How Long do Cats Live
What is the Average Lifespan of a Cat?
A typical cat’s life expectancy is 12 – 18 years. But go back just three decades and cat lifespan was significantly lower at just 10 – 15 years. Why is this?
The answer is relevant to pet parents because it helps keep cats healthy and live for longer.
The secret to helping your cat live into their high teens is understanding happens as cat ages. Then you can take practical steps to keep your feline fit and healthy for longer.
Cat Life Stages
You’re probably more familiar with cat life stages than you think. If you’ve ever bought “kitten food”, you purchased food for a cat’s first life stage. Similarly, “senior” foods are also a life stage Traditionally, there were three cat life stages:
- Kitten Birth to 1 year
- Adult 1 – 7 years
- Senior 8 years +
This is based on the cat’s nutritional needs at each stage. For example, kittens need more protein than an adult cat, whilst senior cats require less protein but of higher quality.
However, experts now know this is too simplistic and suggest an alternative six-step plan (Sanctioned by the American Association of Feline Practitioners).
- Kitten Birth to 6 months
- Junior 7 months to 2 years
- Prime 2 to 6 years
- Mature 7 – 10 years
- Senior 11 – 14 years
- Geriatric 15 years +
Why does this matter?
The body works differently as the cat ages. Knowing the cat’s life stage helps tailor their food and healthcare requirements. As we saw in the introduction this increases cat lifespan by years.
Factors that Influence Cat Lifespan
Some factors you can control, others you can’t. However, small changes, such as switching to a life stage diet, can have a real and lasting impact on how long your cat lives. Let’s look at the factors which influence cat lifespan.
Purebred Cat or Domestic Mix?
The cat’s breed makes a difference in their average life expectancy. Some of the longest-lived cat breeds are Burmese, Bombay, and American Shorthair.
Whilst those breeds that lead shorter lives include the American Wirehair, Pixiebob, Devon Rex, and Somali.
Which is part of the reason that good old cross-bred cats are a good bet? They benefit from ‘hybrid vigour’. This is a fancy way of saying that they have such a diverse range of genes which makes inherited disease less likely.
So what can you do to extend cat lifespan?
- If your heart is set on a purebred cat, do your research first. Find out what health problems the breed is prone to. Then find a breeder that screens their breeding stock and only uses healthy parents
- Consider getting a good old cross-bred cat. Their wide gene pool has health advantages.
Indoor Vs Outdoor Cats
In the 1990s a UK Insurance Company analyzed the data from all cat claims. They concluded the biggest single contribution an owner could make to increase cat lifespan was to keep the cat indoors.
The reason is obvious. The outside world is a big scary place full of motor vehicles and predators. If the cat escapes being knocked over, they may pick up a life-shortening infectious disease as a result of fighting.
Long story short: Extend life by having an indoor cat. But…and it’s a big BUT…this only works if the cat leads an active and fulfilled life. A bored cat whose hobby is eating will become overweight, which carries a risk of significant health problems such as diabetes or feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD)
Meat-based Protein for Long Life
Two kittens from the same litter go to different homes. One outlives the other by several years. Why is this?
Remember the old saying “You are what you eat?” This applies to cats too.
Take an extreme example: The cat fed on cheap, cereal-based cat food. When a diet is deficient in taurine, (such as some cat foods) this results in blindness and heart disease.
To thrive a cat needs a diet based on good quality meat proteins. Feed them a poor diet, with a high percentage of cereal and plant-based protein and this stresses their organs. Put the gut, liver, or kidneys under pressure and eventually, they will give up.
But even a meat-based food needs to be a balanced diet. Feeding meat alone leads to mineral imbalances that cause painful joints and weak bones. For long life, feed a well-balanced good quality pet food.
Slim Kitties Live Longer
A cat can have too much of a good thing!
Feed that great diet to excess and then the cat carries too many layers of love. This predisposes them to problems such as sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus), heart disease, joint disease, and FLUTD.
Ideally, keep Kitty trim and this extends cat lifespan.
Increasing longevity – Keeping your feline fit and healthy
Life should always be about quality rather than quantity, but healthy cat can have both a long and happier life. Many of the steps that increase longevity also contribute towards good health. To help your fur-friend enjoy many more years of lounging around in the sun, here’s what to do.
Feeding the right life-stage diet is a huge part of increasing cat lifespan. Think of this like putting gas in a car. Put diesel in a petrol engine and it gums up the works. A similar (less extreme) thing happens if you feed kitten food to a senior.
Kitten food is balanced for growth and high in protein to supply those growing muscles. That’s great for a cat that goes from 400g to 2kg in six months, but not good for aging, senior kidneys.
The mature or geriatric cat has tired kidneys. Giving them lots of work (i.e. processing the protein in kitten food) is exhausting and it literally wears them out. Active kidney tissue is replaced by non-functional scar tissue, causing the kidney to shrink in size. This is why senior food contains limited amounts of high-quality protein.
In practical terms, to extend cat lifespan feed the right life-stage diet (unless advised otherwise by your vet.)
The Benefits of Neutering
Do you know that desexing your cat increases longevity?
Entire tom cats are more likely to escape and go roaming. Then they’re at risk of traffic accidents and fighting….with life-altering consequences.
Even an entire female kept entirely indoors, benefits from neutering. Not to do so risks developing a serious womb infection (pyometra), breast cancer, or mammary hyperplasia.
Thus, get your cat fixed, preferably before six-months of age.
The Importance of Identification
Identification, such as an implanted microchip or a tag on a collar, allows you to be reunited if the cat escapes.
But my indoor cat won’t escape! Wrong. Think again.
Statistics tell us that 41% of all indoor cats escape at some point. Unfortunately, only 2% are reunited once they get as far as the pound. This is down to lack of identification.
So don’t have a beautiful relationship cut short for lack of an ID tag.
Vaccinations and anti-parasite treatments are vital to long life.
As a cat ages their immune system weakens making them more vulnerable to infection. Don’t skip those booster vaccines as your cat ages. They need that protection now more than ever.
Also, keeping parasites at paws length reduces the risk of ill health due to worms or vector-borne diseases. Some of these parasites are biggies, including heartworm, so don’t skimp on preventative healthcare.
Life-Stages and Vet Visits
Optimal health care includes a twice yearly vet visit, even for healthy young cats. This is because cat years are different to human years, and health changes happen rapidly.
This is especially true for our older fur-friends. These guys should have their blood pressure measured and urine screened at regular check-ups. Again, detecting an old-age problem early can save a whole bundle of worry further down the line.
Why blood pressure monitoring?
Older cats are prone to hypertension (high blood pressure). This hastens kidney deterioration and leads to sudden catastrophic problems such as blindness or a stroke. However, there are meds that help control hypertension and hence dodge that particular bullet.
Why urine screening?
A simple urine dipstick test plus measuring how strong the urine is, tells the vet a whole bunch about kidney and urinary tract health, along with troubleshooting for diabetes. Spot a kidney problem in the early stages and with proper treatment, the cat can remain healthy for many years to come.
Current guidelines suggest geriatric cats should be seen every three months for ‘wellness’ checks.
How Long Do Cats Live: Pawsitive News!
The dedicated owner can make a real difference to their cat’s life expectancy. Diet, exercise, and regular health checks all have a positive impact and will help your cat live to a ripe old age.
Be pro-active about ageing, pet parents!