The average life expectancy of a cat and how to care through until old age

Thanks to advanced pet care, our furry friends are living longer than ever before. High-quality diets and neutering has drastically improved the average cat lifespan, with many domestic cats living into their twenties today. 

It’s crucial that you adjust your routine for your pet once they enter their senior years. But how do you know when your cat is slowing down and how to care for them? 

In this guide, we explore some of the most common health conditions associated with ageing, their symptoms and how to prevent them.

How long do cats live?

Typically, the average life expectancy of a cat is 14 years, according to a study published by the Royal Veterinary College. While many factors can contribute to the shortness or longevity of a cats lifespan, it’s safe to say that they put their nine lives to use over their lifetime. 

Many factors can influence a domestic ‘indoor’ cat’s life expectancy. Their diet and nutrition, along with weight and vaccinations, can typically change how long they can live. 

Over 90% of domestic cats in the UK are free to roam outdoors. Typically, ‘outdoor’ cats usually have a shorter life expectancy. They’re exposed to the dangers of road traffic and attacks from other animals. 

There are six keys stages of a cats life cycle. While dependent on diet, environment, and health, knowing your cat’s life stage can help you understand their behaviours. 

The stages are:

  • Kitten (Up to six months) — This is their first life stage. Newborn kittens come into the world blind and deaf; they’ll usually have to be licked by their mother to start their breathing, too. Only around the tenth day do kittens open their eyes and start to use their other senses. They’ll typically tend to go through their biggest growth spurt throughout these six months, as well as develop their play drive.
  • Junior (Six months - two years) — During this period, your cat will reach full size as well as sexual maturity. It’s also a good idea to get them neutered to avoid unwanted litters. This stage in development is crucial as they begin to fully develop their hunting and stalking abilities.
  • Prime (Three - six years) — As your cat enters its prime years, it’s important to make sure that you keep them in good health. Making sure they stay active is crucial in their development for later life. 
  • Mature (Seven - ten years) — Usually, play activity begins to decrease and your pet is likely to slow down. During these years, they’re more likely to gain weight and show early signs of health issues like arthritis. 
  • Senior (Eleven - fourteen years) — Senior cats may begin to exhibit behavioural changes like litter box usage and vocalisation issues. It’s important to keep up to date with any changes that may impact their quality of life. 
  • Geriatric (Fifteen years and over) — During this period, it’s usual for cats to have completely slowed down. It’s important to notices changes to their appetite and exercise usage as well as changes in vision and hearing during these years. You should also arrange frequent vet visits every 6 months to check on your cat’s health.

Common health conditions associated with ageing

While we’ve touched on the most common health conditions cats can suffer from, it’s also important to understand common signs that are associated with ageing. Cats can also suffer from age-related conditions just like humans. 

Here are the six most common signs of ageing that could mean reevaluating how your care for your cat: 

  • 1. Cloudy eyes and loss of vision

    Most of the time, your cat’s eyes will begin to look cloudy or hazy as they grow older. While this can sometimes be a sign of cataracts, typically it’s a condition called lenticular sclerosis. Unlike cataracts, this won’t impact your cat’s vision, and almost all cats by the age of 9 will show signs of lenticular sclerosis. 

    Partial or complete blindness may occur for some cats as they age. If you notice that your pet begins to walk into objects or their pupils have dilated significantly, take them to the vet immediately. In severe cases, sudden blindness may occur due to complications from high blood pressure, causing retinal detachment. 

  • 2. Decreased mobility

    While it’s obvious that most pets will start to slow down as they age, a rapid decrease in mobility isn’t normal. If your cat’s mobility has decreased suddenly, this could be due to a more serious condition, like osteoarthritis. This chronic degeneration of the joints, — especially in the hips, ankles, elbows and knees — can cause your pet to slow down significantly. 

    If your furry friend suddenly can’t jump onto her favourite spot anymore and shows signs of distress, it may be worthwhile to take a trip to the vets for an X-ray.

  • 3. Mood Swings

    Have you noticed a change in your cat’s mood? If they seem grumpier than usual, this could be due to many factors. A condition called hyperthyroidism can cause cats to become agitated and aggressive. 

    If your feline has never usually shown signs of a bad mood, a quick trip to the vets can sort this out. Hyperthyroidism is usually diagnosed through a blood test.

  • 4. Disorientation and vocalisation

    While it’s obvious that cats meow for your attention, it can be a sign of distress if they start doing it more than usual. 

    If you notice an increase in your cat’s vocalisation, especially during the night, and they appear disoriented and walk into objects, this could be a sign of cognitive dysfunction. Like dementia in humans, cognitive dysfunction can affect awareness, sight, hearing, memory, and the ability to retain information. 

  • 5. Weight loss

    Cats tend to lose the ability to digest and absorb fats as they get older. Usually, this results in weight loss which can make them appear bonier, as they lose muscle mass. Conditions such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease can also cause cats to lose weight.

  • 6. Increased thirst and urination

    If you’ve noticed that your cat has been begging for more water later or you’ve been filling up her water bowl more frequently, this could be a sign of old age. 

    Conditions like chronic kidney disease, diabetes or hyperthyroidism can be a cause of increased thirst and as a result, urination. If your cat is soiling outside of her litter box or just urinating more often, it’s best to get her checked over by a vet. 

How to care for your cat as they age

As you spend every day with your pet, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint when your cat started to show signs of ageing as it can be subtle. That’s why the most important thing you can do to help your cat with ageing is to take them to the vet regularly. Regular check-ups every 6 months for senior cats are an excellent timeline to see if any new problems have arisen in recent months. 

You may need to make changes to accommodate your cat’s needs as they age. If they’re not as spritely as they used to be, consider getting a ramp so it’s easier for them to reach their favourite places. Placing a litter tray on all levels of the house will aid in incontinence, and place food and water bowls in easy to access places. 

A cat is for life

Whether you have a purr-fect new kitten or furry friend in their old age, our guide to looking after your ageing feline friend should help you to ensure that you give your cat the care and attention they need throughout their life. Read our handy guide on  Cat Insurance to make sure you get the best cover for your cat.

But most importantly, remember to give them lots of cuddles (if they allow it, of course).

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