My beloved cat Jesse lived to be 19 years old. He’d gotten a little more slender over his last couple of years and I’d noticed some stiffness where he used to be limber, but even in his later years you could still get him to chase a feather toy or pounce on a catnip mouse. Watching him play with his toys reminded me that there was still a spry, curious cat inside his aging body. Of course, Jesse spent most of his time sleeping when he was older and he’d gotten a little slower than the rest of our cat crew, but 19 years old was quite an accomplishment. In fact, cats can live to be upwards of 20 years old these days. We know a lot more about our furry friends now than we did even a decade ago, and cats are living longer than ever with advances in health care, diet, and behavioral research. But with all of this information, what are the most important things you can do that can keep your cat healthy, happy, and destined for a long life? Here are my top five tips for increasing cat longevity:
1. Feed your cat WET food. Raw is best, canned will do. One of the take-home messages in my feline health and nutrition courses is that wet food is superior to ANY quality dry food you can buy. First, the high-temperature processing of dry food depletes it of nutritional value. But most importantly, wet food contains water. And water is life. Water flushes toxins from the system and keeps organs functioning. And here’s a little known fact: cats don’t really have a thirst drive; in nature, they get most of their moisture from what they eat. You can entice cats to drink from bowls or water fountains, but feeding your cats wet food will ensure that they stay hydrated. And if you can, go for a wet food with no by-products or preservatives!
2. Keep your cat INDOORS. Indoor cats typically live longer than outdoor cats for many reasons. Keeping your cat inside will protect them from cars, wild predators (coyotes, mountain lions, etc.), injuries from fighting with cats and other animals, diseases, fleas, and theft. Additionally, you’ll be protecting the local bird community and other small animals that live in your yard!
3. Spay or neuter your cat. While this should be one of the first things you do when you get your cat, it can also eliminate the chances of your cat developing testicular or mammary cancer. In fact, the chances of your cat developing some cancers can increase by 50% if you wait until your cat is older to spay her.
4. Exercise your cat’s BODY and MIND. Cats need both physical and mental exercise! Make sure they have plenty of toys to play with, which could include food puzzles and toys that take them through an entire prey sequence (ending with a “kill”, or treat). Perches, shelves, cat trees and hidey-holes for your cats are important too – they let your cat watch what’s happening outside a window, or keep an eye on what’s happening in your home. Make sure to spend time every day playing with your cat!
5. Lots of LOVE. Give your cat lots of attention and affection, but realize when your cat needs space. Give them the best life you can, and you will be rewarded with many years of companionship!
Do you have any other tips for ensuring the longevity of your cat? What are the secrets to your senior cat’s long life?