By Lorie Huston, DVM
If you’re a cat owner, particularly a new cat owner, it’s natural to wonder how long your feline friend will be with you. Just how long does the average cat live?
With advances in medicine and nutrition, cats are living longer than ever before. It’s not unusual today to see a cat live well into its 20s. As a health care provider, that’s encouraging and heartening. The cats that currently live with me are only now starting to approach their early teens. However, several of the cats that I’ve shared my life with lived into their late teens, with one approaching 23 years old before he passed.
Indoor Versus Outdoor Cats
It's difficult to discuss average life span for a pet cat without first discussing the differences between a pet cat that lives indoors and a cat that lives or spends a great deal of time outdoors unsupervised. For these cats, the life span can be much shorter. An outdoor life exposes your cat to a number of dangers that a cat living indoors simply doesn’t face. These risks include infectious diseases, poisons, exposure to the elements, and injuries from vehicles, dogs, wild animals, or even people. Cats living outdoors are also prey to some of the wild animals that now live even in our more urban communities.
Buy Quality Cat Food
Providing a high-quality, balanced, and complete diet is one of the most important things you can do to keep your cat healthy and ensure a long life. The diet should also be appropriate for your cat’s life stage and lifestyle. For instance, a kitten should be consuming a diet that supports growth while an older cat may require fewer calories or even have health issues that require dietary restrictions or additions. The nutritional needs of each cat are different. In addition, it is important to avoid overfeeding your cat. Your veterinarian can help you choose a diet appropriate for your individual cat based on his age, reproductive status (i.e., neutered or spayed), health, and other factors.
Water Consumption is Important, Too!
You may not have thought of this before, but many cats do not consume adequate amounts of water without encouragement. Encourage water consumption for your cat through the use of canned foods (which have a higher moisture content than kibble), a cat water fountain, dripping faucets, or by adding water to the dry cat food.
Don't Forget to Exercise
Keeping your cat lean and fit is another contributing factor to giving your cat a long and healthy life. Overweight cats are prone to a number of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, skin disease, respiratory disease, and more. Put aside time each day to encourage your cat to exercise through play with interactive cat toys. You can also encourage exercise through the use of food puzzles.
Unsure if your cat is overweight? Try out petMD's Healthy Weight tool.
Considering Spaying/Neutering Your Cat (if You Haven't Already)
Spaying and neutering increases the life span of cats, according to the 2013 Banfield Pet Hospital Report. An added benefit for cats that are spayed or neutered is a lower tendency for developing annoying or even intolerable behavioral issues such as marking or spraying.
Provide Environmental Enrichment for Your Cat
Environmental enrichment is a must for all cats, especially indoor cats. Living indoors, though safer than living outside, can also contribute to boredom for your cat. Enrichment includes cat toys, perches, scratching posts, and other things that stimulate your cat’s mind and alleviate boredom.
Keep Your Cat's Teeth Clean
Oral care is frequently overlooked, particularly for cats. However, it is extremely important to look after your cat’s teeth and mouth. The majority of cats over the age of three already have some degree of dental disease. Dental disease can be painful and may even prevent your cat from eating normally.
Proper oral care involves both home care as well as regular veterinary care. It’s likely your veterinarian will need to anesthetize your cat in order to do a thorough oral examination and properly clean your cat’s teeth. Cats can have dental problems that occur under the gum line and cause pain, which may go unnoticed as cats tend to hide the fact that they are in pain. Without anesthesia, it is impossible for your veterinarian to find these problems and treat them to relieve any dental pain your cat may be experiencing. Your veterinarian can also help you establish a home care routine for your cat. This may include brushing the teeth, oral wipes, oral rinses, and other options.
Regular Veterinary Visits Are Necessary
All cats require regular veterinary visits, not only for dental examinations but for a thorough examination of your cat from nose to tail. Cats are masters of disguise when it comes to disease. Even the most observant cat owner may be unable to spot the early signs of illness. However, your veterinarian is trained to look for these signs. Your veterinarian also has the advantage of being able to perform blood, urine, fecal, and other testing that you cannot do at home for your cat. Help your cat live longer and schedule annual veterinary checkups.