- By Donna Jackel
The good news for cats — and those who love them — is that they are living longer.
The troubling news is, people looking to adopt a feline usually want a wide-eyed kitten. Sure, kittens are adorable, but there are some benefits in adopting a senior cat.
“Older cats want to cuddle and be warm all the time,” says Mikel Delgado, co-owner of Feline Minds Cat Behavior Consultants in San Francisco. “There is something very tender about a senior cat; they like when people come into their home; they are happy with a lap and some good snacks. Like humans, as they age…they are content with the simple things of life.”
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Delgado knows firsthand. She shares her home with littermates Clarabelle and Beanie, now 10-years-old. “I call them my raisins because they get smaller and sweeter every year.”
Better Science, Longer Lives
According to the Banfield State of Pet Health Report 2013, which analyzes medical data from nearly 460,000 cats, the average feline lifespan in 2012 was 12 years, one year longer than in 2002. The ASPCA estimates indoor cats now live between 13 and 18 years. And vets are seeing more 20-year-old cats, says Bruce G. Kornreich, a cardiologist and associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
Like their human companions, cats have benefited from scientific advances. “We’ve really improved the technology, knowledge and ability to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases,” says Kornreich. There are now vaccinations for many deadly diseases, including feline distemper and feline leukemia.
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Veterinarians also have a better understanding of how to treat chronic kidney disease, which one third of cats develop between the ages of 10 and 15. There is no cure, but through changes in diet, symptoms can be alleviated and the progression of the disease slowed, Kornreich says.
But medical breakthroughs alone don’t account for the cat’s increased longevity. The Banfield report found that neutered males live 62 percent longer and spayed females 39 percent longer than those who are unsterilized.
More owners are also keeping their cats indoors, protecting them from natural hazards — communicable diseases and predators — as well as man-made ones, like cars and toxins. “And once you make your cat a full member of the family, you are more likely to be vigilant about its health care,” Kornreich says.
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Cats repay our kindness. Research shows that senior pet owners experience less depression and social isolation than those without pets.
Your cat could even save your life: Cat owners have a lower incidence of dying from a heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases, according to multiple studies.
While cats may be living longer, playful kittens tend to steal the show at animal shelters.
To increase adoptions of older cats, some shelters make sure visitors meet them first. Incentives may be offered, like waiving the adoption fee and providing lifetime free medical care for seniors and cats with chronic, but manageable, health problems or disabilities.
A senior cat’s biggest selling point is that what you see is what you get.
“His personality is developed,” says Delgado. “If you go to shelter and the cat sits in your lap purring, rubbing, happy, it’s a pretty good [chance] that cat will enjoy cuddling in your home.” A kitten, however adorable, is an unknown quantity as its personality is not yet fully developed, she says.
Potential adopters sometimes assume that an adult cat was brought to the shelter for behavioral or health issues. In reality, the surrender is often due to family upheavals, such as death, divorce, relocation or allergy, says Nancy Peterson, cat programs manager of the Humane Society of the United States.
Some senior cats sell themselves. When Peterson was visiting a Florida shelter to film a video, a large brown tabby jumped in her lap and began kneading and licking her. “He was such a friendly, confident cat. I couldn’t stop thinking about him,” she recalls. Eight years later, Peterson and Toby the tabby are still a happy pair.
5 Ways to Help Extend Your Cat's Life
1. Check cat food ingredients To slow the progression of kidney disease, avoid cat foods with a high amount of protein and phosphorus.
2. Curb obesity Many owners underestimate the weight of their cats, says Kornreich. He recommends weighing your cat intermittently. If necessary, there are prescription diets to help cats lose weight.
3. Go for regular checkups Senior cats should visit the vet every six months; at least once a year. Keep them up to date on vaccinations.
4. Watch for problem signs Two in particular: frequent urination and increased thirst (may indicate diabetes or chronic kidney disease). Monitor your cat's stool for any abrupt changes in appearance, too.
5. Keep playing Even though senior cats are mellower, play can help prevent obesity and stimulate their minds. Scratching posts and cat towers also help older cats stretch their back muscles and keep their bodies toned.
About 800 cats, many of them older, call Cat House on the Kings home. The 12-acre, no-cage, no-kill sanctuary and adoption center is located along the King's River in Parlier, Calif. Here's a video about them: