How long do cats live for? Well, thanks to advances in medical treatment and proper nutrition, our domestic cats are living for longer than ever. In the 1990s, several studies suggested that average life span was increasing rapidly, and whilst this has now slowed, our cats are still living for far longer than they used to.
Whilst studies have shown the average life expectancy of a crossbreed cat to be around 14 years, it’s not unusual to hear of cats reaching 18-20 years old. Purebred cats, according to the study, have shorter lives, with an average of 12.5 years. However, this varies wildly depending on breed. The longest-lived cat, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, was ‘Crème Puff’, who lived to an incredible 38 years and 3 days!
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How can I help my cat live longer?
If you’ve just brought home a kitten, you might be amazed to think that this ball of fluff could be with you for at least 15 years! But how can you help a cat to live longer? Firstly, it’s important not to be swayed by some of the things you read on the internet. A lot of people will try to sell you some miracle cure that extends life, or will tell you that a particular diet will help your cat live longer. It’s best to remain sceptical about these claims.
Anecdotal evidence (‘my cat took this and lived for 25 years’) is persuasive, but there’s no way of knowing if the medication or supplement truly caused the increase in lifespan without some serious clinical trials. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
On the other hand, studies have shown some similarities between cats that have a long life. Looking at these, we can come up with some recommendations for how to help your cat live longer.
1. Keep them slim
It’s a well-known fact that obesity increases the risk for lots of diseases, so it’s perhaps not surprising that it reduces life expectancy, too. Obese cats are more prone to diabetes, arthritis, and urinary issues, all of which may result in euthanasia or death.
Understanding your cat’s ideal body shape or ‘Body Condition Score’ and feeding him accordingly is the best way to ensure your cat remains at a healthy weight throughout his life. Cats are prone to losing weight as they reach old age, so keeping an eye out for your cat becoming underweight is important, too! Read A vet's guide to healthy weight loss for cats for more advice.
2. Keep them indoors
The leading cause of death for cats of any age is trauma. This is usually due to a car accident, but could also be due to being mauled by other animals, falls from a height, and other accidents. Keeping your cat indoors can help to avoid all of these, and is something to consider.
However, we also know that keeping cats indoors makes them more prone to obesity, which has a negative impact on lifespan, so it’s a bit of a balancing act. Supervised outdoor access, or an outdoor cat enclosure, may be a good compromise along with some toys for indoor cats.
3. Get them neutered
Studies have shown that neutered cats live longer than unneutered cats, whether male or female. This is despite the fact that neutering increases the risk for obesity. At the moment, we aren’t sure whether this is because:
- Neutered cats are less likely to roam (and so, less likely to be hit by cars)
- Neutered cats are less likely to fight, so there’s a reduced risk of diseases (such as FeLV and FIV
- Neutered cats are less likely to spray, reducing the chance of them being surrendered
- Neutered cats are protected from diseases like mammary cancer and pyometra
- Or whether neutered cats live longer because owners than get their cats neutered are likely to practice other responsible behaviours, like vaccination
It’s likely to be a combination of all of these things. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty clear that neutering your pet makes them more likely to live a long and happy life. Your vet can discuss your cat’s individual risks and benefits, but most cats should be neutered around 6 months of age.
4. Keep up to date with preventatives
It goes without saying that keeping your pet’s preventative treatments up to date reduces the chance of him or her picking up any serious illnesses. Whilst feline panleukopenia (feline parvovirus) is regularly fatal to young cats, another one to be careful to keep up to date with is the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) vaccination. FeLV causes a range of problems, including anaemia, digestive disorders, and cancer. Luckily, the vaccination has been shown to improve life expectancy. Don’t forget that, depending on your region, other preventatives can be lifesaving too!
5. Visit the vet regularly, especially in your cat’s senior years
Regular visits to the vet increase the chance of picking up diseases sooner, making them easier to treat and limiting their impact on your cat. For instance, high blood pressure, a common condition in older cats, can damage organs – the sooner it’s brought under control, the better for your cat – and bad dental disease can increase the risk of heart and kidney diseases.
Whilst you’re there, don’t forget to ask about your cat’s weight. As vets we see obese pets daily, and sometimes we get tired of reminding people that their pet is overweight – we learn to ‘pick our battles’! If you ask about your cat’s weight, it indicates you’re interested in having the conversation and encourages your vet to discuss this with you!
Visiting the vet every 6 months is sensible in senior cats. Your vet might even offer a ‘geriatric clinic’ with the nurses, which is a great way to keep popping into the practice without racking up a large bill. The nurse will check your cat over, and refer to the vet if they find a problem.
Domestic cats in the UK and US live, on average, for around 14 years. But they can live much longer, and any vet you speak to will have memories of treating cats at 20 or 25 years of age! With longer lifespans, diseases are more common, so taking good care of your cat and regularly getting them checked at the vet can go a long way to making those senior years as comfortable as possible.
Dr Joanna Woodnutt is an experienced vet with an interest in companion animals. She recently left full-time practice to work as a relief vet and write articles about pets.
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