How Long Do Cats Live

This question, typically rephrased as, "How long will my cat (or dog, horse, chinchilla, etc.) live," is something veterinarians hear on a daily basis. Of course, nobody can tell you how long a particular individual’s life span will be, but statistics can give us a general idea of what to expect.

The feline life expectancy that I came up with when I was doing the research for my book, Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian, was 10 to 15 years. I averaged the somewhat disparate values I found in several reliable references to come up with these numbers. Another statistic that I commonly use in practice is that cats that spend significant unsupervised time outdoors tend to live to be about 7-years-old, while indoor-only cats can be expected to make it to around 14 years of age.

I can hear your howls of protest, but remember these numbers cover what we typically see across a large population. Owners invariably think of their pampered, ancient kitties and claim that these numbers are way too low, but you can’t forget to include the unfortunate ones that died early from disease or accident.

Here’s a good example. My kitty, Keelor, is still going strong at 17 (knock on wood). He came from a litter of four, one of whom died when he was only a few months old. His sister was euthanized just last year at 16, but his other brother died at a relatively young age (around 10, if I remember correctly) from necrotizing pancreatitis. So if you look at the litter as a whole, they will fall on the low end of that 10 to 15 year range, despite Keelor’s and Scout’s longevity.

The oldest cat I ever had the privilege of knowing was 25. Rosie had lived with her owners ever since she was a kitten, and they didn’t seem the boastful type, so I believed them. Plus, Rosie looked 25 when I knew her! She was a calico domestic long hair, probably a little Persian thrown in there because she had a face like an Ewok. I can still picture her fur sticking up every which way around her pursed little old lady face.

I was her doctor at the end of her life when she was dealing with chronic kidney failure. She probably weighed about four pounds, had no teeth, and would have walked with a cane if she could. She still had a lot of fight left in her though. We even managed to get her through a particularly nasty kidney infection with a course of imipenem (an intravenous antibiotic reserved for the worst of the worst) and bought her another six months of good quality of life. I remember her owners carrying her into the clinic on her pillow to begin this treatment. She was the queen and knew it.

I hope I have half of Rosie’s spunk when I’m her "age" … which would be 116 by my calculations!

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What Is the Life Span of the Common Cat?

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A strong genetic background for longevity can't be discounted. Given proper care, nutrition, and regular veterinary visits, a cat kept indoors can live as long as 21 years or more. (The average age of cats is 12-15 years) This is, of course, barring any serious medical conditions or untimely accidents.

Cats that are indoors-outdoors usually don't last to the average age because of traffic accidents, fighting with other cats, intentional acts of violence, poisoning (accidental or intentional), diseases caught from other cats, being picked up by animal control and subsequently euthanized if not claimed, and death caused by predators.

"Stray cats" AKA "feral cats" usually don't live more than a couple of years because of starvation or all of the above.

Oldest Cat Trivia:
  • The Oldest Living Cat
    According to the Guinness World Record (of 2002 - no longer available online), the oldest living cat was then a cat from Victoria, Australia, named Kataleena Lady. She was born in 1977, making her 25, a mere youngster, compared to other claims.
  • One source says the longest-lived cat was in Devon, England; a tabby named Puss, who passed on shortly after his 36th birthday, in 1939
  • In 2007, a black cat named Baby in Duluth, MN was claimed to be 37 by his owners.
  • Manx and Siamese have been mentioned as being among the longest-lived pedigreed cats.
  • The Jaguar is said to be the longest-lived species of cat, sometimes reaching 30 years.


Cats are living longer than ever. With improvements in nutrition and veterinary medicine including vaccines and therapeutic agents, cats are living to over 15 years of age and in some cases over 20 years of age. Life expectancy depends on many things, including one important factor - whether your cat is an indoor-only cat or an outdoor cat.

Indoor cats generally live from 12-18 years of age. Many may live to be in their early 20s. The oldest reported cat lived to be an amazing 28 years old.

Outdoor cats generally live shorter lives due to being more likely to be involved in traumas such as motor vehicle accidents or dog attacks. Outdoor cats are also more susceptible to several life threatening viruses including Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)  and Feline Leukaemia that are spread by fighting or contact with an infected cat.

Keeping your feline fit and healthy
There are many things you can do to help your feline friend live happily through their golden years.
  • Observation - your role is essential in noticing small changes to your cat's behaviour or general well being. You can do this by performing a weekly mini-physical examination yourself (if you are unsure about how to do this, ask us next time your cat visits). 
  • Also be on the lookout for changes in water intake, appetite, breathing patterns, coat quality, lumps and bumps, coughing, physical abilities, toileting habits and even grooming habits.
  • Routine vaccinations
  • Regular veterinary check-ups including a physical examination (find out more here)
  • Balanced diet to suit your cat's age
  • Maintain a healthy weight range
  • Exercise - regularly engage in moderate playtime
  • Provide a stress free environment

What happens as a cat ages?
The ageing process is accompanied by many physical and behavioural changes:
  • The immune system of older cats is less able to fend off foreign invaders.
  • The skin is thinner and less elastic, has reduced blood circulation, and is more prone to infection.
  • Older cats groom themselves less effectively than do younger cats, sometimes resulting in hair matting, skin odour, and inflammation.
  • The claws of ageing felines are often overgrown, thick and brittle and will need to be clipped more often.
  • Hearing loss is common in cats of advanced age.
  • Ageing is also accompanied by many changes in the eyes. A slight haziness of the lens is a common age-related change and in most cases does not decrease a cat's vision to any appreciable extent. However, several diseases-especially those associated with high blood pressure can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see.
  • Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can hinder eating and cause significant pain.
  • Although many different diseases can cause a loss of appetite, in healthy senior cats, a decreased sense of smell may be partially responsible for a loss of interest in eating. However, the discomfort associated with dental disease is a more likely cause of reluctance to eat.
  • Feline kidneys undergo a number of age-related changes that may ultimately lead to impaired function; kidney failure is a common disease in older cats, and its signs are extremely varied. Picking up changes in the kidneys early, will provide a better quality of life.
  • Degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, is common in older cats. Although most arthritic cats don't become overly lame, they may have difficulty gaining access to litter boxes and food and water dishes, particularly if they have to jump or climb stairs to get to them. Cats with arthritis or joint disease may groom less and are  less inclined to appreciate a pat over the back or tail area.
  • Hyperthyroidism (often resulting in over activity); hypertension (high blood pressure); diabetes mellitus; inflammatory bowel disease; and cancer are all examples of conditions that, though sometimes seen in younger cats, become more prevalent in cats as they age.
  • In humans, ageing changes in the brain contribute to a loss of memory and alterations in personality commonly referred to as senility. Similar signs are seen in elderly cats: wandering, excessive meowing, apparent disorientation, and avoidance of social interaction.

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