller he coughed up saliva, fell to his side and kept breathing with his mouth open. I told the vet and they immediately hooked him up to all kinds of machines. Hours went by and they said he needs to go to emergency clinic. Of course with rush hour traffic it took me almost an hour. I knew he was in pain. I went to the Emergency clinic on Dixie Highway. They knew he was on the way and seemed to take their time in taking him back where he was put once again on a respirator. An eternity, or 30 minutes or so went by and a vet came out. His first words "he's acting like he's dying" and explained all the procedures that would need to be performed and that I had to pay the $1,100 up front before proceeding. Too shocked to yell at him "Are you telling me he's not being treated because you're waiting for damn payment???I would have done it the second I walked in the door!" I pulled out my credit card so fast like a cowboy whips out his pistol from holster. Little did I know he was dying!!! I was told I could not stand next to him in the ER. He was a scaredy cat and I knew the second he came to he would die of fear. Not even two hours befor I got home I received a call that he went into cardiac arrest. "Do you want us to perform CPR? the cost is...." OF COURSE I WANT YOU TO DO CPR---YOU DO EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TO! This was my baby boy. He was my child. Then I received the good news that he was revived. Thank God. But 20 minutes later, he was pronounced dead. I rushed back to the animal hospital. Apparently his lungs were full of fluid. NO ONE COULD TELL ME what happened. At the first vet it looked like he had a little bit of fluid. I asked for a necropsy but at Emergency hospital they said it would just cost a lot more money. I was so overwhelmed with grief I just wanted to hold him. They brought him wrapped in a soft pink blanket. He was pure white with a green and blue eye (but not deaf) but his eyes were closed. I had just lost my guardian angel. I thought perhaps he just ingested something like his brother had done once and would recover. Never did I imagine he would die within hours.

    I only wish I knew what he died of. I feel I could have some closure. I wrote a blog just for his memorial. It was my outlet after two days of crying, grieving. It was my way to remember him, his expressions his beautiful face. He was so photogenic. He was my baby boy. http://pepefrancois.blogspot.com

  • 08/08/2011 07:22pm

    MiamiAngel, I'm terribly sorry about your Pepe Francois. It's hard to imagine going through that.

    My Flossie Fiona had a similar episode. Our regular vet had stayed very late to get her stabilized before sending us to the emergency clinic where she could be monitored throughout the night. I felt so sorry for the emergency vet who had to deliver the bad news when I walked in at 2 AM. He was as upset as I was.

    I regret not asking for a necropsy, but, as you said, you're so taken-aback that you can't think straight when you hear the bad news.

  • 08/08/2011 10:38pm

    I'm sorry to hear about Pepe Francois. He was absolutely gorgeous... I love odd-eyed white kitties.

    Not knowing what happened is hard. I lost a cat to a prolonged illness that went undiagnosed in spite of much testing (last veterinarian suspected cancer), and I've always kind of wished I'd requested a necropsy.

    I'm wondering if Pepe may have had a cardiac issue. Occult ("hidden") heart disease is fairly common in cats. Some cats have murmurs or other obvious indicators that something may be amiss, but in many cases there are no signs of disease until a serious complication arises. One of mine has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and we had no idea until he suffered an adverse reaction to a medication and went into congestive heart failure at seven. He refused to eat (VERY uncharacteristic- this cat will happily inhale anything he can manage to fit in his mouth), and seemed to be breathing ever so slightly harder than normal. The ER was busy that night, and they attempted to give us the boot several times because T "looked fine". I insisted on sticking around until they found time to squeeze him in. The doctor was shocked when he got around to listening to his chest... even more so when the films showed pulmonary edema (fluid in his lungs).

    Heart disease is nasty stuff.

  • 08/08/2011 11:07pm

    ETA: Because some forms of heart disease (including HCM) are genetic, if Pepe's brother is a littermate, it might be worth considering an echocardiogram at some point.

  • 12/30/2011 11:45pm

    Something very similar happened to my precious kitty this past October. He was a himalayan and only 3 years old! I now believe that it was an asthma attack and from what I understand CPR is not recommended for asthma, although, I did in desperation, try it. It was tragic and horrible and I will never be the same after having to watch him die. I feel for you.

