More Than Nine Lives

We always suspected that cats had nine lives and now we've almost got proof: cats are living longer, healthier lives. Experts calculate that with good nutrition, regular checkups, and preventative medicine, a pet cat may live to be 18 or older.

"It's becoming more and more common for cats to live into their late teens," says Amy Shojai, past president of the Cat Writers of America and author of Complete Care for Your Aging Cat. "It's not unusual for cats to live into their 20's."

Shojai says that when cats receive regular checkups at the vet for ten years or longer, they benefit from the practice in their later years.

Breeding Counts

Of course, some breeds of cats are longer-lived than others, still, says Shojai, the upper limit on cat longevity is moving in an upward direction. Cats whose owners provide good care are living longer than their antecedents.  

The upward march of cat-aging can be viewed within the context of cat food can labeling. The pet food companies once viewed cats as "senior" by 7 years and "geriatric" by 12-14 years. These days, cats reach seniority at 10 and are geriatric from 14 years and over. But this is only the case where owners get involved to make sure their kitties make it to their golden years.

Shojai says that owners should concern themselves that a pet cat remains at the proper weight or even be a bit thin to live longer. Less is more. Shojai also comments that cat dental hygiene can make or break the age barrier. Keep your cat's teeth clean, says the expert.

Feline Arthritis

There is also recent evidence to support the idea that 90% of cats aged 10 and up suffer from feline arthritis. Cats who gain too much weight will suffer disabling joint pain and are also at an increased risk for the development of feline diabetes, a condition that can be fatal if not given proper medical treatment by a veterinarian.  Shojai says that keeping your cat active will help keep his joints loose so that pain is reduced while keeping his weight down. To encourage activity, aim for interactive play. Many cat owners employ food puzzles for this purpose. You might try hiding some kibble inside of a toilet paper roll. Tape the ends over and poke some holes in the end so that when your cat gives it a roll, some kibble dribbles out. Cats love to chase them. This type of play mimics a cat's instinctive "hunting behavior."

Shojai also warns that cats can develop cognitive disorders such as a feline form of Alzheimer's disease. The expert advises owners to force their cats to use their minds by providing them with games and puzzles. She says that this sort of play may prevent cognitive disability in cats.