Do Cats Really Have 9 Lives? The Truth About Feline Lifespans


The idea that cats have 7 lives like dogs have long persisted as a myth and cultural trope. But how long do cats actually live on average? This article will examine the average lifespan of cats, factors that influence longevity such as indoor vs. outdoor living and breed differences, and provide insights into the world’s oldest cats. We’ll also explore the various life stages of cats and what you can do to help your feline friend live a long and healthy life.

The 7 Year Myth

There is a common misconception that cats only live for about 7 years. This myth likely originated from the idea that 1 year for a cat is equivalent to 7 human years, similar to the myth that 1 year for a dog equals 7 human years. However, this is not an accurate comparison for either animal.

The myth probably started because people observed that cats generally live longer than dogs of comparable size. Since there was already a myth that 1 dog year equals 7 human years, people extrapolated that a similar ratio may exist for cats. But cats and dogs age differently, so comparing their aging to human years is not very useful.

In reality, cats typically live much longer than 7 years when properly cared for. The average lifespan for an indoor cat is around 12-18 years. So while cats generally outlive dogs, they do not live only 7 years as the myth suggests. Their lifespan is closer to a decade and a half or more.

Average Lifespan

The average lifespan of domestic cats has increased significantly in recent decades. According to facts on May 9, 2023, the average lifespan for domestic cats is now between 15-20 years, with many cats living into their late teens and even early 20s. This is a notable increase compared to decades past, when the average cat lifespan was only around 7-10 years.

For comparison, the average lifespan of dogs falls between 10-13 years. So while the myth of “cat years” being equivalent to 7 human years persists, cats on average actually live longer than dogs today. Factors like indoor versus outdoor living, breed, and health/medical care account for much of this extended feline lifespan compared to the past.

In summary, domestic cats on average live 12-16 years and upwards of 20 years, significantly surpassing the mythological “7 cat years” and also exceeding the average 10-13 year lifespan of dogs. Proper care and veterinary medicine have increased average feline longevity. However, many factors affect an individual cat’s lifespan.

Factors Affecting Lifespan

There are several key factors that can impact how long a cat lives, including:

Indoor vs. Outdoor: Cats who live exclusively indoors typically live longer than outdoor cats, with indoor cats averaging 12-18 years compared to 2-5 years for free-roaming outdoor cats. Indoor cats are not exposed to dangers like cars, predators, toxins, diseases from other cats, and other hazards. According to veterinarians, keeping a cat indoors can double or triple its lifespan.

Spay/Neuter Status: Neutered male cats live 62% longer compared to unneutered males, while spayed females live 39% longer than unspayed females. Spaying/neutering prevents reproductive cancers and reduces roaming/fighting behaviors that can shorten lifespan.

Breed: Some breeds like Siamese and Persian cats tend to live longer on average compared to breeds with more health issues like Maine Coons or Ragdolls. However, any breed can live a long life with proper care.

Obesity: Overweight and obese cats are more prone to diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and other conditions that can dramatically shorten their lifespans. Keeping cats at a healthy weight is crucial.

Genetics: Longevity has a genetic component, with some cats inheriting traits or vulnerabilities that affect lifespan. Selective breeding can produce cats genetically predisposed to long lives.

Diet: A healthy, balanced, species-appropriate diet supports longevity. Wet and raw foods high in protein help prevent obesity and related illnesses.

Indoor vs. Outdoor

There is a significant difference in lifespan between indoor and outdoor cats. Studies have shown that indoor cats generally live much longer than outdoor cats. According to the ASPCA, the average lifespan for an indoor cat is 12-18 years, while the lifespan for an outdoor cat is only 2-5 years.

Indoor cats live longer because they are not exposed to the dangers that face outdoor cats, such as accidents, attacks from other animals, diseases, poisons, and extreme weather conditions. Indoors, cats are safe and warm, with a consistent source of food and water. They receive regular veterinary care and monitoring by their owners.

One study conducted by Ohio State University examined over 70,000 cats across various veterinary teaching hospitals. They found the median lifespan for indoor cats was 14 years while the median lifespan for exclusively outdoor cats was just 5.6 years.

Though some cat owners choose to let their cats go outside, keeping cats indoors provides the best chance for a long and healthy feline life. With proper enrichment and attention, indoor cats can lead full, happy lives comparable to outdoor cats.