  • 03/23/2013 02:00pm

    So sorry to hear about your cat..i just went through it last night my cat Bonzai at 10 years old, took him to the vet twice and he could not be helped I had to make the tough decision of putting him to sleep to stop the pain.I prayed for him that God would take care of him and said my goodbyes today is the first day without him I know it will get better but it is tough thank you for your story it has encourage me. http://www.catster.com/cats/612106

  • 03/23/2013 02:02pm

    So sorry to hear about your cat..i just went through it last night my cat Bonzai as 10 years old, tool him to the vet twice and he could be helped I had to make the tough decision of putting him to sleep to stop the pain..I prayed for him that God would take care of him and said my goodbyes today is the first day without him I know it will get better but it is tough thank you for your story it has encourage me.

  • 03/23/2013 02:04pm

    So sorry to hear about your cat..i just went through it last night my cat Bonzai as 10 years old, tool him to the vet twice and he could be helped I had to make the tough decision of putting him to sleep to stop the pain..I prayed for him that God would take care of him and said my goodbyes today is the first day without him I know it will get better but it is tough thank you for your story it has encourage me.

  • 08/10/2014 02:45pm

    This comment has been flagged as inappropriate.

  • How Long Do Cats Live?
    08/21/2011 05:34pm

    As a long-time foster mom, I've learned a lot about kitty illnesses, unfortunately. I know what distemper looks like after losing six adorable kittens pulled from a filthy shelter. I seriously doubt if they had been exposed to distemper before entering that shelter. I know what FIP looks like after seeing my darling one-year-old boy suffer with it. I've seen the effects of blocked urinary tracts, FIV, FeLV, etc., and must agree that although I've had cats live as long as 20, the overall average might be around 14. Since my group rescues kitties on "death row" in the local shelters, our average lifetime age is probably even lower. We take the "rejects" and even if they are never adopted, they are in an environment with lots of love and all the vet care they need. Right now I'm fostering 14 of these "rejects," ranging in age from 1 year to 11, and I love them all!

  • My Baby Died
    01/10/2013 12:50pm

    I don't know what made Hobbs sick. He started drinking alot and eating alot of table food and his own food. He quit hunting at night and started to sleep in bed with us at night. He slowly lost weight over the summer.
    When we returned from Mexico last week he had lost so much weight in that week he was just bones.
    Over the next week he quit eating then drinking and started peeing on the floor. He got an infected mouth. I tried to feed him pedealyte by srynge but he was so far gone. He didn't groom or make any sound for the last three days. We took him to the vet and they said his organs were shutting down. We said we didn't want him to suffer and they put him to sleep. It was horrible I didn't expect the three needles to work in 30 seconds. I wasn't ready and It broke our hearts. I can't stop crying. I wish I knew what made him so sick.

    Hobbes was 14 years old. I have relationships that have lasted less time.

    Bye Hobbes - I love you!

  • 07/11/2013 10:42pm

    My cat is an outdoors cat, he's been living for about 11-13 years.. He is looking very skinny and losing weight. He usually loves treats but won't take any I offer him. He doesn't get up to come into the house he just sits at my back porch and I have to carry him in. He's eating a lot. What should I do?

  • 07/12/2013 03:23pm

    He needs to see a veterinarian for a physical exam and probably a few diagnostic tests.

  • 07/31/2013 10:43pm

    My 17 year old cat has not been eating the past few days. I took her to the vet who did blood work and said that all looked good except her kidneys may be starting to go into kidney failure. I didn't think it was at the point of being critical, that it would be a gradual thing, but she still isn't eating. He gave her a cortisone/B12 shot which seems to have had no effect. This evening she had an episode of coughing/wheezing and I convinced myself that maybe she just has a big hairball obstruction and it isn't the kidney failure thing. Besides the labwork, the vet really didn't even examine her, listen to her vitals, etc. Do you think I could be right or do you think that she is rapidly declining with the kidney disorder, coming on quickly? I don't know what to do. I know she isn't going to last for long not eating. I did buy her Pedialyte and put it in her water tonight and I tried to give her a little bit of olive oil, in case of hairball issue. Am I just deluding myself that it could just be a hairball issue? Should I take her back to the vet. Is she in pain and should I accept that it is a kidney disorder and take her to be euthanized? Does kidney failure happen suddenly like this has seemed to come one? I did just recently put her on a new flea med, Revolution. Could that have caused her issues? Could she have had heartworms and the meds killed the worms and are now killing her? What to do?

