Kylyssa loves raising saltwater creatures and caring for furry animals.
Increase Your Cat's Longevity With a Few Practical Tips
Cats are wonderful companion animals. They provide affection and comfort to those who live with them. Unfortunately, cats don't live as long as we do, but there are steps you can take to help your cat live a long, healthy life.
I'd like to share with you what I've done (or wish I could have done) to try to increase my cats' longevity so that maybe you, too, will be able to have a little more time to spend with the cats you love. These tips come from a combination of my own experience with cats and tips veterinarians (and one wonderful crazy, old cat lady) have given me over the years.
My Cats Have Lived Long, Healthy Lives
I'm not a veterinarian or pet-care specialist, but I've had companion cats that have lived long, wonderful lives. Of my last four cats to pass on over the years, one lived to the age of 19, another to the age of 20, and another to the age of 21.
Fatbat, the semi-sweet chocolate fellow in the photo series above, passed on at 22. He was with me through thick and thin, through bad relationships, through moves and job changes, and through joy and sadness for over half of my life. I was truly blessed to share my home and heart with such a loving bundle of fur.
So, let's get to it. Here are my tips on how to help your cat live longer.
How to Help Your Cat Live Longer
- Keep Cats Indoors Only
- Spay or Neuter Your Cat
- Practice Good Dental Hygiene
- Keep Your Cat Hydrated
- Feed High-Quality Cat Food
- Visit the Vet
- Exercise Your Cat
- Provide Plenty of Affection and Contact
1. Keep Cats Indoors Only
Tip: Living indoors can increase your cat's lifespan dramatically.
Cats did not evolve in the age of mass transit and cars; they are helpless and vulnerable when it comes to cars and unable to reason out how to safely cross roads. Even when standing still, automobiles present a hazard to cats. Cars drip deadly, toxic substances which can kill any animal that ingests them. Some cats are attracted to anti-freeze, which is composed of toxic chemicals. Even if cars did not exist, the great outdoors is not safe for domesticated cats.
They Face Predators and Disease
Outside, cats can fall prey to predators, including wild animals and humans. Cats can also be gravely injured by pet dogs or even other cats. They can catch viruses, diseases, and parasites—sometimes even untreatable illnesses. Cats also did not evolve in cold, wet climates and can die from exposure to the elements.
Humans Also Pose a Threat
In some areas, people are trying to create legislation to make it legal to kill stray cats, and in some areas of the United States, it is legal to kill "stray" cats. You can be assured that people aren't going to be checking for tags and collars when they start shooting or poisoning cats. It is also quite common for people to torture and kill cats whether it's legal or not. My dad learned this when he was an animal control officer, so keep your cat inside.
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2. Spay or Neuter Your Cat
Tip: Spayed and neutered cats live longer.
Spayed and neutered cats are proven to live, on average, three to five years longer than cats that are not spayed or neutered. So, not only will spaying and neutering prevent unwanted litters of kittens and unpleasant urine marking, it could give you more years with your beloved kitty!
3. Practice Good Dental Hygiene
Tip: Healthy teeth increase cats' lifespans.
Yes, I said dental hygiene. This means not only following through with any dental procedures your veterinarian may recommend, it means brushing your cat's teeth. No, really, it can be done, and it isn't that hard to do.
Why is dental care important for cats?
You may ask what benefit this provides. When a cat loses teeth, it impairs its ability to eat, but worse than that, gum disease and mouth infections can kill your cat in many unpleasant ways. Bacteria from infected gums can cause heart problems, cause sepsis, infect the jaw and spread, infect the sinuses, and probably do lots of other awful things. Not only can bad dental hygiene kill your cat, but it can also cause your cat pain. If you still aren't convinced, go eat a can of tuna. Now, never brush your teeth again. Exactly . . . ew!
Another benefit of brushing your cat's teeth is fresh, sweet cat breath, and not a lifetime of old fish and tooth decay. So, brush their teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste designed specifically for cats. I try to brush my cat's teeth at least once a week, if not more frequently. Your cat may also desire something to chew on.
Dental-Care Products for Cats
Whatever you do, don't use toothpaste made for humans on your cat! It will sting his mouth, upset him, and may even be toxic. Using a cat toothbrush with nothing on it is much better, and many of them are sold bundled with a tube of pet-appropriate toothpaste. These products will also last a long time because you don't use very much of the toothpaste with each brushing.
4. Keep Your Cat Hydrated
Tip: Well-hydrated cats are healthier.
Always provide your cat with a constant supply of clean drinking water. Some older cats may not take in enough water, so a moving water supply can entice them to drink more. You can also ensure that elderly cats get enough fluids by feeding wet or canned food mixed with a bit of drinking water.
Consider Getting a Cat Fountain
My roommate owns the deluxe version of the Drinkwell pet fountain and her cats like it a lot. The cats catch the water before it hits the bowl either with their mouths or their paws. And we all know cats can be picky. This fountain has a carbon filter that filters out impurities. It's a lot like drinking from a running tap, so most cats love it.
