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Cat Longevity
05-19-2016, 05:09 AM,
kfander Offline


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Cat Longevity
I have always had cats, and four of my last five cats have lived into their twenties. I currently have two sisters who turned twenty-six last December and, although one of them is not doing well and probably won't be with me much longer, the other is still relatively active and healthy.

Because I want to do the best for my cats, I have collected a library of books about various issues having to do with raising cats. I take some of this stuff with a grain of salt, largely because the authors of some of these books have never raised a cat into its mid-twenties. Years ago, when I worked for a premium pet food company, I had a discussion with a colleague who worked for another well-known pet food company. After bragging about the quality of her company's food, I pointed out that the age chart that they were handing out only went up to sixteen for cats, and made the probably facetious argument that they didn't expect cats to live longer than sixteen eating their food. Comparatively, sixteen is considered to be old age for a cat but cats can live much longer than that. One of my cats was still catching birds and mice at the age of twenty-two.

Right now, I am looking at a book entitled, Your Aging Cat, and there is a section near the front of the book that is labeled, "Secrets to Longevity." The author makes several points that I agree with, such as the importance of the cat's first couple of years in determining whether or not it is going to live a long time, as that is the time that hereditary and congenital problems will rear their heads. Also, if you can feed your cats the right food from the start, it is more likely to remain healthy and alive for a long time.

Then, the author makes a point that I am sure many of you will agree with, and for which some of you may be angry with me for disagreeing, and that is that an indoor cat will live a longer life than one that is allowed to go outdoors.

First, let me clarify my position. If I am living in Los Angeles or even a much smaller city where property sizes are small and traffic is heavy, it's not a good idea to let your cat roam outdoors. I agree that, for many of you, your cat is much better off indoors. Also, if you live in a rural area where fox, coyotes, and stray dogs are prevalent, you might want to avoid letting your cat go outdoors, particularly at night or when no one is around to supervise.

Just a couple of years ago, I lost a cat, probably to a fox. I took her in at the age of about two, after having fed her as a feral cat since she was a kitten. Going outdoors meant the world to her and I have every reason to believe that, had I tried to keep her indoors all of the time, she would have escaped at some point or another. Some of you might hate this as well, but she was a hunter. Cats are made to be predators and she lived her life to the fullest, bringing me gifts of dead birds, mice, moles, voles and some creatures that I couldn't even identify, as well as the occasional exotic, such as a snake, a frog, or a live bat. That last one worried me, but no rabies. One night, a few years ago, because I had company, I had forgot to call her in after dark, and she never returned. She was twenty-two years old, and she live her life to the fullest.

For a while after that, I didn't let any of my cats outside because I don't want to lose any of them. In that, I can fully understand why someone might want to keep their cats indoors, and why so many of the experts have made it a matter of policy to recommend it or, in some cases, even demand it. However, two of my other three cats were miserable, the exception being Cutie, who usually prefers to be indoors, although she likes to sit on the back steps sometimes or graze on grass.

Taking the idea of a cat's safety and well-being depends on it being kept indoors to its natural conclusion, then shouldn't we do that with our children as well? God knows that that our children face dangers when they go outdoors. Every few days, we read of a child being struck by a car and killed, drowning, or even being raped and murdered. School seems to be one of the more dangerous places for a child. Are the experts recommending that we never allow our children to outdoors or that we keep them home from school?

No, because they realize that a child that is never allowed to go outdoors will, in all likelihood, not grow up to be a healthy adult, able to live a productive life. So, we try to be as careful as we can, but we take chances. Some of us live in places where it is far safer to allow our children to spend time outdoors unsupervised, while others of us live in places where we would never do that. We take precautions, but we also try to balance our child's safety with his or her overall well-being. I think the same is true of a cat.

