On average, dogs live 12 years and cats, 15 years. For comparison, pet rabbits max out at around 10 years, guinea pigs 5 years, and mice at 4 years.
Just how old can dogs and cats get?
Eighteen dogs age 20 or older have been confirmed. The oldest, an Australian cattle dog named Bluey, lived for 29 years, 5 days.
But 40 cats age 21 or older are known. Fourteen of them reached their 30s, including Guinness-World-Record-holder Creme Puff at 38 years, 3 days.
To put that into perspective, 30 cat-years are equivalent to 120 of ours.
Doesn’t one cat-year equal seven human-years?
Short answer: It changes over time, starting out at around 1 (cat)/16 (human) and eventually reaching 1/3 to 1/4.
Details: There are a lot more numbers coming up, so it’s important to start out with the reminder that everything isn’t as cut and dried as it looks–animals actually pass through these stages gradually, and at their own individual pace, just as we go through our own lives.
Too, environment and food sources usually determine how long animals can live. Stray urban cats, for example, only survive for about two years, while residents of a feral cat colony are lucky to see 10 years go by.
Here, we’re talking about ideal conditions–pets that have been kept indoors and well taken care of all of their lives.
Longevity varies a bit by breed, but this is nowhere near as dramatic as in dogs (where small breeds generally outlive the large ones).
The following AAFP/AAHA (American Association of Feline Practitioners/American Animal Hospital Association) stages of development fit most pet cats:
- Kitten: Birth to 6 months. There’s simply too much going on at this point to go into details. Some of the most important milestones are eye-opening in the first two weeks of life (though true eye color only shows up at around 12 weeks) and crawling, starting around week three. At 4 weeks, the kitten weighs about a pound and weaning is underway; in another month, Young Fluffy is up to a little over 2 pounds, has a full set of milk teeth, and is in full play mode. By its fifth week, a kitten can run and soon will get around as well as an adult cat. From 8 weeks on, juvenile cats are busy learning about their world and the people and other cats it contains.
- Junior: 7 months to 2 years. Sexual maturity arrives, starting at around 7 months for she-cats. A 1-year-old is at a similar stage of development as a 16-year-old person. By age 2, that cat has reached the equivalent of our early 20s (the ratio of development has dropped slightly: 1 cat year to almost 10 human years).
- Prime: 3-6 years. These are Fluffy’s peak years, physically and mentally. This period is similar to the human 20s to mid-40s (with a ratio of 1/5).
- Mature: 7-10 years. Middle-aged cats are’t much different from their younger selves, although feline age 10 is roughly 60 human years (the ratio reaches 1/3 or 1/4–it varies a little depending on which authority you check–and this will remain steady for the rest of Fluffy’s life). Many mature cats begin to have some age-related physical changes; in particular, unspayed she-cats have smaller litters.
- Senior: 11-14 years. This span covers, roughly, human ages 60 to 72. Kitten-bearing has ended, and most cats slow down a bit. They may also fuss more over changes in routine or other stressors. Health problems that tend to show up now include kidney and lower urinary tract disease, diabetes, cataracts, and dental problems.
- Geriatric: 15 years plus. Fifteen cat-years equal roughly 73 people-years, but you’d hardly know it. Cats adapt very well to the changes of old age. Some may put on weight, but if they have enough exercise and careful feeding, most just get a little gray in the muzzle and show a somewhat more prominent backbone through their slighty thinned coat.
What special care does an older cat need?
Surprisingly little, considering the human age equivalent. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Key points are to maintain Fluffy’s level of health and to control aging processes. The basic idea is to reduce risk factors and detect disease as early as possible, when it’s easier to treat. This means more frequent checkups–at least every 6 months to a year.
- Closer observation is needed at home to spot potential problems that Fluffy might be trying to tough out; don’t automatically assume that all physical changes are due to old age.
- A little help with grooming and access to food and litter box. Older cats aren’t as obsessive about cleanliness or as flexible as they were in their youth.
- Dental care. It isn’t easy to brush a cat’s teeth, but the effectiveness of dental-care kibbles hasn’t been proven. Brushing and regular cleanings at the vet clinic are the only good ways to avoid oral disease and the acute pain Fluffy suffers from bad teeth.
- Good nutrition.
- Lots of water (some of which Fluffy can get through canned wet food)–dehydration and constipation are common in geriatric cats. Just be aware that classic signs of diabetes are increased thirst and a wetter litter box.
- Warmth (and in hot weather, coolness).
- Regular play and human interaction. They may seem aloof, but cats really do need us at all stages of their lives.
Wright and Walters (see source list below) say it best:
Old age rests gracefully on feline shoulders.
Cats are tough. Barring injury or disease, they will keep going until a major organ system fails. However, senior and geriatric cats are more vulnerable to problems that a younger kitty would easily handle.
Owners need to watch more closely for trouble signs and to check in with the vet every 6 to 12 months.
Most important of all is maintaining Fluffy’s daily routine and giving this beloved pet some space; providing assistance as needed, while trying not to turn into a helicopter pet parent.
Indoor cats can have a very long life, staying playful and healthy throughout most of it. As time goes by, there are many ways we can make them comfortable and happy–and maybe even help them earn a new Guinness World Record.
Featured image: Tatters, age 21, by vagawi, CC BY 2.0
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