Nineteen Lives. Is Your Cat Still In Its Prime at 19?

Typical Lifespan of Cats

The average lifespan of an indoor cat is typically between 15-20 years, with some cats living into their late teens and even early 20s. According to research, the average lifespan for an indoor cat is 16.9 years for males and 17.8 years for females[1]. With proper care and nutrition, it’s not uncommon for indoor cats to reach 20 years or beyond.

Outdoor and indoor/outdoor cats have a significantly shorter lifespan, averaging only 2-5 years. This is due to the many dangers they face outside, including cars, predators, diseases, poisons, and getting lost or injured. Keeping a cat indoors significantly reduces these risks and allows them to live a longer, healthier life.

While genetics, breed, and health status impact longevity, living exclusively indoors is the most influential factor in determining a cat’s lifespan. With attentive care, a stimulating indoor environment, regular vet checkups, and a bit of luck, cats can thrive well into their late teenage and early senior years.


Signs of Aging in Senior Cats

As cats enter their senior years, typically around age 7-10, there are a number of common signs of aging that cat owners may notice. These include:

Increased Sleeping: Senior cats tend to sleep more during the day, sometimes up to 16-20 hours per day. This is normal, as older cats require more rest. However, significant increases in sleep could signal an underlying medical issue.

Less Active: With aging, cats are less energetic and playful. They may not be as interested in toys or games. Arthritis also limits mobility in older cats.

Greying Fur: Cats’ coats tend to dull and grey with age. Whitening around the face and paws is common in senior cats.

Weight Loss/Gain: Metabolism slows down leading to potential weight gain. However, illnesses can also cause weight loss in senior cats. Monitoring appetite and weight is important.

Chronic Conditions: Kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, cancer and other conditions become more common in older cats. Getting regular vet checkups helps monitor for these age-related diseases.

Other signs include decreased grooming, dental issues like bad breath, changes in litter box habits, increased vocalization, vision or hearing loss, and changes in temperament like increased anxiety or irritability. Being alert to changes in a senior cat’s health allows owners to provide the best care. For more, see the Cornell Feline Health Center.

Providing Care for Elderly Cats

As cats get older, some adjustments may be needed to their care routine to keep them healthy and comfortable. Here are some tips for caring for senior cats:

Diet – Senior cats may need more calories due to less activity. Talk to your vet about switching to a food formulated for mature cats, which is more calorie-dense and contains nutrients important for aging cats like omega-3s. Dry food can be hard to chew so consider wet food or soaking dry food in water.

Litterbox – Senior cats may need a lower-sided box for easier entry. Place boxes in easily accessible areas on each floor. Scoop frequently and use lower-dust litter to make box use easier for arthritic cats.

Exercise – Low impact exercise helps aging joints. Engage cats with wand toys that allow them to move at their own pace. Place steps up to a couch or bed. Outdoor-access enclosures provide safe roaming.

Grooming – Regular brushing maintains coat health and circulation. Check for any abnormalities like lumps. Keep nails trimmed to prevent overgrowth. Elderly cats may need baths if grooming declines.

Vet Care – Annual exams are crucial. Senior bloodwork identifies issues like kidney disease early. Stay current on vaccines and dental cleanings. Report any concerning symptoms like appetite/behavior changes (Source).

Quality of Life Indicators

As cats reach their senior years, assessing quality of life becomes an important part of providing proper care. There are several key factors that can help determine if a cat is experiencing a good quality of life:

Mobility – Can the cat move around comfortably on their own? Difficulty standing up, walking, jumping, or navigating stairs can indicate diminished mobility.

Appetite – Has the cat’s appetite decreased? Not eating or drinking normally could be a sign of illness.

Grooming – Is the cat still grooming itself regularly? Lack of grooming can lead to matted fur, skin irritation, and general uncleanliness.

Interest in toys/play – Does the cat still show interest in toys, playing, or interacting? Withdrawal could signal depression or pain.

Litterbox use – Is the cat having increased accidents outside the litterbox? This may point to health issues like kidney disease or cognitive decline.

Overall indicators like mobility, appetite, grooming, litterbox use, and interest in play can help assess if a senior cat is experiencing a good quality of life or a diminished one requiring extra care.

Common Age-Related Conditions

There are several health conditions that become more prevalent as cats enter their senior years. Being aware of these common age-related conditions can help pet owners monitor their cat’s health and catch problems early.

Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease is a frequent diagnosis in older cats, affecting more than half of cats over 15 years old according to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. As cats age, their kidneys gradually become less efficient at removing toxins from the blood. Catching kidney disease early allows for treatments like dietary changes and fluids to help slow progression of the disease.


An overactive thyroid gland, known as hyperthyroidism, is another common issue for senior cats. According to PetMD, hyperthyroidism affects about 10% of cats over 10 years old. This condition speeds up the body’s metabolism, causing symptoms like weight loss, increased appetite, and hyperactivity. Medications, radioactive iodine treatment, or surgery can help manage hyperthyroidism.


Cancer is unfortunately more prevalent in older cats. Some of the most common forms include lymphoma, mammary gland tumors, and squamous cell carcinoma. Catching cancer early and pursuing treatment options like surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation can help prolong quality of life.


Degenerative joint disease and arthritis cause stiffness, difficulty jumping, and pain for many senior cats. According to Cornell, more than 90% of cats over 12 years old show signs of arthritis on x-rays. Weight management, joint supplements, anti-inflammatories, and pain medications can help cats stay active and comfortable.

Cognitive Dysfunction

The feline version of dementia, known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome, affects memory, learning, awareness, and more. According to Coxwell Pet Hospital, around 50% of cats 11-15 years old and more than 80% over 15 exhibit signs like disorientation, altered sleep cycles, house soiling, and anxiety. There are medications and supplements that can help slow cognitive decline in senior cats.