If the cat isn't run over by a car or killed by a predator, the cat that is allowed to spend some time outdoors taking part in activities that a cat was created for will be a healthier, happier, better-adjusted cat. Just as healthy, happy and well-adjusted people tend to live longer than those who are none of these things, the cat that is allowed to take part in such activities is likely to live longer than the cat that is kept indoors its entire life.

I live on a reasonably large lot in a very small town. Behind me is a railroad track that hasn't seen a train in years since it leads to a paper mill that has been dismantled. On both sides of me, I have cat-friendly neighbors with cat-friendly yards. I discourage my cats from going to the front yard because the street is on that side of the house and, although it's not a particularly busy street, there is danger there. I do that by never hanging out with my cat in the front of the yard, and by ending its outdoor time for the day the moment I find it in the front yard. In case you're wondering, yes that is very effective. While a cat will extend its range over time, they are particularly comfortable in the parts of the outdoors where they have spent time with you, and where you spend your time. The front yard scares my cats, and they are not comfortable there, so they don't go there. When I see them trying to extend their territory to the front yard or street, their outdoor time is over for the day. It's not perfect, but it works surprisingly well.

I also require my cats to check in from time to time when they are outdoors, as this discourages them from extending their territory too far. At this time, I only have three cats. Two are twenty-six, and I don't have to worry about them going too far, as they rarely leave the back yard. But the younger one is less than three years old so she is testing the limits of her freedom. I don't like her killing birds or mice outdoors, and I wish she wouldn't, but I recognize that these are cat things, so I am happy for her when she does so. She was made to be a cat, and that's what cats do, so scolding her for being a cat simply confuses her. Fortunately, most of the critters are faster than she is.

Ella is outdoors only during the day, and I check on her every half hour or so, requiring her to come in from time to time during the day so that she doesn't get to feeling that she lives outside. Nearly all the time, all that I have to do is go to the back door and say, "I wonder where the Ella went," and she will come running. From time to time, she will test her limits by refusing to do so. One day, she was sitting on the steps of my neighbor's shed when I called her, and she went under the shed instead of coming to me. When that happens, she's in the rest of that day and all the next day. There is no scolding required, since cats don't respond well to scolding anyhow, and she seems to understand this. Sometimes, she just decides that it's worth it to not come in when she's called. But after being indoors all of the next day, she is extra vigilant to come immediately when I check on her the following day, and for the next couple of weeks. Every cat is an individual of course, but that works for me.

So, while I agree that your cat is far less likely to be run over by a car or killed by a predator if it is kept indoors all of the time, I question whether that is truly a healthy life for a cat. For a couple of years, I had to move to Fayetteville, North Carolina for work, and that was not the place to let a cat go outdoors. I had four of them at the time, so I did the best I could to accommodate them. I fed the birds and the squirrels outside the window, so that they could sit in the window and have something to stimulate them. I made a point to play with them more often so that they would remain active, and I even tried to get them to accept a harness. Of the four cats, one of them took very well to the harness. She hated it but she realized that was the only way she was going to get to go outdoors, so she even carried the harness to me a few times in order to let me know she wanted to go for a walk. Overall though, the cats were pleased to be able to move back home.

So I disagree with the experts over their insistence that cats should never be allowed to go outdoors. In fact, the author makes the comparison that the median age for cats who are never allowed to go outdoors is thirteen, while the median age for those who are allowed to go outdoors is six. Two of my cats are twenty-six, and have lived twice as long as the median age for indoor-only cats, and I have raised more than a half dozen cats into their twenties.

Another thing to consider is that a cat that is kept indoors might, at some point, escape. While you are coming in with a load of groceries, or perhaps a service person or visitor might not maintain the same vigilance that you do. A cat that is never allowed outdoors is likely to panic, to run, and to be unable to find its way home. Many years ago, I lost a cat like that. I was living in a place where I couldn't allow her to go outdoors and she escaped when an idiot friend opened the door while I was away. He then chased her, trying to catch her, and I never saw her again, despite spending many hours walking the neighborhoods.