  • My quick and short story.
    08/02/2013 09:14pm

    I was at work one day when I received a phone call from my wife that my cat "Ada" was being mauled by a dog. I immediately stopped what I was doing and sped to the house. When i got there, there was a police officer and a couple of neighbors just watching my cat getting killed. I stopped the car in the middle of the street and ran as fast as I could to my cat. She was underneath an SUV while the dog had her by her thigh. The cop from what I was told had tried to mace the dog but he managed to mace my cat, a neighbor and the inside of my neighbors car. Hence the reason why supposedly they were not doing anything about the situation. I quickly reacted by grabbing hold of the dogs neck where a human's adams apple would be at, and squeezed as hard as I could with my fingers to choke it. It worked but now he wanted to attack me. At that moment my cat limped her way from underneath the SUV and I am not lying or exaggerating when I say she tried biting the dog's leg. He switched his attention back to the cat but when he did I instantly grabbed hold of his genitals and squeezed while lifting him off the ground. He squealed loudly and began running and licking his private parts. When I looked at my cat, I will never forget the look on her face. She was dying, in pain, breathing very hard and fast. Every time I tried grabbing her she cried in pain. I took off my shirt and wrapped her with it. Carried her to the car and took off to the vet. Unfortunately it was a Sunday afternoon and it was "closed". There was a car there and I figured there had to be somebody inside. I started pounding on the door as hard as I could. I kept going from the door to my car to check on my cat. The last time i did that, she had pooped on the floor and that was when I panicked. I started kicking the door and pushing against it. I was going to save my cat, even if I had to do it myself. But at that moment a lady came to the door and yelled she was going to call the cops. I yelled to please save my cat and she walked off. I thought she was calling the cops but then the veterinarian himself opened the door. I took him to the car and he quickly took her inside and gave her some pain medicine. In the end, I payed about $700 and my cat spent 3 days at the Vet before I could take her home and continue to care for her. She had broken bones, gashes all over he body and a couple puncture wounds. She survived. The vet told me that if I had not reacted quickly, she wouldve died since her body had already gone into shock, hence the poop. Also, it was a miracle he was there on a Sunday afternoon. He told me he was there performing surgery on a dog. In the end, my cat was saved. She is good and well now. Just has a bit of anxiety when loud noises happen. Or when the fan is on for some reason. But other than that, she is back to normal. As for the vet, I see him every other day since he actually eats at my restaurant now and from time to time I tell him the tab is on the house.... He has never accepted my gratitude and continues to pay his tab.

  • 08/02/2013 09:16pm

    Oh... and she is currenty 12 years old and im sure she will be living another 12 as strong as she is.

  • My cats life length
    01/22/2014 03:01pm

    That assumption about outdoor cats is wrong. My cats have been outdoor for almost 9 years.

  • 15-year old cat
    07/06/2014 05:42pm

    I'm not sure of my cat's age because I took her in when she was abandoned. She seemed to be a fairly young cat so I guessed she was about a year old when she came to me. That would make her 15 1/2 now. She has had digestive troubles her entire life and uses probiotics when she has a flair up. Recently she had another bout of vomiting which seemed worse than usual. Since then she seems to want food but will eat very little. She is losing weight. Based on the reading I've done, I suspect kidney failure. I'm taking a wait and see approach since she has been sick so often during the past 14-15 years. What do you think?

  • 07/06/2014 10:02pm

    It's impossible to say what might be going on and what could be done to help without an exam and probably some lab work.

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