November is not only Adopt a Senior Pet Month, it’s also the month to learn more about providing the special care our senior pets need. Just like senior humans have special needs befitting the physical age of their bodies, our cats will benefit from an appropriate diet and exercise, regular health checks and even some palliative care you may not give to a younger cat. Many cats will go on like this well into their teens, still spry and playful with a good appetite and a good attitude, perhaps just sleeping a little more and losing a little muscle mass even with regular exercise. But just like humans, other cats will begin to deteriorate at a younger age, or will develop chronic or terminal illnesses. And because many of us have rescued our companions from a life on the streets, many will bear the marks of that early deprivation, well enough when young, but with increasing difficulty as they age.
Our pets’ lives are shorter than ours, and once their age is in the double digits the fear of their seemingly imminent loss can often outweigh the joy of their potential unconditional love. But while we never have a guarantee at how long a pet will live even if we adopt it at just a few months old, our pets deserve to live as long as their natural lifespan allows. With our assistance and support, our sweet seniors can surprise us with their intelligence, sensitivity and longevity and live happily and in good health far more years than we expected.
How old is “senior”?
Above, geriatric and kitten—Cookie at age 15 was technically geriatric, and Jelly Bean at four months still a kitten. They all liked Sister Cookie, and respected her.
So just how old is a senior cat, and when do cats go from being kittens to being adults? And are there stages in between, and beyond? And do we count five years for every year to equal the human equivalent, or seven?
While we can generalize over the course of a cat’s life using “7” to multiply to reach a human equivalent, the result is way off the mark at the beginning and end of life. Consider that they can have babies as young as four months old in some circumstances, yet if we multiplied “7” by, say “.5”, we’d get “3.5”. To reach a real human equivalent for the ability to reproduce we’d have to figure it out another way.
Right now my entire household is “Mature” though Mimi is close to being “Senior”. she’s also officially “older” than me though she can run up the stairs faster than me any day. Kelly and Cookie, and Peaches before them, were totally over the “geriatric” tag, and for the first time in years we have a “Kitten” and a “Junior”! But even without their attitude about the titles of the stages, it’s a good indicator of where they are and what they need.
And if you’re wondering about adopting an older kitty, this may help you understand where they are in their lifespan.
This information was contained in the American Association of Feline Practitioners 2010 AAFP/AAHA Feline Life Stage Guidelines.
Kitten, birth to 6 months
0 – 1 month = 0 – 1 year
2 – 3 months = 2 – 4 years
4 months = 6 – 8 years
6 months = 10 years
Ready for Play, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski
Junior, 7 months to 2 years
7 months = 12 years
12 months = 15 years
18 months = 21 years
2 years = 24 years
Prime, 3 years to 6 years
3 = 28
4 = 32
5 = 36
6 = 40
Mature, 7 years to 10 years
7 = 44
8 = 48
9 = 52
10 = 56
Senior, 11 years to 14 years
11 = 60
12 = 64
13 = 68
14 = 72
Geriatric, 15 years+
15 = 76
16 = 80
17 = 84
18 = 88
19 = 92
20 = 96
21 = 100
22 = 104
23 = 108
24 = 112
25 = 116
Download a guide to Feline Life Stages and Human Equivalents
I’ve designed a guide sheet with the information above in PDF format.
Read a wonderful article on Cat Man Do, the blog of Dr. Arnold Plotnick of Manhattan Cat Specialists, Cat Age to Human Age Comparison.
The pencil sketches are available as Feline Sketches note cards on my website.
The age considered “senior” for an animal was, and still is in some cases, only seven years old. More recently, though, other authorities and perhaps even your own veterinarian, differ in opinion, especially for cats, varying from eight to twelve years of age, and for both dogs and cats we have many more categories than kitten/puppy, adult and senior. Read about the age of your cat and its human equivalent.
Loving Care for Your Senior Cat
I have a two-part article on the topic of caring for your senior cat, including symptoms to look for and precautions to take with their health to help ensure the longest and healthiest life possible, and how to make their environment comfortable as their physical needs change. This was inspired by a long line of felines in my household who lived to be 15, 18, 20 and older and supported by my veterinarian and a number of books and reference sites.
. . . . . . .
Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, Part 1
How old would you guess Stanley is in the photo above? If you know senior cats you may guess, but cats have a unique way of hiding aging from even the most attentive owners. Once cats reach three to four years of age they can go well into their teens before they show signs of physical weakness, arthritis, failing eyesight and hearing and other common ailments of an aging body of any species.
And even then they can often get along just fine with a good diet, lots of love, and a little something extra from their people. Just like senior humans have special needs befitting the physical age of their bodies, our cats will benefit from an appropriate diet and exercise, regular health checks and even some palliative care you may not give to a younger cat.
We used to assume that dogs and cats both age, over the course of a lifetime, an average of seven “human” years for every year the animal is alive. Cats, however, tend to live a little longer than dogs, and different breeds of dogs, large to small, are averaged at different “human years” for each “dog year”. Over the course of a lifetime cats may average five “human years” for every “cat year”, but they vary quite a bit at the beginning and end of their lives.
Cats are living longer and longer, and while reaching the double digits in age used to be quite a milestone, reaching the second decade isn’t unusual.
. . . . . . .
Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, Part 2, Beyond Food and Water
Many cats will go on like this well into their teens, still spry and playful with a good appetite and a good attitude, perhaps just sleeping a little more and losing a little muscle mass even with regular exercise. But just like humans, other cats will begin to deteriorate at a younger age, or will develop chronic or terminal illnesses. And because many of us have rescued our companions from a life on the streets, many will bear the marks of that early deprivation, well enough when young, but with increasing difficulty as they age.
I’m proud to say that part two of this series won a Muse Medallion in the Cat Writers’ Association’s 2007 Communications Contest and the Hartz Mountain Everyday Chewable Vitamin Award for the best article on senior cat care in the same contest. That’s when I joined the Cat Writers’ Association and it’s been one of the best associations I’ve made in my career for both writing and learning.
Read more articles in the category Health and Welfare
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!