How long do cats live?

posted: 05/15/12
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It's easy to forget that our furry cuddle buddies won't be with us forever.
Beth Wald/Aurora Open/Corbis |

The cliché is that cats have nine lives, though their actual longevity depends on more than folklore. The Internet is littered with tales of cats in their 20s and 30s. England's " Daily Mail," profiled a 24-year-old feline in a prominent article and the "Guinness Book of World Records" reports that the world's oldest cat died at age 38. Most of us are ecstatic if our cats hit their teens (human equivalent of the 70s).

Cats mature quickly during their early years, reaching the equivalent of 24 human years by time they turn 2, then aging about eight to five times in human years each subsequent year (the number decreases as the cat gets older). So your 12-year-old tabby would be about 65 years old -- eligible for Social Security!

While there's no easy answer on just long your cat will live, we'll look at life spans for different felines, plus discuss how to prolong those golden years.

Life Span for Indoor Living

An indoor cat's world is a safe, cozy haven, with tasty meals dished up on time, and protection from the changeable weather. Her only experience with a predator is probably a zealous owner who wants to groom her coat or trim her claws. Life with a clean litter box, a private place to catnap and attention from one or more humans who offer affection and care -- what more could a cat want for a stress-free existence? If she's grown up indoors, she'll likely have no interest in exploring the great outdoors, especially with stimulating playtime and toys to keep her stalking instincts keen. With routine vaccinations and vet checkups, plus a spaying or neutering can cause an indoor cat to easily thrive into her teens or beyond. The average life span is 12 to 15 years.

Outdoor Life

By contrast, an outdoor feline, whether a lifelong feral or one who's been dumped by a former owner, experiences daily stress. Her survival instincts keep her alert as she eludes dogs, unkind humans and traffic every day. She hunts birds or rodents for dinner, or forages in trash cans. Her shelter from the elements may be a dry spot under someone's front porch or in a garage. Besides hunger, she faces pregnancy and its complications -- how to care for those helpless little ones that arrive so regularly -- and untreated diseases, from worms to rabies to distemper. She may be struck by a car, poisoned, or killed in a fight with other animals. No wonder an outdoor cat's life span sounds like a prison sentence: two to five years.

Beth Wald/Aurora Open/Corbis |

A healthy diet and physical activity, along with regular vet exams, help a cat stay fit. Spaying or neutering boosts your cat's health prognosis while avoiding additions to the feline overpopulation. Neutered males are less prone to prostate problems or testicular cancer; spayed females face less risk from breast cancer, ovarian cysts and tumors, or uterine infections. Cats who have been spayed or neutered are calmer, but also burn fewer calories. Therefore, their diets should be monitored. If they become overweight or obese, their lives can be shortened by complications ranging from diabetes to liver disease. Cats who have not been vaccinated; who are not treated for parasites, and who roam freely, even if they spend some time indoors; face shorter lives than those getting proper attention.

Nine Lives for all Breeds?

Some purebred cats mature at different ages than so-called common cats. A female Siamese cat is sexually mature by 6 months of age, compared to a non-purebred cats, which is considered sexually mature at 10-12 months. Maine Coons and Persians mature even later -- at around 2 years. Plus, the genetics of some purebreds can affect their life spans. A Siamese cat's life expectancy is about 15 years, while for Persians it can be up to 17. In general, a cat is considered a senior when he reaches his 9th birthday -- the equivalent of the mid-50s for humans.

Boosts for a longer life

Just as with humans, cats living a healthy lifestyle improve their chances of marking more birthdays. Felines may not take to the treadmill, but offering your cat regular physical activity helps keep her weight down, and provides mental stimulation too. Dental care, to avoid common oral issues that affect many cats, is key to overall health. Annual vet exams, especially as cats age, will spotlight any bodily changes or potential health problems. Older cats may also need a few dietary changes to accommodate their aging systems, and your vet may suggest supplements or vitamins. Finally, a tranquil home environment, populated by those she loves, will keep your kitty content at every life stage.

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