The Cat Age Conundrum. Can Vets Really Tell How Old Tabby Is?


Determining a cat’s age can be challenging, especially with adopted cats or strays where the birth date is unknown. However, there are several ways veterinarians and owners can make reasonable estimates about a cat’s age. This article will discuss techniques veterinarians use during a physical exam to gauge age, including examining the teeth, eyes, coat, skin, and joints. We’ll also cover how bloodwork can provide clues into a cat’s age. Finally, we’ll look at how a cat’s behavior and personality can indicate their life stage. While it’s not an exact science, veterinarians can often provide a close approximation of a cat’s age through a combination of these physical and behavioral factors.

Physical Examination

During a physical examination, a vet looks for several signs that can help determine a cat’s age. Some of the main things vets look for include:

Teeth – A cat’s teeth can provide clues about their age. Kittens have small, sharp teeth that are all the same size. As cats age, their teeth become more worn down, yellow, and sometimes missing. Older cats often have significant tartar buildup as well. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, by around age 10, most cats have some degree of dental disease that a vet can identify during an exam source.

Eyes – A vet will look for cloudiness, paleness, or other changes in an older cat’s eyes that can indicate aging. The lenses in a cat’s eyes become denser and more opaque as they age. Increased opacity leads to cloudiness and bluish discoloration. According to PetCareRx, nuclear sclerosis, which causes a blue tint in cats’ eyes, is generally noticeable by age 5-6 source.


Examining a cat’s teeth is one of the most accurate ways to estimate their age, especially for younger cats under 6 years old. Kittens are born without any teeth. They start getting their baby teeth around 3-4 weeks old and have all their baby teeth by around 6-8 weeks of age. By 6 months old, all of a kitten’s adult teeth have come in to replace their baby teeth. An adult cat normally has 30 permanent teeth.

The condition of a cat’s teeth can also give clues to their age. According to PetMD, cats’ teeth develop plaque and tartar buildup as they age. Therefore, yellowed teeth can indicate a cat is around 2 years or older. Severely worn down teeth usually mean a cat is elderly, around 10-15 years old.

Vets can look at the level of wear on the teeth to narrow down age ranges. For example, Dr. Jules Benson, BVSc MRCVS and Vice President of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance explains: “By the time cats reach 3 to 5 years of age, their teeth begin to show signs of wear and the tips of the teeth become flatter. By 5 to 8 years of age, more significant wear will be seen.”

While examining teeth provides good clues to age, it has limitations in providing an exact age, especially for older cats. According to The Spruce Pets, “After around age 7, it becomes more difficult for your vet to pinpoint your cat’s age.” However, a thorough teeth exam combined with other physical checks allows vets to provide a reasonable age estimate.


A veterinarian will perform a thorough eye exam to look for signs of aging in a cat’s eyes. Some common age-related changes include:

Cataracts – a clouding of the lens that can cause vision loss. Cataracts typically start small and increase with age (Source).

Nuclear sclerosis – a hardening of the lens that causes a hazy, gray-blue appearance, but does not affect vision. This is a normal change in older cats (Source).

Changes in retinal blood vessels – vessels may become thinner and paler with age.

Decreased tear production – older cats produce fewer tears which can cause dry eyes.

The veterinarian will look for any inflammation, cloudiness, or other abnormalities in the cornea, lens, retina, and other structures during the exam. They can then determine if the changes are due to normal aging or an underlying condition requiring treatment.

Coat and Skin

As cats age, their coat and skin often undergo noticeable changes that can help indicate their age. One of the most common age-related coat changes is graying or whitening of the fur, especially around the face and paws. According to, “As cats get older, they start getting gray hair just like humans do.” However, graying may be difficult to notice in darker colored cats (1).

A cat’s coat may also become thinner, drier, and less glossy as they get older. The skin can become looser and more wrinkled.

Environmental factors like exposure to sunlight can accelerate changes to the coat and skin. But even without sun exposure, many cats naturally develop a coarser, thinner coat as they age. notes that “from about 12 years, the cat’s fur becomes a bit stiffer and thinner” (2).

While coat condition isn’t a perfect indicator of age, deterioration of the fur and skin often correlates with senior cats over 10-12 years old. So pronounced changes to coat quality and skin elasticity can provide clues a vet can use to estimate age.


