Thanks to advances in feline medicine, nutrition, and care, our house cats are living longer, healthier lives. And it’s a pet parent’s responsibility to help their kitty reach those golden years by giving him proper care for each life stage.
So, if you’ve ever found yourself wondering how long cats live, the answer is largely dependent on how you and your vet work together to approach your cat’s nutrition, vaccination, oral health, and environmental needs as he changes through the years.
Here’s everything you need to know about the lifespan of cats.
What’s the Average Lifespan of a Cat?
The average cat lifespan is between 13-17 years. Some lucky felines have been known to live 20 years or more—the world record holder for oldest cat on record, adorably named Creme Puff, lived to be a whopping 38 years old.
Many factors contribute to how long a cat will live. These include:
It’s thought that mixed-breed cats are affected by hereditary illnesses less frequently than purebred cats, and so their average lifespan is typically one to two years longer. Breed-specific lifespans vary too, so purebred cat parents should take their kitty’s breed into consideration as well. For example: Maine Coon cats have an average lifespan of 10-13 years, while a Siamese can live to be 15-20.
Indoor Cat vs. Outdoor Cat Life Expectancy
Unfortunately, cats that are allowed unsupervised and unlimited outdoor access will find their average life expectancy cut in half. Outdoor cats are more at risk for:
Infectious disease (from wildlife and/or other cats)
Trauma (from predators and/or vehicles)
Parasites (fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites)
Though some cats will benefit emotionally and behaviorally from supervised outdoor activities such as walking on a leash or exploring outdoor enclosures, most cats can be very happy as indoor-only pets in a properly enriched environment. And these cats tend to live much longer than those allowed to roam.
Life Stages of Cats
As your cat ages, he goes through different life stages that affect his behavior and health needs.
Kitten (Birth to 1 year)
A kitten’s job is to grow and to learn how to interact with his environment. This young, playful life stage is incredibly important for setting your cat up for success. Though most kittens learn bathroom and feeding habits without much help, it’s also important to socialize kittens and engage in appropriate play to set them up for behavioral success.
It’s important that kittens are fed a diet specifically formulated for growth, as they have higher caloric needs at this age to help them grow big and strong. Appropriate diets will have an Association of American Feed Control Officials nutritional adequacy statement on the label that states the diet provides “complete nutrition for growing kittens.”
Kittenhood is also the time their immune system is introduced to protective vaccines, such as FVRCP, rabies, and FeLV vaccines. Older kittens (6 months to 1 year) should be spayed or neutered to reduce the risk of certain cancers and life-limiting behavioral issues, such as urine marking or spraying.
Young Adult (1-6 years)
Young adult cats are still very active and playful, but they are no longer growing physically. They have reduced calorie needs and should be eating adult cat food at this time. Careful management of their weight will reduce the likelihood of health conditions, such as arthritis and diabetes, in the future.
It’s important to keep cats up to date on their vaccines and routine examinations, even though this age group is relatively resistant to illness. That said, certain diseases such as asthma and lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) are more commonly diagnosed at this age. Catching these issues early can lead to much more successful long-term management, and baseline bloodwork can help establish normal values to compare to as your cat ages.
Mature Adult (6-10 years)
Mature adult cats may start slowing down—they won’t play as often and can move into a more sedentary lifestyle.
Changes in behavior may be noted with regards to litter box use and nighttime activity levels. For example, some older cats will be more active late at night when they didn’t used to be and then sleep more during the day. Or, cats that were once fastidious about their bathroom habits may no longer cover their poop or may go outside the litter box.
These can be related to arthritis, cognitive dysfunction, or even early kidney or digestive issues. Mature cats should have routine bloodwork done every one to two years to monitor for early changes in the kidneys, liver, or thyroid.
Pet parents need to monitor grooming behavior, hairballs, and weight changes closely. Attention should be paid to oral health, and dental cleanings should be considered at this age at the discretion of your veterinarian, especially in cats resistant to routine tooth-brushing.
Senior (10+ years)
The transition from mature adult to senior cat can vary depending on the cat. Some cats in this age range will remain spry and well-muscled for years, while others will have more illnesses and degenerative disease.
It’s commonly recommended for cats 10 and older to have bloodwork and urine testing done every six months, as organ health can change quickly. Older cats are also prone to blood pressure issues, which can lead to strokes and blindness. Blood pressure can be easily monitored at your cat’s annual checkup.
Senior cats often slow down more than they did as a mature adult, which can be a sign of untreated arthritis pain. Discuss any changes in behavior in your senior cat with your veterinarian.
How to Help Your Cat Live Longer
While we all wish there was a magic elixir to make our cats live forever, there’s no way to cheat death and some illnesses are unavoidable. But there are quite a few things pet parents can do to help their cat live longer.
Stay up-to-date on vaccines: Vaccines targeted for your cat’s lifestyle are imperative to preventing some diseases that are hard or impossible to treat. It’s important to remember that indoor cats need their vaccinations too.
Keep up with preventative care: Cats are very good at hiding symptoms of illness, so annual checkups with your vet and routine blood testing can go a long way to detecting issues early on. The better relationship your vet has with your cat, the more likely they will be able to key into changes during an exam. Be sure to discuss any change in your cat’s behavior, even if it seems minor.
Monitor your cat’s weight: There are many life-limiting issues brought about by obesity in cats, including severe arthritis and diabetes. Ensuring your cat is eating a well-balanced diet appropriate for this life stage is extremely important. Feed your cat in measured amounts (meal feeding is best, especially for multi-cat households) so that you can adjust intake to fit their individual metabolism.
Featured Image: iStock/Magui-rfajardo
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