How Long Do Cats Live?

17 May 2021 - 4 min read

This article was written for the United States market and the advice provided may not be accurate for those in the United Kingdom.

Kitten hiding under a rug

The Truth About the Average Cat Lifespan

We know that cats age differently than humans, and we are always trying to figure out how old our pets are in “human years.” This chart, provided by the American Animal Hospital Association, helps convert a cat’s age into the equivalent human years.

There are many things pet parents can do to try to give their cats long, healthy lives. These include lifestyle, access to veterinary care, and keeping up with cats' needs as they age.

How Long Do Cats Live?

Cats tend to live between 12 and 15 years. However, it’s hard to find consistent evidence of the average lifespan for a household cat.

Today it is not uncommon for cats to live to be 20 years old or older. Even just a generation ago, it was rare for a cat to live past 10. But now, due to our improved understanding of cat health and access to high-quality veterinary care, cats are living longer than ever.

Many factors influence how long you can expect your pet cat to live. One of the most important considerations is whether your cat lives indoors or has access to the outside world.

How Long Do Outdoor Cats Live?

The average lifespan for outdoor cats is much shorter, just 2-7 years.

This includes cats who go outside occasionally and those who rarely come inside as they both face risks outdoors that can shorten their lives.

Cats who go outdoors can face predators, cars, and other cats who can injure or even kill your pet. Fight wounds often become infected, and cats may hide instead of coming home for treatment, putting their lives at risk from an easily treated injury.

Outside, cats are exposed to fleas and ticks, intestinal worms, and diseases from other cats. While parasites can be prevented with monthly treatments, there is no prevention or treatment for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), severely compromising your cat's immune system making them more vulnerable to disease.

Another virus common in outdoor cats is Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), transmitted through friendly contact between cats. There is a vaccine against FeLV, but if your cat does get it, she is likely to become very ill at a young age.

In short, it's OK to let your cat roam and enjoy their life outdoors, but you should make sure you keep up with their annual vaccinations and monthly preventative treatments. Also, you may want to consider pet insurance in case anything does go wrong.

What Impacts a Cat's Lifespan

Indoor cats still face risks to their health, but most of these can be managed through regular veterinary visits and preventative care.

However, just like for humans, cats' genetics play a significant role in determining their lifespan. Some families of cats simply live longer. Unlike humans, though, you are unlikely to know who your cat's parents are, let alone trace their ancestry.

One important and easy thing you can control is whether your cat is spayed or neutered. Spaying or neutering a cat increases their lifespan by 37% and 62%, respectively! (State of Pet Health Report 2013, Banfield Pet Hospital). It is also part of being a responsible pet parent.

Several diseases common in cats can impact their lifespan, these include:

  • Deficits in kidney function (chronic kidney disease)

  • Overactive thyroids (hyperthyroid)

  • Diabetes

  • Digestive issues (inflammatory bowel disease/small cell lymphoma)

How to Help Your Cat Live Longer

Regular visits to the veterinarian and proper preventative care can increase a cat’s lifespan.

Your veterinarian is trained to notice changes before they become life-limiting illnesses. These include weight, coat health, and dental health, in addition to shifts in bloodwork that indicate disease. But your veterinarian can only identify the problem; it is up to you as a pet parent to take action.

Learn how to do the basics like giving your cat medication or providing prescription food. You may also want to make changes around the house, such as adding extra litter boxes or making them easy to access if you have an aging cat.

Help your cat live longer and plan ahead by purchasing pet insurance or creating a dedicated savings account for vet care. Providing treatment costs money, and no-one ever wants to feel like their cat's life was shortened due to financial constraints.

Just as pet parents need to be willing to provide treatment, cats also need to be trained to accept it. A few pet parents think that cats' behavior can impact your ability to care for them. Uncooperative cats can make it harder to give them treatment.

Veterinarians can provide a mild sedative for you to give your cat before the clinic trip so that their behavior doesn’t stop them from getting care. Start training your cat from a young age using positive reinforcement to encourage it to accept medication and be calmly handled at home.

At home, keep your cat at a healthy weight to reduce their risk of diabetes and painful arthritis, which can both reduce a cat's quality and length of life.

Provide high-quality, nutritionally balanced food, clean litter boxes, plenty of fresh water, and lots of playtime.

As your cat ages, keep up with their changing needs to improve their quality of life. Kittens, adult, senior, and geriatric cats all have different needs, including active playtime, type of food, and litter box type, among other household modifications.

Homes with kittens should be kitten-proofed. Middle-aged cats should be encouraged to be active. Older cats even have different grooming needs as their skin gets thinner, and they may not use their scratching post as vigorously.

While you can't will your cat to live forever, keeping them indoors, getting them to the veterinarian regularly, and making sure they feel safe and loved at home can go a long way to extending their lifespan.

Hanie Elfenbein, DVM
Emergency Clinician

Dr. Elfenbein received her DVM from the University of California, Davis where she also earned a PhD in Animal Behavior as part of the Veterinary Scientist Training Program.