Cats that live the longest?
The question is a bit ambiguous but I believe it can be rephrased as follows: “Which species of cat has the longest lifespan on average?”. I have to include the word “average” because there will always be individual cats who have very long lifespans but we can’t say that because one cat of a certain species lives a long time all cats of that species live the same length of time.
So where does that leave us in answering the question? Having read a lot about domestic and wild cats I think I am qualified to provide a decent answer. An initial issue that needs to be addressed is this: people generally presume that when you mention the word “cats” that you are referring to domestic cats. That, I believe, is unwise. We are referring to all cats namely domestic, stray, foul, and particularly the wild cat species.
The winning species is a toss-up between the moggie domestic cat and the bobcat with the jaguar coming third.
Today with better medical treatment and better cat caretaking in general, random bred cats (moggies) not infrequently live to 20 years old. There are some extraordinary records such as the longest-lived domestic cat at 38 years and three days (Creme Puff born 3rd Aug 1967). There are other notable domestic cats who’ve died after an exceptionally long life. Domestic cats rarely make it into the 20s but the moggie domestic cat is at the top on average.
Google finds one website (as at March 26, 2022) which ranks the cat breeds as to their lifespan. This, to me, is a fiction. I would not believe what they say. In general, all purebred cats have lifespans which are slightly shorter than those of random-bred cats. This is because they are inbred. Inbreeding is part of the process of creating purebred cats. This can cause inbreeding depression. And you almost invariably create cats that inherit diseases in the breeding lines. You don’t get this sort of problem with moggies. I can think of one important factor in respect of the lifespan of purebred cats: the Siamese and Persians probably have, in general, shorter life spans than the other purebred cats because they are among the earliest cat breeds. There’s been more selective breeding of these cats than other cat breeds in general. And in my estimation, the Siamese cat has the most inherited illnesses of all the cat breeds and the Persian is not far behind in terms of inherited ill-health. I don’t want to be overly critical of these breeds but based upon my research what I’m saying is true and factual.
Wild cat species
I have to include the wild cats in the mix. Of all the wild cats, in my estimation, the humble bobcat has the longest lifespan on average.
There are records of bobcats in the US living to 25 and even 32-years-of-age in captivity. In the wild there are records of bobcats surviving up 17-years-of-age at the time they were harvested (killed for their pelts). Amazing – for their age not the ghastly act of killing them for the skin. This is bobcats surviving in the wild in the US and being killed at 17.
There are records of the jaguar living to between 20 and 25 years of age in captivity. This is a very close second to the bobcat and it may even be better but we don’t have enough data to make a genuinely accurate comparison.
The wild cat numbers come from research works referred to by Mel and Fiona Sunquist in Wild Cats of the World. If you want the detailed references, please ask in a comment. An important factor here is that relative to the overall population size of the bobcat and jaguar, the number of long-lived individuals is much higher than for the domestic cat population worldwide. On that basis, you would have to argue that the obbcat and jaguar are the cats which live the longest.
The domestic cat information is all over the internet for anyone to see. I’d expect people who read this to live with domestic cats who’ve lived to 20. It is quite unusual but not so unusual to be truly exceptional.
Note: the domestic cat is a species of cat. All domestic cats, purebred and random bred are the same species: Felis silvestris catus (as a subspecies) or sometimes referred to as Felis catus (as a species). The bobcat’s scientific name is Lynx rufus. The jaguar’s name is Panthera onca.