People tend to have one of two very different opinions of cats. Some of us consider them to be furry, strange, independently-minded feline companions who, according to one study, have a basic understanding of the laws of physics. Others think that they are thoroughly rude and comprehensively violent – miniature lions that masquerade as pets.
If you’re a member of the latter group, then the latest scientific advancement in the world of cats may come as bad news to you. According to a study in the incredibly specific Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, just as improved diet and medical care have lengthened the lifespans of humans, advances in nutrition and veterinary care has dramatically increased the lifespans of cats. In the US alone, 20 percent of pet cats these days are 11 years of age or older, something that was unheard of half a century ago.
Nowadays, cats reach the so-called “geriatric” life stage at the age of 15, but it is increasingly normal for them to live into their late teens and even into their early twenties. The cat equivalent of a human centenarian is one that has reached the age of 21.
The question, of course, is whether or not these more aged cats are growing old healthily. A team of researchers and veterinary experts from Cornell University, North Carolina State University, and a range of pet nutrition groups decided to find out, and they scoured through reams of studies in order to produce a comprehensive review paper on the subject.
“As our senior pet population continues to expand, we have a responsibility within the veterinary scientific community to invest in research that can contribute to improved nutrition, health care and quality of life for our aging feline patients,” the authors write in an accompanying editorial.
Nur nur. Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont/Shutterstock
Looking at a range of aspects of cat-based aging, including their musculoskeletal health and cognitive abilities, they define a healthy cat as one that shows none of the “DISHA” patterns of negative signs observed in dogs: disorientation, interaction changes, sleep disturbances, house soiling, and changes in activity. Any of these signs in isolation are possible causes of concern, but more than one occurring at the same time is a clear indication of degenerative processing occurring with advanced age.
However, they do point out that “it can be difficult to determine if a cat is displaying age-related changes that are appropriate for age or if they reflect an abnormal process or condition.” They go on to say that, as an example, “degenerative joint disease may be present in the healthy [aged] cat without causing any clinically evident signs.”
Cats that age will naturally begin to take on a few new characteristics, many of which are inevitable, but not serious. They will most likely have a reduced stress tolerance, their eyesight and sense of smell may be somewhat diminished, and they may even change the way they vocalize.
Aging well, as the authors define it, seems to mean that they are still very much cognizant, of a healthy weight, and relatively mobile by the time they reach the twilight of their lives – and there’s plenty of evidence to show that cats are indeed living longer and healthier lives than ever before.
Whatever you think of cats, science has shown that they mostly think that you’re nothing but an idiotic kitten or a malfunctioning landlord. Now it seems that you’ll have to put up with their disdainful looks and mischievous plotting even longer.
Science has proven that cats are essentially liquid. Nataliya Kuznetsova/Shutterstock