How Long Do Cats Live?

If a cat really has nine lives, then theoretically they should live just about forever, right?  Nine lives and all, how long can you expect your feline friend to bathe in sun rays all day and pounce on your stomach the first thing in the morning?  The answer may be a little complicated, but let’s explore the average lifespan for cats of different lifestyles and then discover ways to help prolong that lifespan as long as possible.

How Long Do Cats Live?

In general, healthy cats live between 10 and 20 years, with an average of about 15 years.  The number one factor that affects longevity is whether a cat lives indoors or outdoors.  However, factors such as breed, gender, domestication, health, and spaying or neutering will also affect how long a cat lives.

We want our feline friends to be with us for as long as possible, so it’s important to understand just what affects a cat’s life expectancy and how.  Once you understand those factors, you can more easily manipulate them to help your kitty live a longer, healthier life.

General Factors That Affect the Average Life Expectancy of a Cat

For a better idea of why some cats live to be vicenarians and others don’t make it to double digits, let’s take a closer look at the factors affecting how long a cat lives.

  • Indoor Cat or Outdoor Cat

As stated above, whether a cat lives indoors or outdoors seems to have the greatest impact on lifespan.  It should come as no surprise that kitties with indoor homes typically live about three times as long as outdoor cats.  If a kitty were to make it into their late teens or 20s, then the cat is most likely an indoor dweller.  This makes sense as indoor cats are far more protected against communicable diseases and other hazards such as car accidents and attacks from other animals.  Indoor cat owners are also more likely to have their kitties vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and fed properly.  However, indoor cats have a higher risk of obesity due to lack of exercise.

  • Feral Cat or Domestic Cat

This factor is along the same lines as indoor versus outdoor cats, especially since most of us won’t welcome a feral cat into our home.  Feral cats certainly don’t live as long as domestic cats.  Not only are they more vulnerable to diseases and traumas like car accidents, nutrition can also be a problem.  Even though cats are natural-born hunters, depending on the area they live in, hunting to sustain themselves and possibly a litter of kittens can be tricky at best.  Domestic cats, even outdoor ones, have a higher life expectancy due to more human intervention like vaccinations, food, and shelter.

  • Cat Breed

There are certain cat breeds, like Burmese, Siamese, and Persians, with longer life spans, but the real factor that increases how long a cat lives is what’s called heterosis or ‘hybrid vigor’.  Basically it boils down to purebred cats having a limited gene pool, meaning genetic diseases are more rampant.  Mixed breed kitties have a more diverse genetic background so that inherited disorders occur less frequently.  Not only do mixed breed cats inherit fewer issues, they may be able to withstand more illnesses as well.  This is just another reason to love your mixed breed stray that you adopted from the animal shelter.

  • Weight of Cat

The weight factor can be a problem at both ends of the scale.  Chubby, pudgy, pleasantly plump, whatever you want to call it, fat kitties live shorter lives.  Not only does excess weight wreak havoc on bones, muscles, and joints causing arthritis and injury, it can also do a number on the kitty heart and lungs.  While cats don’t typically experience clogged arteries like we humans do, those organs don’t perform well under pressure, so to speak.  Diabetes is also a major problem among our heavyset feline friends and if left unmanaged, it can be fatal.

Fat cats aren’t the only ones with decreasing longevity. Overly skinny cats are at risk as well.  Cats require good nutrition to ensure proper organ function and to keep their immune system healthy.  Cats that experience weight loss, whether sudden or gradual, may be developing potentially life threatening diseases like cancer, hyperthyroidism, or diabetes.

  • Cat Gender

Sorry toms, it seems that queens tend to live longer.  While it’s not by much, female cats on average live around one or two more years longer than males.  It might be that males are more apt to roam, fight, or experience health problems such as a blocked urethra.  Whatever the reason is, a cat’s gender may still be an important factor in a cat’s life expectancy.

  • Spaying or Neutering

Spaying or neutering your cat isn’t just about preventing unwanted kittens. It is also important in increasing a cat’s longevity.  A spayed cat has a drastically decreased chance of developing mammary cancer and a zero chance of ovarian and uterine cancer.  Likewise, testicular cancer is not an issue in neutered male cats.  Spayed cats also can’t contract a uterine infection, which if left untreated can be fatal.  Spaying and neutering removes reproductive hormones, decreasing a cat’s drive to roam.  This means less opportunity to experience trauma and contract infectious diseases.  Similarly related, spayed and neutered cats aren’t as likely to urine spray, a major cause of relinquishment to animal shelters.

