Edie is a 20-year-old Siamese mix who loudly demands fresh fish a few times a week from her owners, Gayle and Gregory. Although she is thin and has lost most of her muscle mass, she is trucking along at what would be the human equivalent of 96 years of age. Edie was adopted by Gayle and Gregory after she had been abandoned in a box as a young kitten, and she is the most senior cat in their home.

I asked Gayle what she thought was key to Edie’s longevity. She thinks indoor living and Edie’s small size are the biggest contributors. Edie used to only eat dry Science Diet, but now she enjoys canned, too. She was a shy cat in her younger years but now is very attention-seeking and sits next to her owners when they are home. Edie is blind, has trouble keeping her nail beds clean, and has some bladder issues, but she stills enjoys a good quality of life, and her owners are happy she is still around.

Having just lost my 16-year-old, Shaka, I am envious of Edie’s owners. I, like most cat owners, wish my cats would live to be 20. Shaka survived cancer for over 4 years in very good health, but lost his battle last week. My other cat, Keiki, lived to be almost 17. My cats got all the health care possible and lived in an enriched environment, so I’m sure they lived as long as they could.

What is the secret to longevity in cats? I wish I knew the answer. I rarely see purebred cats live to 20 years. Mixed breeds seem to live the longest. Do a stressful household and bad food have an effect on lifespan? These are hard factors to measure. Indoor living, parasite control, disease prevention with vaccinations, and dental care all help improve and increase a cat’s life. I don’t see obese cats living to 20, but I do see many cats that eat non-premium cat food live to be 20. Lots of owners are concerned with feeding high-quality food, and I recommend this, too, but none of the cats I’ve known that lived into their 20s had any type of special high-protein, raw, grain-free or organic diets. Sorry, pet food manufacturers. Some of your diets have enticing labels and great-sounding ingredients, but show me longevity studies.

“How long do cats live?” is a question I am asked almost every day. My veterinary experience has been that most indoor cats live to 13-16 years, but quite a few live to be 19-20. It is very rare to have cats over 20 years of age. One of my clients had a little white princess kitty named C.G. who lived to be 25 years old. She has been my oldest patient.

Boy is a 24 1/2-year-old manx cat.  He is a tough old guy and despite deafness, arthritis, and some issues with his teeth and ears, he is doing well. His owner, Leslie, was proud to hear that he is the oldest kitty we currently see at my practice.  His age is the human equivalent of 114 years which is quite impressive!

Tygrr is another 20-year-old patient at my clinic. He has battled a variety of health issues including high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, a skin tumor, kidney disease, anemia, heart enlargement and arthritis but his faithful owners keep up with his treatment.

Owners frequently want to compare their cat’s age to human years; there are several scales by which to calculate this. The first year of a cat’s life is equal to about 15 years of human life. Think about it. A cat goes through infancy, childhood, adolescence and sexual maturity within a few short months. The second year of life is thought to equal about 9 years of maturation, making a 2-year-old cat comparable to a 24-year-old person. Each additional year in a cat’s life is equal to about four years in a human.

Cancer and kidney disease are the two most common causes of death in geriatric cats. There are potential treatments for both conditions, so semi-annual to annual veterinary visits and screening tests are recommended in order to identify these and other senior cat diseases. Just like in people, early detection leads to better control and outcomes.

Right now I am involved with two clinical trials involving senior cats – one involves a diet and the other, treatment for high blood pressure. I am optimistic that results from trials like these and other advances in veterinary medicine will improve the potential longevity of cats.

As I get ready to bring new cats into my home, I will again hope they will live long, healthy lives. I feel happy that Keiki and Shaka lived what would be considered normal kitty life spans but sad that they didn’t live longer.

Written by Dr. Wexler-Mitchell of The Cat Care Clinic in Orange, CA
Copyright © 2013 The Cat Care Clinic