A cat’s longevity depends on a number of variables, such as whether the cat is allowed outdoors or stays indoors, whether the cat is spayed or neutered, whether the cat is male or female, and whether the cat visits the vet regularly or only when sick or not at all. Female cats on average live slightly longer than males, and indoor cats live quite a bit longer than outdoor cats.
How long do cats live? Outdoor cats survive for an average of only 2 to 5 years. Although many people feel that not allowing a cat to roam outside is cruel, deciding whether a cat will be an indoor or outdoor cat is one the most important decisions a cat owner will make. The longest life recorded for a domestic cat was twenty-eight years, but most indoor cats live for between twelve and sixteen years.
Indoor or Outdoor, Long Life or Short?
Cats that are allowed to roam outdoors live short lives and come home with unpleasant surprises or simply disappear. Some people have good luck with outdoor cats and would never confine a cat to a house. Others, having experienced some of what cats experience when they are allowed to roam, have changed their opinions.
Outdoor cats navigate traffic, other animal predators, and become exposed to all kinds of diseases, some preventable and some not preventable. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)and Feline Leukemia are serious and often fatal cat diseases that are spread by fighting or contact with infected outdoor cats. Cats allowed to roam outdoors should be vaccinated yearly, and they still can bring home new forms of feline flu and other respiratory problems.
Allowing an outdoor cat the free expression of his or her sexuality can profoundly shorten that cat’s life. Male cats fight whether they have been neutered or not, and neutered male cats get torn up badly in such fights. Female cats, if not spayed, will have litter after litter of kittens, often starting before they themselves are fully grown.
Anyone who has ever rushed a male cat post-fight to a vet’s office knows how ugly cat fights can get. The 2 to 5 year life span of an outdoor cat is not one filled with wonderful, fun adventures so much as it is a grueling competition for sex and attention that exhausts the cat’s life force in short order.
Compare that to the leisurely twelve to sixteen year lifespan of an indoor cat. An indoor cat will spend most of its life curled up in a patch of sun or stretched across a window sill or purring in a human lap. Periods of playful activity lead to long, restorative naps for the indoor cat. Neutered indoor cats do not crave wild attention from other cats, not do they drop litter after litter of kittens.
When deciding whether to allow your cat to roam or to keep your cat indoors, ask yourself if you are projecting your own feelings about the outdoors onto your pet. The life of a person indoors and out is very different from the life of cat in similar circumstances.
To Spay or Not to Spay
Cats that are neutered live longer than cats that are not. Male neutered cats no long need to prowl a neighborhood and fight. Female cats also stay at home and do not howl and carry on like female cats that have not been spayed. These changes help your cat to enjoy a longer life provided the cat lives indoors.
Male cats benefit from neutering more than pet owners might expect. Male cats that have not been neutered need to spray to mark their territory, and that includes indoor spraying. They fight and need to roam. Neutered male cats are spared all of that and so are their owners.
Neutered cats do tend to pick up a little weight, but with high quality food this weight gain is usually minor. Neutered male cats also have a softer body shape than male cats that have not been neutered. Neutering cats prevents unwanted feral population growth and saves wear and tear on parent cats.
Choosing to neuter your cats is a healthy responsible decision, and it is also another reason to consider keeping your cats indoors. Indoor cats, especially indoor neutered cats, live pleasant, full lives.
The Older Cat
When cats approach the age of 10 or so, they begin to show signs of age. They may move around less, and they may show signs of arthritis or pain in their joints. Noticing these signs can be traumatic for cat owners.
No one can tell a cat owner how to manage the end of a cat’s life. Ten years is a long time to be with an animal, and some cat owners nearly double that. Cats and cat owners become attached and it is natural to be reluctant to let go.
An older cat will tell you when it is nearing the end of its life in a number of ways. Your older cat may lose his appetite and stop drinking. Sometimes this is because the energy needed to eat and drink is just too much to spare.
Your older cat can become quickly dehydrated when this happens, so a trip to the vet is in order. Older cats also may stop grooming themselves and begin to look emaciated and unkempt. Sometimes they develop an odor.
When a cat is close to death, it will sometimes hide. Other cats become unusually clingy and refuse to leave your side. Your cat may feel noticeably cooler, including his paws and ears.
No one wants to see a beloved pet die, and it’s natural to want to prolong your cat’s life, but as your older cat becomes more frail and more susceptible to illness and pain, it’s good to have a conversation with your vet about humane end-of-life interventions.
Sometimes an older cat’s life can be prolonged with medication, but at some point the issue becomes quality of life. Is your older cat really enjoying the extra days, or are you having trouble letting go? Every person, every cat, experiences this time differently. As your cat begins to give signals that the end is close, talk to your vet and trust your instincts.
How to Give Your Cat a Long, Healthy Life
No pet lives forever, but you can significantly impact the quality and length of your cat’s life by taking some simple steps and following through on routine maintenance. Here are a few of the best ways to give your cat a long life:
Keep Vet Visits Regular
Make sure you take your cat to the vet for vaccinations and neutering, and keep up a regular schedule, even if only once or twice per year.
Free feeding can result in overfeeding. Follow the directions on the food the vet recommends and go easy on treats. Obese cats live shorter lives.
Keep the Indoor Environment Interesting
Cats can be perfectly happy indoors and live up to five times longer than outdoor cats, but they do appreciate toys, cat towers, and soft perches by windows and warm beds to rest on.
Change the Litter Box Often
Litter boxes should be changed at least once per week and scooped daily. A clean litter box protects cats from urinary tract infections and protects furniture and carpets from outside-the-box urination. Sometimes make cats need a change in food as they age to prevent urinary infections, so have your cat checked the minute he or she shows signs of litter box trouble.
Brush and Groom
Cats keep themselves clean, but as a cat ages it often appreciates a little help. Regular brushing also helps prevent hairballs, and some cats simply adore being brushed.
When your cat is ill or needs some help, it will let you know by crying, hiding, avoiding food and water, or urinating outside its box. When these signs appear, call the vet and get the cat checked out. Often the solution is a simple one.
Owning a pet is a huge responsibility. Many people seem to have a casual attitude toward cats and their reputed ‘nine lives’, but cats are intelligent, sensitive creatures that appreciate being treated well.
Cats that receive almost no care and are let outside for most the day will not enjoy long lives. Often they are taken by coyotes, run over by cars, or torn up badly in fights with feral males. Cats that spend their days outside also hunt mice and birds and catch diseases from both.
Cats that live inside and become friends with their owners can live well past twenty years, although the average is twelve to sixteen. Far from being antisocial, cats need their owners and develop unique and subtle ways of showing affection for them. Cats can and do live perfectly happy lives without ever venturing outside.
Understanding these differences and making an informed choice before bringing your cat or kitten home will decide which kind of life your cat to enjoys: a short intense life, or a leisurely long life.