  • Health

Health factors can vary by a wide range.  Anything from infectious diseases, to cancer, to inherited diseases can definitely affect how long a cat will live.  Obviously, properly vaccinating and decreasing exposure will help reduce the incidence of infectious diseases, being a mixed breed will help decrease genetic diseases, spaying or neutering can reduce certain types of cancer, and a proper diet and exercise routine can help with weight related issues.  However, there are still other health concerns out there due to aging such as arthritis.    

How to Help Your Cat Live Longer

Don’t let the factors we discussed above scare you away from trying to maximize your cat’s time with you.  There are plenty of steps you can take, and most of them aren’t time consuming or difficult.

  • Keep Your Cat Indoors

Confining your cat to your home will have the greatest effect on their longevity.  There is no better way to prevent life threatening injuries from run-ins with cars or other animals than to provide for your cat indoors.  But indoor kitties need more physical and mental stimulation than outdoor cats, so it’s up to you to set aside playtime or keep them supplied with toys and games that fill that need. 

Keep in mind that some cats just weren’t meant to be caged or stay inside a house. As a result, they might develop neurotic tendencies or continually try to escape.  These cats may be more comfortable outside, but you can still protect them by building an enclosed area that safely allows them to experience the outdoor life.  Another alternative is to take your cat out for a walk.  If you want to learn more about walking your cat, then read our article here.

  • Nutrition

Feeding a high quality food will help maintain a healthy weight and decrease the likelihood of some diseases.  A high quality cat food is one that’s made from whole meat that is easily digestible, such as chicken or rabbit.  It also shouldn’t contain a lot of fillers or non-digestible ingredients.  Contact your veterinarian for good, recommended cat foods.  If you want to learn more about the cat diet, then read our article here.

  • Exercise

Not only is exercise important to keep your kitty physically healthy, it’s also great to keep their mind sharp and decrease boredom.  Playing with you is just another way to strengthen the bond that you will share for many years to come.  If you want to learn more about cat play behavior, then read our article here.

  • Veterinary Care

Regular veterinary care is a must to help extend your cat’s longevity.  This includes spaying or neutering, dental care, and vaccinations.  Your veterinarian is also the best place to discuss nutrition and any other concerns that you have to help your cat live longer.  If you need help finding a cat veterinarian, then read our article here.

How Long Do Wild Cats Live?

With all this talk about how indoor life, veterinary care, and nutrition can extend the life span of a cat, what about the cats that live in the wild?  Unfortunately, the pressures to survive in the wild are much more than even that of a feral cat.  So the lifespan of a wild cat is drastically shorter.  While tigers in captivity commonly make it into their 20s, the average in the wild is far less at 10 to 15 years.  It’s pretty typical for half of a litter to make it to less than two years as well.  Lions follow along the same lines as the tiger, while mountain lions experience a slightly shorter lifespan at 8 to 13 years.  On the smaller side, a bobcat’s life expectancy is only around seven years, while the wildcat is closer to 14.

How Old Is Your Cat In Human Years?

Since our kitties’ rate of aging isn’t the same as ours, it is sometimes hard for us to grasp just how old they are.  For example, during the first year, a kitten goes from an infant to a teenager, but then things slow down after that.  You may have heard that you can just multiple your cat’s age by five to get the human equivalent, but that’s not quite true.  The chart below from the American Animal Hospital Association does a great job of translating your cat’s age to the human equivalent.

Life Stage

Age of Cat

Age of Human

Kitten

0 - 1 month

0 - 1 year

Kitten

2 - 3 months

2 - 4 years

Kitten

4 months

6 - 8 years

Kitten

6 months

10 years

Junior

7 months

12 years

Junior

12 months

15 years

Junior

18 months

21 years

Junior

2 years

24 years

Prime

3 years

28 years

Prime

4 years

32 years

Prime

5 years

36 years

Prime

6 years

40 years

Mature

7 years

44 years

Mature

8 years

48 years

Mature

9 years

52 years

Mature

10 years

56 years

Senior

11 years

60 years

Senior

12 years

64 years

Senior

13 years

68 years

Senior

14 years

72 years

Geriatric

15 years

76 years

Geriatric

16 years

80 years

Geriatric

17 years

84 years

Geriatric

18 years

88 years

Geriatric

19 years

92 years

Geriatric

20 years

96 years

Geriatric

21 years

100 years

Geriatric

22 years

104 years

Geriatric

23 years

108 years

Geriatric

24 years

112 years

Geriatric

25 years

116 years

 Conclusion

Keep in mind that there are always outliers to these rules.  Some of you may have an outdoor cat that’s in their late teens or an indoor cat that didn’t reach age five.  Many factors play a role in determining how long a cat will live.  If we could, we would make our feline friends live as long as we do.  While this unfortunately can’t happen, there are definitely steps to take to ensure that our kitty lives for as long as possible.

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