How long do cats live? It’s a fair question to ask. Truthfully the answer varies depending on circumstances.
You might be like me, in that you’ve had a cat before, or you might have just found your furry-friend and want to know how long you can expect to have their company.
In this article, I’ll explain a few key areas that can influence your cat’s life expectancy, and how you can best increase the number of years you’ll share. And, what to expect when it comes to saying goodbye.
So, Dr, how long have I got? It’s easy to make a joke or play down this anxiety-provoking question, but many cat owners want or need to know. In all honesty, there’s no single answer.
On average cats can live to 16 years old, with some only passing away as early as 2 years old. I’ve known some remarkable cats to make it to the grand old age of 23.
What causes such a variation in lifespan? Well, genetics, lifestyle, food, illnesses, surgeries, and accidents, all play a part.
When it comes to working out just how old your cat is, there’s some maths involved. There’s a misconception that has stemmed from the so-called ‘7 year-rule’, that one cat year equals 7 human years. This simply isn’t true.
Vets also have an age classification where cats are grouped into 3 categories; kitten, adult, and senior, though some vets will also use the term geriatric for especially old felines.
If you want to know when cats stop growing, I wrote an article on that previously.
Do they vary that much? You bet!
An outdoor cat ages significantly faster than their indoor cousins once they’re both passed the 2-year-old marker.
Why? It’s about the environment and stress. Cats who predominantly lead outdoor lives have harder lives, face greater risks and dangers, whilst their indoors companions live longer due to a much cushier lifestyle.
That being said, cats who are feral or have lived outdoors a lot before the age of 2 can then have their lifespan greatly increased by being given a better home, nutritional food and somewhere warm to sleep.
Is there a lot of differences between your cat that curls up on you at night, and that beast outside that stirs up the neighborhood? Yes, and no. Genetically, no, they’re much the same, but in lifestyle terms, yes.
As mentioned above, domesticated cats are known to live longer due to the quality of their environment. Feral cats are at a distinct disadvantage here, they go hungry, sleep rough, lack medical care, and are often abused by angry humans.
They have lives that are under constant threat and exist in hostile environments; this can reduce their life expectancy to as little as 4-6 years.
Some cat breeds are known to live longer than others, for example, larger breeds like Russian Blues, or American Shorthair live as long as 15-20years due to being bred for a more robust life.
Whereas exotics, like the American Wirehair, for example, are less likely to see old-bones, this is in part due to an intense breeding program to guarantee breed characteristics.
When it comes to having a feline with perfectly healthy DNA, there’s no such thing. Despite being born with a pedigree as long as your arm, your little fluff-ball may be carrying secrets in its DNA.
Those secrets are what makes cats more vulnerable to illnesses or diseases. Rescue cats and kittens are more likely to have a reduced lifespan due to unknown ancestry and inherited weaknesses.
This is a key element for any cat’s life. From the early stages of kitten-hood, through adulthood and into their twilight years, being fed quality and nutritional food is tantamount to ensuring a healthy cat, which means a longer life.
Cats that have to scrounge, or exist on scraps, are more likely to suffer from dietary based illnesses, medical conditions or diseases.
These situations may be treatable with changes to diet, regular medication or elective surgeries, some are not and will have serious consequences.
Good food isn’t enough to guarantee a healthy cat, they need much more maintenance than that. Annual changes in their coats can lead to hairballs, surprisingly these can cause fatalities.
Regular grooming of fur and brushing of teeth is a great start, also regular parasite treatments are highly recommended, as these lower the risks of blood-borne disease transference from fleas, ticks or worms.
This is one area that you will have next to no control over. Cats can and do become ill, just like us, and whilst most causes can be treated with medication, or surgery, there are some that cannot.
Cats can get a dose of the snuffles, it will pass, but it can worsen if they’re not cared for properly. They can also develop more serious infections like cancers, blood diseases, or any number of other terminal illnesses.
If you suspect that your cat is feeling unwell, the best thing you can do is take them to the vet. Once assessed, your vet will prescribe the best course of action to get kitty back on her feet and feeling like herself.
Something I wasn’t aware of was the long-term health effects of desexing. That giving our cats one little snip or a nip-and-tuck can actually remove a whole bunch of problems, saving them and us from a load of grief in the process.
Cats who have been spayed or neutered are less likely to roam, which means they’re less likely to be hurt or injured by vehicles or other cats. It also reduces anxiety and frustration, avoids catfights, and it reduces the risk of ovarian or testicular cancers!
As humans, we’re used to hearing the phrase ‘all surgery carries inherent risks’ whenever you go to the hospital. Sadly, this is also the case when our beloved fur-child goes to the vet for spaying/neutering or something more serious.
All surgery, regardless of species, is risky and can cause life-changing effects, or in the worst-case death.
Does that mean your cat should never have surgery? Not at all. Regardless of why your cat might need an operation, you should discuss this with your vet thoroughly.
Until you are satisfied that you know what the procedure is, how it will benefit your cat, and that you fully understand how it will affect your cat’s life.
If at any point you’re not satisfied, I would recommend you get a second opinion, or seek further information from reputable sources, like other vets or veterinary websites/journals, etc.