As cats age, the cartilage lining their joints deteriorates and the joints can become stiff and painful, a condition known as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease in Cats | VCA Animal Hospitals). Signs that a cat may have osteoarthritis include difficulty jumping up or down, decreased range of motion, limping, and muscle wasting around the joints (Joint Disorders in Cats – Cat Owners). Osteoarthritis is very common in older cats, with some estimates that 60-90% of senior cats are affected.

During a physical examination, a vet will check a cat’s joints for swelling, pain, and range of motion. Cats with advanced osteoarthritis may show reduced flexibility in their joints and have difficulty extending or retracting their limbs fully. The joints most commonly affected are the elbows, shoulders, hips, and knees (Osteoarthritis in Cats: More Common Than You Think).

While osteoarthritis can develop at any age, it becomes increasingly common in cats over 6-8 years old. The degree of flexibility and ease of movement in the joints can help a vet estimate a cat’s age.


Blood testing can provide important information about a cat’s age. Normal reference ranges have been established for different biochemical markers in the blood, and deviations from these ranges can indicate aging changes. Some of the key age-related findings on routine bloodwork include:

– Elevated BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine levels often indicate decreased kidney function related to aging.

– Elevated liver enzymes like ALT, AST, and ALP can signal age-related liver disease.

– Total protein or albumin levels may decline with advanced age.

– Complete blood counts may show reduced red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets compared to reference ranges for younger cats.

– Thyroid hormone imbalance is a common age-related condition in cats. Testing T4 and T3 thyroid levels can help detect hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

– Tests for pancreatic function like fPLI may be abnormal in older cats.

– Serum calcium levels may increase in relation to developing hyperparathyroidism.

While none of these lab tests can definitively determine a cat’s age, the constellation of changes seen on bloodwork can provide supporting evidence that a cat is in the senior or geriatric life stage.


A cat’s behavior can change dramatically as they age, providing clues about their life stage. According to PetMD, older cats tend to be more vocal, especially at night, as they experience disorientation and confusion. They may meow persistently or wander restlessly through the house.[1] Primal Pet Foods states that from ages 7-10, cats start to lose interest in play and sleep more. Their overall activity levels decline. In contrast, kittens and young cats are extremely energetic and playful.

WebMD notes that elderly cats can act more aggressively due to memory problems. For example, an older cat may attack because they forgot where the litter box is located. Cats also become less grooming and may no longer cover their waste. Their personalities may change as well — a formerly friendly cat could start hiding more. These behavior shifts are all part of the aging process.


Determining a cat’s age can be challenging and comes with some limitations. There are several reasons why a veterinarian may not be able to provide an exact age:

Stray and adopted cats often come without any background information or medical history that could help identify age. Unless the cat has been microchipped, the vet has no way of obtaining prior records.

Certain breeds are more difficult to age than others. For example, hair length and condition are not as reliable indicators in long-haired breeds like Persians and Himalayans.

While the vet can estimate age based on physical characteristics, these are not precise and can vary from cat to cat based on care, health, genetics, and environment. Cats age differently – one 7-year-old cat may appear younger or older than another.

Kittens and younger cats under 3 years can be aged more precisely, as their physical development follows a predictable pattern. Aging adult cats 3+ years old is less exact.

Dental health issues like periodontal disease can make it harder to accurately age a cat based on their teeth. Broken teeth also complicate the process.

Previous trauma and medical conditions may alter physical characteristics that vets use to estimate age, like greying fur, cloudy eyes, or joint stiffness.

While blood and urine tests can help rule out some diseases, there are currently no definitive blood biomarkers for cat age. Cats lack identified genetic age markers as well.

In the end, a vet can only make an educated guess at an adult cat’s age. However, their experienced estimation based on a full physical exam is likely the closest we can get to determining an unknown cat’s actual age.


In summary, while a veterinarian cannot tell the exact age of a cat, they can provide a close estimation through a variety of examination methods. By looking at the cat’s teeth, eyes, coat, skin, joints and overall health, as well as observing behavior, vets can determine an approximate age range. Kittens are the easiest to age based on their weight, teeth eruption and other developmental milestones. In adult cats, less precise signs like dental wear, greying hair, degenerating vision and joints can indicate senior age. However, due to variation between breeds and individuals, it is impossible to pinpoint an exact age without medical records. The veterinarian’s experienced assessment provides the best available estimate of a cat’s age.

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