Do You REALLY Know How Old Your Cat Is?

Do you REALLY know how old your cat is? Unless you’ve had your cat since kitten-hood, do you REALLY know? One piece of advice I can give is not to trust a shelter on the true age of your cat. The shelter may be going by what an owner told them. Or an inexperienced vet may give the wrong age.

14 year old cat

Tom – shelter age was 2, his real age is 14. Photo by Elisa

So how is a cat’s age determined? I used to think teeth were the only indication in determining a cats age. I tend to take in cats who are toothless, so other methods must be used. Here are a few other ways to tell.

  • Reaction to toys. The younger the cat, the more interested in the toy
  • Body definition. Older cats may have more skin hanging or shoulder blades protruding.
  • Sleeping habits. Older cats tend to sleep more. Personally I find this one unreliable as cats are known for napping their lives away.
  • Look at the teeth. A vet will look at a cats teeth for a pattern or wear, tartar accumulation and tooth loss.
  • Coat. A kitten has a baby fine coat, which coarsens and thickens as a cat ages. An older cat may develop patches of gray or white as humans do.
  • Eyes. A young cat has bright, clear eyes. An older cat may develop cloudy eyes and also some tearing or discharge.
  • Michael wrote a page some time ago: Judging a cat’s age.

The following are also signs that you have an older cat. Many can be corrected if caught in time to improve both the cats overall health and the time it has left. Most cats near the end of their life span will have failure of one or more of the following organs and/or conditions

  • Hormone, kidney, liver, connective tissue and cardiac disorders
  • Impaired nutrient absorption
  • Impaired immunity
  • Dental problems

Veterinarians stress it’s almost impossible to narrow down a cat’s age to within a certain year. Factors such as heredity, vet care, diet and environment play a major role in how well a cat ages.

Cat lovers with adult cats, PLEASE don’t assume you know the age of your cat solely by what someone told you! And don’t just give your cat’s age on the vet paperwork without asking your vet how old he believes your cat to be. If you just walk in their office and say you have a three year old cat, your vet will assume he’s examining a three year old cat. This could jeopardize your cats health by not checking for age related conditions.

I’ve experienced this personally many times over the past year. Our cat Mia was adopted out through a rescue group and then returned when the new owner’s vet stated she was 7 instead of 3 as the shelter had told us.

Our Cocoa had been listed as 2 on his paperwork. The vet determined Cocoa to be closer to 7 on his first vet visit a week after we rescued him.

And our darling Sealy was said to be 2 (does seem to be a popular age to put on the paperwork) and his vet believes him closer to 7-8. Sealy even has some strange coloring in the fur around his mouth which tends to back up the assumption he’s an older cat.

Tom has been our greatest tragedy. He was rescued at the age of (you guessed it!) 2 last January. He was euthanized a week ago at the age of 15. I’ll live with the guilt for the rest of my life in not knowing he was a VERY senior cat. As I cautioned, if you don’t bring up the subject to your vet, the vet will assume you know how old your cat is.

Readers, have any of you been told your cats are a certain age and later found their true age way off the mark? Do any of you have tips to add to tell the true age of a cat other than what I’ve outlined here? And who should we hold responsible for these errors in age?

Your comments are welcome.

FB comments (see below)


Do You REALLY Know How Old Your Cat Is? — 7 Comments

  1. These are all really good points. It takes a good vet you can trust and a careful eye to even get close when you’re dealing with taking in adult cats from shelters or the streets.

    Another thing to consider is the tendency toward health and vigor for pure black cats (well, who may have small bits of white here and there). I rescued my Spooky from my trash cans in 1998. At the time, the vet aged him at between 4-6, which means he’s between 18-20 now. He only started showing advanced age traits in the last 2-3 years: sleeping more; losing some weight — but he’s a BIG BOY and always has been so it’s hard to see that he’s not as beefy as he used to be since he’s bigger than most cats, and he’s no longer on free feed; getting white hairs and white whiskers; walking a little more slowly; jumping less, though he can still jump up 3 feet onto our bed when he wants.

    And I may have posted before about my Sisko, who died earlier this year at nearly 15. Until hyperthyroidism made him skeletal (despite the meds), you would not have known at all he was a senior cat. He was still very agile and active and lithe and still played all the time, etc…

  2. Excellent observations for determining a cats approximate age.I remember being cheated buying my first pet in 1976, a spitz bitch from “Crawford Market”, Mumbai’s most famous pet maket.The pet shop owner told me that she was a year old and i renamed her “Blondie” her previous pet shop name being “Pyari(Loving in Hindi language)” paying a princely sum of Rs 350(1976), all my years collected savings of “Pocket money”.Blondie later developed “Cataract”in both eyes and went blind although she managed her way in our flat just by scent.She lived with us upto 1984, succumbing to cancer and old-age.In hind-sight i presume she must have definitely been a few years old when i purchased her in 1975.Although this article is not about a cat, i just want to bring to notice that its difficult to tell the exact age of cats or dogs since i owned both and at present living with two Traditional Persian cats .

    • I agree Rudolph, it is difficult just on appearance. This leaves the door open for misrepresenting age by shelters and sellers. Cats and dogs have less obvious signs of aging than people it seems to me. One reason is we can’t see the skin and the aging of skin is probably the most obvious sign of advancing years in people. Behavior is important to.

  3. Thanks for the pigment marks in the iris comment. My cat Spot was at least 14 when he died and still had the clearest amber eyes you’ve ever seen. I can understand cataracts making the eye cloudy but that’s not a steadfast sign a cat is old. Now I’ll be looking for pigments. Sealy also has the prominent shoulder blades. Hopefully these will fill out as he gains more weight.

    • Hi ELisa, I think the brown spot(s) of pigment in the iris is like a liver spot (large freckle) on hands. I am probably wrong on that but it looks like that. And it is an individual cat thing. Some cats have a genetic predisposition to them I suppose.

  4. It can be tricky assessing the age of a cat beyond the age when they are obviously young cats.

    I tend to go on condition of teeth, belly (pot belly!), grey hairs sprout out around the face and shoulders, pigment marks in the iris (dark marks in the iris). These are the major appearance factors that, for me, help to determine age.

    I wonder if rescue centers tend to under age their cats to encourage adoptions. If they did it would make sense.

    They know that kittens tend to get adopted so the general trend is towards young cats.

    People prefer young cats. Ironically older cats are better companions. They are more relaxed and less adventurous so present less of a management problem to the ‘owner’.

    How the rescue center aged Tom at 2 when he was a geriatric is beyond me unless it was a cynical bit of misrepresentation to get him adopted.

    Mind you he does not look 15 years of age. He looks in good condition and middle aged.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please try and upload photos that are small in size of max 500px width and 50 KB size. Large images typical of most default settings on digital cameras may fail to upload. Thanks. Comment rules: (1) respect others (2) threatening, harassing, bullying, insulting and being rude to others is forbidden (3) advocating cat cruelty is forbidden (4) trolls (I know who they are) must use real name and upload a photo of themselves. Enforcement: (1) inappropriate comments are deleted before publication and (2) commenters who demonstrate a desire to flout the rules are banned. Failure to comply with (4) results in non-publication. Lastly, please avoid adding links because spam software regards comments with links as spam and holds them in the spam folder. I delete the spam folder contents daily.