Unless you have had your cat since she was a kitten, her age may be a bit of a mystery. You know how long you’ve had the cat in your life but you may not know how old she really was when you first fell in love. Fortunately, there are several hints your cat can give you to estimating her true age in cat years.
Cat Age Stages
Indoor only cats live an average of 12-15 years. Those who have outdoor access or live fully outdoors have shorter average lifespans of just 2-7 years due to higher risk of disease, injury, predation, and vehicular trauma.
At different times in their lives cats require different care, from food and nutrition to exercise and play, even frequency of veterinary visits. Cat life stages can be broken into six categories:
Neonate (Newborn) Kitten
Until 4-6 weeks of age, kittens are highly dependent on their mom for almost all of their needs. Somewhere around 4 weeks is where kittens usually start to be weaned. During this phase, the mom cat should be fed kitten food.
Once a kitten starts to eat food and use a litter box, they enter the kitten stage. They are considered kittens until about 12 months of age. Kittens require several rounds of vaccines until they are at least 16 weeks old. They should be fed kitten food for at least the first 6 months of life or until they are spayed or neutered, whichever is later. Kitten food is specially formulated to support healthy growth and development. Kittens require lots of play time and interaction.
Young Adult Cat
From 1-4 years of age, cats are in the young adult stage of life. This is their prime. They are active and energetic and maintain many of their kitten qualities but with fewer destructive tendencies.
Mature Adult Cat
Cats are considered mature adults by age 4 until they are about 10 years old. Weight management is likely to become important in this stage of life, as cats’ activity level decreases. Mature adult cats should have blood work evaluated annually along with their yearly physical exam and any appropriate vaccines.
Ages 10-15 are the senior years for a cat. At this point in their lives, cats should be fed a senior diet and begin to see their veterinarian every six months for check-ups. Blood pressure and urine tests should be added to their annual blood work. Senior cats may require special consideration at home, such as heated bedding in the winter and low-sided litter boxes.
Cats who live longer than 15 years arrive at the geriatric stage of their life. Geriatric cats tend to move slowly and sleep most of the day. They may need help grooming.
How Old Is My Cat in Human Years?
Cats age at different rates at different stages of life. In their early years, cats age fast. The first 6 months of a cat’s life is equivalent to about 10 human years. By 1 year of age, your cat is now a human teenager and by 2 years, cats are about 24 years old in human years.
After 2 years of age, each year of a cat’s life is equivalent to about 4 human years. This cat age calculator is a helpful guide to determining your cat’s age in human years.
How Old Is My Cat? 7 Ways to Tell
Here are seven clues to look at to help determine your cat’s age:
Until about 5 months old, a cat’s age can be estimated by his or her weight. Kittens gain about 1 pound per month, so their weight is equivalent to their age in months. For example, a 4-pound cat would be around 4 months old.
A cat’s teeth can provide valuable hints about their true age. Kittens begin to grow in their adult teeth at 3 months of age, their adult canines erupt at 6 months, and they have all of their adult teeth by 8 months.
Teeth Staining, Plaque, and Tartar
Cats typically begin to develop staining of their teeth by 2 to 3 years of age. Even cats with very healthy, clean teeth will have a stain line down the middle of their canines by 3 years of age. The more staining to other teeth, the older the cat.
As cats age, they develop plaque and tartar usually starting with the large upper premolars in the very back of their mouth. By around 2 to 3 years of age, you will notice some tartar that increases over time. Older cats tend to have more tartar unless they have their teeth cleaned by a veterinarian. Gingivitis (gum disease) is not a useful proxy for age because some cats have severe gingivitis from a very young age.
Your veterinarian can also evaluate something called pulp/tooth ratio on dental X-rays to estimate your cat’s age. It is a measure of the width of the pulp cavity (where the nerve and blood vessel of the tooth are) relative to the width of the canine tooth (fang). This ratio decreases with age.
There are several changes in the eyes that occur as cats reach their senior years that can be helpful in estimating age. Lenticular sclerosis (nuclear sclerosis) is a normal aging change. The lens of the eye begins to have a blueish, hazy appearance detectable around 10 years of age.
Iris atrophy is also a normal aging change in cats found in many seniors over 10 years old. If you look closely at the inner edge of a senior cat’s iris (the colored part), you may notice that the edge is not completely smooth but rather has a slightly feathered appearance. Iris atrophy does not affect your cat’s vision but may make her more sensitive to bright light, as she cannot constrict her pupil as much anymore.
Just as humans go gray and dogs develop gray muzzles, the skin and coat can give hints about a cat’s age. Cats don’t develop gray muzzles the way dogs do, but their vibrant colors may fade some with age. This is especially true for very dark colors. Cats who go outside may develop changes to their coat color at young ages due to sun damage. True changes in coat color and not just gradual fading may indicate a hormonal problem and should be addressed by a veterinarian.
Skin and Coat Health
Senior and geriatric cats may no longer groom themselves well and their fur may become dull, greasy, or matted. Importantly, overweight cats may not be able to reach all the parts of their body to clean so they may develop the appearance of a geriatric cat earlier in life. In addition, geriatric cats tend to have very thin papery skin, similar to geriatric humans.
Cats are very agile through at least their mature adult stage. After that, you may notice your cat is less likely to jump onto the highest counters or accomplish the acrobatic feats of their youth. Senior and geriatric cats may even have difficulty stepping over high-edged litter boxes and may be slow to rise in the morning, which could indicate arthritis.
Cat Age and Health
Unless you know when your cat was born, even the most educated guess is still just an estimate. But, health is more important than chronologic age, so the more steps you take to keep your cat healthy, the more good years she will have.
Never assume a change in your cat is “just old age.” Veterinarians have a saying that “age is not a disease.” Just because your cat is getting older doesn’t mean she should have to feel anything less than her best. If you notice a change, it is worth having your veterinarian examine your cat. There may be simple solutions or management strategies so that your cat can enjoy her golden years, whatever her true age.