5. Feed High-Quality Cat Food
Tip: Better-quality food can lengthen a cat's life.
Yes, it costs more per pound, but it also costs less than it seems. Much smaller servings of quality cat food will feed your cat better than larger servings of grocery store cat food. Some premium cat foods have serving recommendations as small as a third the size that nutrient-poor, cheap cat foods do. Premium food can cost more than twice as much per pound but cost less per day to feed. Not only that, but you will use less cat litter. If cats eat nutrient-dense, quality food, they produce a lot less waste.
What do I mean by high-quality cat food?
High-quality cat food does not contain soy as a major protein source as cats cannot properly use soy protein. Soy has side effects such as gas, bloating, and poor nutrient absorption. High-quality cat food contains meat as its primary ingredient. Cats are obligate carnivores—that means they must eat meat to survive.
I suggest brands such as:
- Blue Buffalo
- Royal Canin
The food I prefer to feed is Innova Evo. I also fed my elderly cats homemade food— usually cooked chicken meat and a little of the fat combined with brown rice, pureed. It turns out to be cheaper per serving than canned cat food and it excited their appetites—something beneficial for many elderly cats.
6. Visit the Vet
Tip: Proper veterinary care and catching illnesses early helps cats live longer.
Whenever possible, take your cat to see the veterinarian for a checkup at least once a year. Regular vet visits will catch illnesses before they become too serious to treat effectively and they will also help you to keep a handle on your cat's overall health. Follow all of your veterinarian's recommendations.
7. Exercise Your Cat
Tip: Exercise can keep your cat healthier and aids longevity.
By exercise, I mean play. Playing with your cat is healthy for them and fun for you. Get your cat to chase a piece of string, a laser-pointer light, a feather, or a commercial cat toy at least once a day. Other toys such as jingly balls and catnip mice create motivation to play when you are not available. A good scratching post will provide exercise as well and save your sofa from kitty.
8. Provide Plenty of Affection and Contact
Tip: Shared affection is good for both you and your kitty!
Affection is good for your kitty and for you. Some studies suggest that owning a pet, such as a cat, reduces blood pressure. I know that a pet can provide vital love and affection when no one else will. It's our responsibility to return this affection in full measure.
Even if lots of love won't directly increase your cat's lifespan, it will surely make the time you share more enjoyable. A happy cat is a healthier cat.
Should Cats Be Let Outside or Is It Too Dangerous?
The following stories are from readers describing their experience and beliefs around whether or not cats should be indoor-only or indoor-outdoor. Don't forget to share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Yes: "Cats Should Be Let Out If They Want to Be"
Cat Guardian: kirsten7767
Story: "My purrecious baby was a full-grown feral when we adopted him, and although he spends most of the spring winter and clinging desperately to my lap these days, during late spring and summer there is no keeping him inside. Either we let him out, or he breaks out. I do worry about him when he's gone, but he grew up outdoors and he's a stubborn old fool. It would greatly depress him if we barred him from the outdoors."
Cat Guardian: lovelylashes
Story: "Cats are independent creatures who want to have a little fun! Unless the cat lives somewhere around vicious wild animals or a busy street, why not let it connect with it's inner tiger?"
Cat Guardian: jptanabe
Story: "I think it depends on where you live and your cat's nature. We have 3 cats and they are allowed out when they want. 2 of them stay indoors all winter! But they love to watch out the window, and in the warmer weather lie out in the sun outside. The other arrived as a stray and goes crazy if we try to keep him indoors. It would be cruel to keep him indoors."
Cat Guardian: momto4 lm
Story: "I guess it really depends on where you live. I live in the country and I would have no problem letting my cat out if she wanted to go out. I can see where it would be dangerous if you lived in the city or next to a busy road. My first cat hated being indoors so she spent most of her life outside. She lived a happy, long life."
Cat Guardian: anonymous
Story: "Cats were originally undomesticated. They love to hunt, so letting them out at night is in some ways important. If you let them out at night, they find it easier to keep out of trouble and there is often less traffic. I say this as the proud owner of four extremely alive cats!"
No: "It's Too Hazardous. Keep Kitties Inside Where It's Safe."
Cat Guardian: persistance lm
Story: "I once read a book that said: When the cat owner firmly believes that a cat is happiest when he is kept indoors and away from danger, the cat is happiest when he is kept indoors and away from danger. I couldn't agree with it more. As much as we humans try to interpret our cat's feelings, unless he is safe and sound, he won't have much time to enjoy his feelings."
Cat Guardian: jerrodtong
Story: "No, it isn't cruel to keep a cat indoors because they were born in raised in a home, not outside in a trashcan. There are still certain ways you can take your cat outside and it be safe. First, make sure he has all of his shots so he can't catch any diseases, and then you could just use a kitty leash. Most cats don't like them because it wraps around their body. When I first took my cat outside, he was afraid of the grass haha"
Cat Guardian: snazzify lm
Story: "Indoors! My cat used to go outdoors for hours a day but that led to many problems. Now that we keep him inside, he is healthier (although "fluffier")."