When Is It Time to Let Go?

Making the decision to euthanize a beloved cat is extremely difficult. As a cat ages, health problems arise, and quality of life diminishes. Severe pain, loss of mobility, incontinence, and other issues can make daily living uncomfortable for elderly cats.

According to the American Humane Society, it’s time to consider euthanasia when a pet has a terminal illness, is in constant pain that can’t be managed with medication, or has a greatly diminished quality of life with no chance of improvement1. An online “is it time” checklist can help weigh factors like appetite, mobility, hygiene, happiness, and medical issues2.

While putting a cat to sleep is a last resort, it may be the most humane option when advanced disease, chronic conditions, or severe pain make daily living a struggle. Letting go before a cat’s suffering becomes extreme allows them to pass peacefully and with dignity.

Saying Goodbye

When it’s time for your 19 year old cat to pass on, you may want to consider at-home euthanasia. This allows your cat to be in a familiar environment surrounded by loved ones in their final moments. There are a few things you can do to prepare:

Pick a quiet spot your cat enjoys, like their favorite napping spot. Place a soft blanket or bed there and have their favorite toys nearby. Consider diffusing calming essential oils like lavender to help create a peaceful atmosphere.

If your cat gets anxious at the vet, ask your vet about getting a pre-euthanasia sedative you can administer at home to relax them before the vet arrives. Check out this guide for more tips on reducing stress: [1]

Have all family members present to comfort your cat as they pass. Softly pet them and speak reassuring words. Offer treats if they are still able to eat. The vet will administer a lethal injection and your cat will drift off to sleep. Most cats pass within seconds, but stay with your cat until they have passed.

After your cat has passed, you’ll need to decide on burial or cremation. Home burial allows you to create a resting spot in your yard. Cremation through your vet or a pet cremation service allows you to keep your cat’s ashes. There are even services that will press your cat’s ashes into a memorial stone or jewelry keepsake. Choose the option that best fits your situation and comfort level.

No matter what you decide, with at-home euthanasia you can ensure your beloved 19 year old cat leaves this world feeling safe, comfortable, and surrounded by your love.


Coping With Loss

When a beloved pet passes away, it can feel devastating and the grief may seem overwhelming. The loss of a pet is a significant emotional event and the grief process is a normal response. Allow yourself time to fully experience your feelings and mourn. Some tips to help cope with pet loss include:

Acknowledge your grief and allow yourself to cry – Don’t bottle up your feelings. Letting yourself cry and express the grief can help you come to terms with the loss (Human Society, 2023).

Talk to friends, family or join a pet loss support group – Speaking with people who understand what you’re going through can provide comfort. Consider joining a pet bereavement support group or talking to a counselor (Spruce Pets, 2022).

Create a memorial – Doing something to honor your pet’s memory can help with closure. Ideas include making a photo album, planting a tree, or holding a small memorial service.

Don’t rush into getting a new pet – When you’re ready, adopting a new pet can help fill the void. But don’t feel pressured to replace your pet right away. Wait until you feel the time is right.

19 Years Old – Senior or Super Senior?

Nineteen years old is quite elderly for a cat. While some cats live into their twenties, the average lifespan for domestic cats is between 12-18 years 1. So at age 19, most cats are considered senior or geriatric. However, cats that reach this advanced age are also often called “super seniors”.

The fact that a cat has made it to 19 years old likely means they have good genes and have received excellent care throughout their life. While 19 is nearing the end of a natural lifespan for cats, it doesn’t mean a cat this age is ready to pass on quite yet. With attentive care and by making appropriate accommodations for their changing needs, many cats remain happy and relatively healthy into their early 20s.

So in summary, 19 is definitely considered senior but not excessively old for a cat. With some luck and dedicated care, 19 year old cats may continue enjoying life for several more golden years. Their human companions can take pride in achieving nearly two decades with their furry friend!

Keeping 19 Year Old Cats Healthy

As cats enter their senior years, there are several things you can do to support their health and quality of life. Here are some tips for keeping a 19 year old cat healthy:

Regular vet care is very important for senior cats. At this age, annual checkups may not be enough. Ask your vet how often your 19 year old cat needs to be seen – every 6 months or more may be recommended. Senior wellness exams allow the vet to monitor your cat’s health closely and catch any problems early. Your vet can also recommend senior bloodwork, prescription diets, supplements, or other interventions tailored to your cat’s changing needs.

Pay close attention to your 19 year old’s diet. Your vet may suggest a senior cat food or one for digestive/dental health. Feed high quality wet and/or dry food in portions that maintain an optimal weight. Avoid people food, which can cause issues in older cats. Make sure fresh, clean water is always available.

While exercise needs may decrease, staying active remains important. Engage your 19 year old cat in gentle play sessions, placing toys in sight lines or food puzzles to stimulate their mind and body. Low-impact activities like brushing keep joints limber. Provide ramps and limit stairs. Outdoor time in a safe enclosure can also provide enrichment.

Environmental enrichment keeps senior cats engaged and content. Interactive toys, cat trees, scratching posts, window perches, and hiding places allow them to display natural behaviors. Spending quality time together with petting, lap sits, and grooming meets their social needs.

Monitor your 19 year old cat closely for any signs of age-related conditions like kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, dental disease, cancer, and cognitive decline. Catching problems early greatly improves quality of life. An annual senior exam, bloodwork, and other diagnostics recommended by your vet can detect issues to be managed.

With attentive daily care and proactive veterinary partnership, 19 year old cats can continue enjoying their golden years. Show extra love and patience as their bodies and minds change. Prioritize comfort and quality time together as your cat transitions into their super senior status.

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