These are unfortunate, but not all are fatal! I’ve known several cats that have been in terrible accidents that have resulted in multiple surgeries. They then went on to live exceptionally long lives.
If your cat, or one you find, has been in any form of an accident they should see a vet immediately. Don’t worry if the cat does not belong to you, most owners who have microchipped their cat will be contacted immediately.
It’s far more important that the cat receives the appropriate medical attention as quickly as possible.If your cat is injured then you may be in for a long period of recovery, or a change in their lifestyle.
Cats that have been hit by cars can become timid, anxious, and along with their injuries, this stress can reduce their lifespan by a year or two.
If you have ever adopted a cat then you might want to know how the shelter guessed their age. Several factors give indicators:
Cats have phenomenal eyesight, clear and bright eyes denote younger cats, where those with foggy or eyes with discharge indicate an older cat.
Regardless of the breed all healthy and active cats should have a nice covering of body-fat and good muscle tone. The older cats get the more sedate their lives become, the less muscle they have.
It’s the old adage of ‘use it or lose it’. Again, genetics can play a part here, breeds that are built for work will be bigger and stronger, whilst those from warmer climates will be slighter in build.
A good set of chompers is just the beginning. The younger the cat, the cleaner the teeth! Look for pearly whites; if you see stained or discolored teeth you have an older cat.
Pro Tip: Some cats can have genetic diseases that weaken their teeth, this can show up in within the first 3-5 years of life, these teeth may be missing or severely decayed even in a young cat.
Smooth, sleek and glossy are all characteristics of healthy young cats. Felines that have been roughing it will have coarse fur, it may even be dry and flaky, and older cats will have a few dignified white or grey hairs peeking through.
It’s a sad reality that our fur-children won’t live as long as we do, and at some point, there will be a parting of ways. Truth be told, you don’t get much say in how or when this will happen.
There are a few tell-tale signs that might give you a hint that your older cat is approaching this appointed time.
When kitty can’t be tempted by their most favored treat, you know something’s not right. A loss of appetite is a clear indicator that their body is not processing food, and if they’re not drinking then dehydration sets in quickly.
Just like us, cats can skip one or two meals and it not affect them. Starvation in cats can happen, and has a detrimental effect on their overall health.
It’s normal for cats to be weak post-surgery or short-term illness. However, cats who are in a prolonged state of extreme physical weakness or tiredness could be a sign of the end approaching.
What does this look like? Cats often show this in their rear legs, drooping and dragging, incontinence, slow movement, or maybe even excessive sleeping.
This is where you’ll see further effects of appetite loss and physical weakness. Cats whose bodies are slowing down will look scruffy.
Their fur may appear greasy or disheveled, and they may even have a faint smell that’s unpleasing. These are signs that their biology is no longer functioning as it once did.
If your cat was once the life of the party, you might find them hiding constantly. Perhaps they’re suddenly clingy or want nothing to do with you.
This is normal for cats that feel their days are numbered. They’re telling you they don’t feel well and need your love, or that they feel threatened by everything and can’t cope with the world anymore.
This final sign is hard to miss, your cat’s body temperature will begin to lower, this will be a gradual decline but noticeable as the end approaches.
You’ll feel this change in their paws and ears as they become cooler. This is due to their blood circulation starting to slow.
At this point, it’s helpful to give them somewhere warm to curl up. Make them as comfortable as possible, a hot-water bottle or heating pad is perfect.
Saying goodbye is never easy, nor should it ever be downplayed. Losing a cat is heartbreaking, and can leave you feeling empty and alone. One thing I want to tell you is, there is no right or wrong choice about how you approach it.
Essentially you have two choices, let nature take its course, or to visit your vet. If you think your cat is in pain, then going to the vet might be a better choice. However, if your cat is very tired or difficult to wake up, then they may well drift off whilst sleeping.
It’s a standard procedure that every vet is trained and experienced in. When you arrive they’ll be respectful of you and your cat, and most likely escort you to a private room. There you’ll wait for the vet to attend, and guide you through the process.
The vet will then ask you a few questions and will explain what happens next in more detail. The final steps involve a fast-acting injection that will slow your cat’s heart down, and your cat will pass away peacefully and pain-free.
At no point are you obliged to be present during this procedure. Equally if you wish to hold your cat as it crosses the rainbow bridge that’s perfectly understandable and acceptable too.
Afterward, you can take your cat home for a private burial. Alternatively, the vets can arrange a cremation if you prefer. Equally, there is no expectation for you to do anything with the remains if you do not want to, the vet can deal with this for you.
The important part is to know that grieving for your pet is perfectly normal and to be expected. There’s no time limit on how long you should grieve for, or in how you want to express this loss.
What I would like to remind you of, however, is that you gave kitty as much love, respect, and dignity as possible. It is the very best we can do for our beloved furry family.
When it comes to spending our lives with our feline friends there are no guarantees or certainties. A cat’s lifespan can be influenced by many factors like breed, genetic history, food and environment, even lifestyle and surprises.
Many signs tell us how old our cat might be; these can include their eyes, teeth, fur and muscle tone. There are ways we can help give them a long and healthy life with food, environment, vet checks, and lifestyle.
So, whether it’s 5 years or 25 years, indoor or outdoor cats can live healthy and active life.