Another point of disagreement that I have with the experts is over the issue of vaccinations. No, I am not wholly opposed to vaccinations but I do believe that if you are vaccinating your cat for everything that your veterinarian tells you that your cat should be vaccinated for, you are risking more harm than good, particularly when multiple vaccinations are given at once.

Since I allow my cats to go outdoors, I am in favor of a rabies vaccination, but I can't imagine why someone who never allows their cat to go outdoors would take the unnecessary risks that come from vaccinations. Vaccine-related sarcomas are not as uncommon as the veterinarians might like you to believe, and if you are taking that risk in order to vaccinate your cat against something that it is unlikely to ever encounter, then it doesn't seem to be a reasonable risk.

So no, I do not vaccinate my cats for everything that the veterinarians recommend, largely because these same veterinarians have never raised a cat to be in its mid-twenties, and refer to a twelve year-old cat as aging. Again, I am not wholly opposed to reasonable vaccinations but you should take the time to balance the likelihood that your cat is ever going to encounter the thing that it is being vaccinated against with the risks associated with the vaccinations, and don't let them vaccinate your cat for a bunch of stuff at one time.

Otherwise, the experts can offer a lot of good ideas. While I cringe at spaying or neutering a cat since it is unnatural, cats are not very pleasant company when this is not done, and the likelihood that an intact cat will get itself into trouble outdoors is multiplied several times.

The key to longevity, however, is to feed your cat right. Cats are obligate carnivores. While there is a benefit to including some vegetable matter or grains into a cat's diet, they were created to eat meat. The number one ingredient in your cat's diet should be some form of meat, poultry or fish, and with the problems associated with mercury and radioactive matter in the oceans these days, I have greatly reduced the amount of fish that I include in my cats' diets.

Whatever brand you choose, read the ingredients. More than eighty percent of what is in the food will be included in the first four ingredients. Look for meat, fish or poultry as the number one ingredient. I stay away from meat byproducts because, in pet food, byproducts too often tend to be very nasty. I stay away from corn, wheat or soy because cats don't ingest them well, some are allergic to them, and they serve only as filler, largely filling up your litter box. Grains are not necessarily harmful but they shouldn't make up a large part of your cat's diet, and brown rice is better than white rice. I stay away from gluten, as well.
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06-01-2016, 04:58 AM,
Novelangel Offline
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RE: Cat Longevity
Wow, your post was long. You might have gotten five or six threads out of this one post. (chuckle) Wink I too believe that indoor cats don't need to be vaccinated for everything that comes down the pike and my three year old calico has only been to the vet once in her life... to get spayed. She went in perfectly healthy and came out with ear mites that I then had to treat. She's never had any other condition the whole time I've had her in my home. I've had cats my entire life and the longest lived one was around 19 when he died but he had seizures and other complications from eating lead-based paint as a kitten. (He had Pica and would eat non-food items all the time.) Another lived to be about 18. I'm hoping that my girl has a very long life. I try to feed her well, though she can be a bit of a fussy eater, preferring 9-lives dry food and people-style tuna or ham over canned cat food. She's an indoor cat and can't go outside without my husband and I because we live in an apartment complex with a bunch of idiot drivers who never watch where they're going. She's pretty much afraid of the outside anyway, though she does ride well in the car. Good luck with your two old gals and I hope the sick one gets better and can stay with you a little longer. I think 26 is a remarkable age for one cat, let alone two, so you are definitely doing a lot right.
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08-27-2016, 01:53 AM,
rz3300 Offline
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RE: Cat Longevity
Twenty-six huh, that is impressive. Right now our little friend in 16 and we are starting to get a little worried and seeing some signs of the bad things. It might just be because our last cat lived until 18 so maybe we are just being a little paranoid, but still. It certainly depends on the cat, though, and it seems like you have had some old ones that seem to live well. I hope that it continue this way for you, and they all live long and healthy lives. Thanks for sharing.
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