Breed Differences

There are significant differences in lifespan between cat breeds. Some breeds tend to live longer than others due to genetic factors.

The breeds with the longest lifespans include:

  • Maine Coon – 15-20 years (Source)
  • Siamese – 15-20 years (Source)
  • Persian – 12-15 years (Source)
  • Ragdoll – 12-17 years (Source)

Breeds with shorter lifespans include:

  • Manx – 8-14 years (Source)
  • Burmese – 10-12 years (Source)
  • Bengal – 10-15 years (Source)

In general, larger cat breeds and those with longer hair coats tend to live longer. Smaller breeds like the Manx have shorter average lifespans. Proper care and nutrition can extend the life of any breed.

Health and Care

Proper health care and nutrition are critical for cats to live a long life. Getting regular checkups and preventative care from a veterinarian can catch health issues early and improve lifespan. According to PetMD, annual vet exams, vaccinations, parasite control, and prompt treatment for illnesses or injuries are key.1 Things like dental cleanings, bloodwork, x-rays, and other diagnostics can uncover problems before they become severe.

Providing a nutritious diet tailored to your cat’s needs is also very important. Wet and dry food formulated specifically for cats gives balanced nutrition. Portion control prevents obesity, and senior cats may need different calories or nutrients. Hydration is also key, as cats have low thirst drive. Adding water to food or feeding wet food helps cats stay hydrated and can prevent issues like kidney disease and urinary tract infections.2

In addition to medical care, lifestyle factors like exercise, play, and mental stimulation can improve longevity. Keeping cats active and engaged, such as with toys, climbing structures, and interaction, contributes to better physical and cognitive health as they age. Things like food puzzles and changing up toys prevents boredom. An enriched environment paired with preventative veterinary care helps cats live long, healthy lives.

World’s Oldest Cats

While most domestic cats live between 12-18 years, some felines have smashed longevity records and lived well into their 20s and 30s. According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat ever was Creme Puff who lived an astonishing 38 years and 3 days! Creme Puff was born on August 3, 1967 and lived with his owner in Austin, Texas until his passing on August 6, 2005.

Some other remarkable real-life cases of extraordinarily long-lived cats include:

  • Scooter, a Siamese cat in Mansfield, Texas, lived to be 30 years old.
  • Grandpa Rex Allen, a Maine Coon cat in Virginia, reached age 34 years 2 months and 2 weeks before his death.
  • Tiffany Two, a tortoiseshell cat owned by Sharon Voorhees of Miami, Florida, lived to be 27 years 2 months and 20 days.

These cases showcase that in optimal environments with diligent care and some luck, domestic cats can live healthily into their late 20s and even 30s. Genetics, diet, exercise, mental stimulation, veterinary care, and other factors likely contribute to felines reaching such remarkable senior ages. By studying and learning from these ultra-long-lived cats, we gain insights into promoting longevity in pets.

Life Stages

Like all animals, a cat’s needs and behaviors change as they age and go through different life stages. According to Hill’s Pet, there are four main life stages for cats:

Kittens: From birth to 6 months old. Kittens are very energetic, playful and curious at this stage. They need high-protein food for growth, socialization and training, and veterinary care like vaccines and deworming.

Young Adults: From 6 months to 2 years old. At this stage cats are reaching physical maturity but can still be very active. They need healthy, balanced cat food and annual vet checkups.

Mature Adults: From 3-6 years old. Mature adult cats are in their prime and very independent. They need the same care as a young adult cat.

Senior Cats: 11 years old and up. Senior cats start to slow down and may develop age-related health issues. Caring for them includes more frequent vet checkups, a diet tailored to their needs, keeping their mind active, and adjusting their living space.


The myth that cats only live for 7 years likely stems from the shorter lifespan of outdoor and stray cats. However, cats that live indoors and receive proper care and nutrition can live healthy lives into their late teens or even early 20s. The average lifespan for domestic cats ranges from 12-18 years.

While genetics and breed can influence lifespan, providing a stimulating indoor environment, high-quality nutrition, preventative veterinary care, exercise, and affection are key factors for supporting a long, healthy cat life. With proper care and barring any serious medical conditions, domestic cats do not have a predetermined 7 year expiration. Their lifespan is closer to that of a dog, and they can remain vibrant members of the family for many years past the misinformed 7 year mark.

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