Cat Guardian: SLHamilton LM
Story: "I have 2 cats and keep them in the house where I know they will be safe. I had a custom cat condo built for the 2 of them. They like to lay on it and look out the window. If I go outside to eat on the patio they will step out onto the patio and look around a bit, but seem to feel safer going back indoors."
Cat Guardian: naturegirl7s
Story: "We keep all of our cats inside and even built a screened in back porch, complete with plexi-glass "skylight" for all of us. Pepper, the cat that was left behind, will soon be coming into our home."
Cat Guardian: RinchenChodron:
Story: "I keep my cat indoors and he's almost 19. It works, and if you love them, you will keep them in!"
Cat Guardian: suecat
Story: "I keep my cat indoors and he's almost 19. It works, and if you love them, you will keep them in! - RinchenChodron Indoors is way better. Your cat will not get sick or injured, and you will not have to see the vet as often. We open the door on very rainy days or very cold days so that the cat can agree with our choice..."
Cat Guardian: mysticmama lm
Story: "As someone who lost my heart & soul last July when my kitty Wompuss was killed by a vehicle, I will never ever let a kitty outside without being on a leash again. The world is just too dangerous. People who love their cats should keep them indoors. Those who don't keep them indoors don't deserve cats."
Cat Guardian: SusannaDuffy
Story: "I've always kept my cats indoors at night. Apart from everything else, they are predators and kill the local wildlife when the sun goes down."
Cat Guardian: lightrix
Story: "If you can provide a good indoor home with enough stimulation including toys, things to chase, and things to climb on, I think it is perfectly fine to keep them inside."
Cat Guardian: Agapantha
Story: "It's not just cars, it's dogs and wild animals. Keep her inside."
Share Your Thoughts Below
Interested in learning more? This book contains tips from veterinarians for helping cats to live longer, healthier lives. I recommend it to anyone wishing to help his or her feline companion attain better health. Also, be sure to share your cat guardian stories below!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2010 Kylyssa Shay
Leave Your Paw Print
forthecat on October 15, 2012:
A very nice read. My cat lived to 20 years old, almost reaching 21. He was an outdoor cat most of his life but chose to spend most of his last years inside with an occasional guided walk around the garden :-) I got him a water fountain too, best thing i ever bought for my cats.
anonymous on June 10, 2012:
This is an awesome article. I lost my cat to kidney failure at the beginning of this year . I think about her all the time and feel bad for her suffering, she was only 9. Im planning on adopting a cat soon and I will definitely use these tips so it can live a healthy happy long life and not have to suffer. Thanks !
Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on May 21, 2012:
@anonymous: Cats have very individual tastes. My roommate's cats can't get enough of the Blue Buffalo and even my crotchety old cat picked out the dark kibbles to eat. They're called something like life bits for marketing so we used to say Fatbat sucked all of the life out of the cat food.
Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on May 21, 2012:
@anonymous: Home made cat food isn't necessary for good health, it just helps to stimulate appetite in many very elderly cats.
anonymous on May 21, 2012:
@suecat: I tried the expensive like BLUE BUFFALO they won't touch it!!!!
anonymous on May 21, 2012:
Any info is benfical,We have three cats but I'm not really sure on mixing homecat food because one of our cats is the ROBINSON CARUSO and the other twowon't eat anything we put down other than dry or canned!!! BUT I TRULY LOVE THEM ESPECIALLY OUR FIRST TWO!!!
Inkhand on January 04, 2012:
A great lens on cat longevity.
Yvonne L B from Covington, LA on September 08, 2010:
Very good advice.
RinchenChodron on August 05, 2010:
A great lens - I'm lensrolling it to my Emergency Pet Care Kit lens.
momto4 lm on February 11, 2010:
Great advice! We got a kitten about four months ago and she is such a great pet! She gets along great with my four kids and I hope she is with our family for a long time!
suecat on January 14, 2010:
Good advice ! I agree with keeping cats inside & buying the best food: on the long run the more expensive (& quality) food cost Less(a lot less health problems, eating less etc..)
Bambi Watson on January 09, 2010:
Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on January 08, 2010:
No matter if my companions are spayed/neutered there is always someone who lets their own cats out and they will harass mine. Fights, diseases, possums, cars, no thanks!
Vladimir from Australia on January 08, 2010:
I don't think your duel is working, it must have been hit by a car. Personally, I spend a couple of hours outside but I have an enclosed backyard and, come dusk, I am locked in. Once I objected to this but now I', grateful for my 19 years of safety. Just don't mention the vet! I detest my 6 month check-ups
Samantha Lynn from Missouri on January 08, 2010:
Treasures By Brenda from Canada on January 08, 2010:
Very nicely done!