Article written by Stephen C. George
Originally published by Discover Magazine (Fri, Jun 16, 2023)
Cat Lifespan Demystified: How Long Do Cats Live?
Wondering how long your cat will live? The lifespan of cats has a lot to do with their environment and genetics. Here’s how you can help them live their best and longest life.
Although they may not have nine lives, it’s not uncommon for cats to enjoy the one life they’ve got for many years, even decades. But as with humans, numerous factors play critical roles in lengthening or curtailing a cat’s lifespan, especially genetics, lifestyle and the kind of care their owners give them.
What Is the Average Cat Lifespan?
It’s hard to find a definitive answer to this question. Depending on which pet-expert source you favor, you’ll see cat lifespan estimates ranging from 10 to 15 years to 12 to 18 years. PetMD splits the difference by putting the average feline lifespan at 13 to 17 years.
Again, that’s an average. Plenty of people have cats who live to the age of 20 or even older. Siamese, Russian Blue and Persian cats are just a few of the longer-lived breeds, although Burmese are considered at the top tier of feline longevity, living on average 18 to 25 years, with some rare overachievers reportedly making it to their 30s.
Tabby cats post respectable numbers, too. The oldest individual record-holder, according to Guinness World Records, was Creme Puff, a tabby mix in Texas, who died in 2005 at the indisputably venerable age of 38.
Who Lives Longer, Indoor or Outdoor Cats?
An indoor cat lifespan may be in the double digits, but an outdoor cat lifespan is shockingly brief: only two to five years at best. Sure, cats who spend most of their lives outside are less likely to be sedentary and they get loads of time in the fresh air and sunshine, which humans are always told to do for their health. On the other hand, most humans don’t have to worry about being hunted.
Even in a quiet suburb, there are plenty of predators of cats, including coyotes, foxes, dogs, raccoons and large birds of prey, such as owls and eagles. And yes, other cats, especially wild cats, will stalk and kill their own kind.
Plus, outdoor cats are at greater risk than their indoor brethren for picking up any number of potentially deadly parasites. And there are yet other environmental hazards, not least of which is being hit by a vehicle — the number one non-disease-related killer of outdoor kitties.
How Many Cat Years Are in a Human Year?
Some unverified accounts tell of cats around the world that can live into their early 30s. Currently, the oldest living cat, verified as of 2022, is Flossie, a now 27-year-old British kitty, which Guinness touts as “roughly the feline equivalent of 120 human years.”
Equating a cat’s age to a human’s is fun, but ultimately not a very accurate way to think about your cat’s lifespan. Some people just apply the same “seven-year rule” that is often used with dogs, where one year of your pet’s life is equivalent to seven of ours.
With cats, it’s been said that their first year of life should be equated to 15 human years, the second year equivalent to about nine or 10 years, and every year after that is equal to about four human years. The Internet is full of pet age calculators you can use to play this game.
But such calculations are only useful for a general estimate of your cat’s longevity. The fact is, the breed of cat, how well it’s been taken care of, and how successfully it’s managed to avoid injury or illness will skew the results of any pet-age approximation.
A cat that’s led a life outdoors with no owners, varied or limited food and no medical care could be dead in a mere handful of years or even months, while many cats who have been well looked after can enjoy an active physical and mental life well into their 20s.
So don’t put your faith in human-year guesstimates. If you want your cat to have a healthy, long life, there are more concrete steps you can take.
How to Help Your Cat Live Longer
For most devoted owners, these steps may sound obvious, but good advice always bears repeating.
Feed Your Cat Properly
Cats are famously finicky eaters. You should follow their example and be particular about their diet as well.
Any old off-the-shelf cat food might fill them up, but it may not serve their nutritional needs, especially as they get older. It’s always a good idea to talk to your vet about the right kinds of nutrition your cat needs, depending on their breed and age.
Also, make sure their water is changed daily. And while it’s okay to give your cat treats, experts recommend that those goodies make up no more than five or 10 percent of their diet.
Keep Cats in the House …
As we’ve seen, indoor cats can live three or even four times longer than a cat that spends most or all of its time outdoors. While it may seem cruel to some owners to keep their feline pals under house arrest, statistics show the risk isn’t worth it.
Your indoor cat can still get fresh air and a taste of the outdoors in other ways: Set up a perch near a screened window. If you have an enclosed porch, make sure they get to spend time out there regularly. Many companies also sell outdoor cat enclosures — inevitably known as “catios” — where your feline can recline al fresco.
… But Give Them Plenty of Exercise
A sedentary cat is a short-lived cat. Obesity and lack of exercise are just as hard on their lifespan as they are on humans.
So, in addition to making sure they have balanced nutrition and not too many treats, it’s also important to provide your cat with opportunities for exercise.
Try to play with them for at least a couple of 15-minute sessions per day — an hour a day is ideal. And make sure they have toys that encourage them to run and play.
Cats Need Regular Medical Care
It’s a no-brainer that, just like people, your cat will need to see a doctor now and then. Regular checkups (as well as getting them spayed/neutered and keeping vaccinations up to date) are just about the most important thing you can do to give your cat their best chance at a long and healthy life.
Ideally, they should be getting a wellness examination every year, and many vets recommend a check-up every six months once your cat is over the age of 10. While most veterinarians are trained to treat cats, some owners prefer to take their kitties to vets who specialize in feline medicine. The American Association of Feline Practitioners can help you find vets involved in their Cat Friendly Practice program.