Can anyone really translate cat years into human years? The honest answer is, no. That being said, you can approximate your cat’s years of life relative to your own using a common formula. Consider the first two years of your cat’s existence equal to twenty-five years of human living, then add four human years for every cat year after that. This will provide a rough idea of what stage of life your cat is experiencing.
Cats do go through distinct phases in their growth and development, and while these phases are not the same as human ones, they each come with their unique characteristics. Understanding how and when your cat matures and grows can help you to understand the many quirky and fascinating things cats do. Anticipating your cat’s developmental stages can also help you take better care of it.
Birth to Six Months
Kittens go through intensive internal and external growth in their first six months; so much so that if an outdoor kitten that makes it to six months old, other felines consider it to be a cat. That is not so good for female kittens, who in the wild can become pregnant before they even reach their first birthday. Such accelerated development shortens a feral female cat’s life.
For the first three months of your indoor kitten’s life its development parallels that of children between birth and 10 years of age. Your kitten opens its eyes, starts to see, starts to move about, gets some adult teeth and chews on everything, and starts to wean and eat solid food. This is a good time to introduce them to a litter box.
By three months of age your kitten has entered adolescence and will begin to behave like the typical teenager, testing boundaries, trying out all kinds of seemingly insane moves, and getting into trouble. If you’ve ever had a kitten and a set of window blinds, you probably don’t have those blinds anymore, and you probably know just how much trouble a kitten can start.
Kittens 3 to 6 months of age get into everything, so take a good look around the house and kitten-proof your home as best you can. Providing an assortment of cat toys can help a bit, but expect the unexpected. Kittens need basic vaccinations during this time, so a trip to the vet is in order, and by 6 months of age or a bit later, cats of both genders are ready to be neutered.
Six Months to Three Years
One year is the age at which vets consider cats to be adult. By the one year mark, your cat will reach its mature size and weight, though its behavior stays somewhat kitten-like, active, and exploratory for quite a while longer. Cats during this phase are like any other young adult: they don’t want just to lay around, they crave adventure. If you’ve ever thought of installing a cat castle covered in carpet, this would be a good time to do that.
Play time keeps young adult cats out of trouble for a bit, helps wear them out, and can entertain cat owners too. Many cats enjoy chasing a softball that jingles and will bring it back over and over. Feathered fishing line on a stick is another popular option, or even a laser light.
A window perch will provide an adult cat with as much entertainment as a TV set provides for people. The perch will be even more appreciated if it gets some sun during a cool part of the day.
Three to Six Years
By the time your cat is 3 years old she will start to slow down noticeably, but she will still enjoy periods of vigorous play. Cats are enjoying the healthiest years of their lives at this stage, but regular vet visits are still a good idea. Some vets will do baseline blood work an maybe clean your cat’s teeth.
Cats 3 to 6 years old are like adults in their 30s and 40s, coming into their own as individuals but still curious about life. These are the years for you and your cat to really get to know and enjoy each other as two grown-up animals.
Seven to Ten Years
As cats near 7 or 8 years (or even a bit older for female cats), they begin to show signs of getting older. A 7-year-old healthy cat should still be active, but it will sleep for much more of its day than it did previously. Male cats especially may become unapologetic couch potatoes at this age, and getting them moving can be a challenge.
Cats 7 to 10 years old benefit from joint supplements and may need a bit of grooming help if they have longer hair. A vet will want to check your cat’s kidney function at this age, and check for dental disease or heart problems.
Ten to Fourteen Years
Your vet considers your cat a senior citizen during these years. Regular vet appointments ensure that any health issues that crop up for your senior cat can be treated. If your cat seems a bit crabby at this stage of its life, talk to your vet. The cat may have joint pain or other pain that could be relieved.
A cat’s organs begin to decline by 10 to 14 years of age. Some cats will go on to live longer lives, but don’t be shocked if your cat begins to show signs that end-of-life is approaching. This is especially true for large male cats.
Fourteen and Beyond
Cats have been known to live well beyond the 20-year mark, but not always happily. If your cat attains this advanced age, keep a close eye on it for signs of pain or disease, such as crying at night, not using the litter box, or not eating or drinking, and respond accordingly.
Your geriatric cat may need different food and may have increasing trouble moving about and seeing clearly. Most afflictions that hit geriatric cats can be treated, but if your cat cannot move without pain or cannot make it to the litter box or both, its time to discuss humane end-of-life options for your old friend. Keep in mind that by the time your cat enters its late teens, it has attained the status of a 100-year-old human being.
The Best Age to Adopt a Cat
Many people believe that for a cat to truly fit in with a household, it needs to be adopted as a kitten. Kittens are cute, but they can also be quite destructive. Kids tend to over-handle kittens unless both are constantly supervised.
The sad truth is that so many adult cats need homes that thousands are euthanized at shelters every year. Adult cats can adjust to a household as well as any kitten, and they tend to be less destructive and easier to care for. A shelter worker can usually steer a family toward a cat that would match the family’s needs.
Older cats need homes too. If you are older and live alone, you may find that an older cat quickly turns into a welcome comfort that matches your energy level. Older cats tend to sleep or cuddle most of the time, so if that is what you are hoping for from a cat, an older cat would be perfect.
One exception to the caveat about kittens is: homes with dogs. Some dogs don’t get along with cats at all. Other dogs tolerate cats perfectly well. If you have a dog and want to introduce a cat into your home, start with a kitten if the dog has never lived with cats. By the time the kitten becomes a grown cat (and that happens fast), the idea is that the dog will have accepted it as harmless and will not hurt or kill it.
Before bringing home a cat of any age, make sure your family members, and especially your young children, understand that a cat is not a toy. Discourage the tendency of young children to pick up and carry the cat around constantly. This is not good for the cat and may provoke a warning nip or worse.
Cats make amazing companions, but they do need care no matter what age they are when they settle into your home. Have your new cat checked out by a vet and visit the vet at regular intervals. Let the cat get to know you and your family slowly: don’t force attention on your new friend.
Let the cat come to you, no matter what age it is, and you will find that it settles in quicker than it would if you had specific expectations based on age. Each stage of a cat’s life brings change and growth, but the best expectation to have of your cat is no expectation at all. Giving your cat that space tells the cat you respect it and want to have it around, and given time, it will respond with gratitude and affection.