Outdoor Cat Life Expectancy

Outdoor cat - looking healthy
Outdoor cat – looking healthy. Photo: ichibakasama
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Are you searching for information about the life expectancy of an outdoor cat? Some people search for “average lifespan of outdoor cat or “life expectancy of outdoor cat”. I hate to say it but people searching for this information are probably wasting their time because nobody is working out averages because it is rather pointless working out the average lifespan of an outdoor cat.

This is because the lives of outdoor cats vary tremendously. The life of an outdoor cat amongst a well cared for colony of cats in a relatively warm and stable environment, in an area where there has been extensive vaccinations of cats, might live as long as any full-time indoor, pedigree cat or longer. .  Many feral cats live quite long lives. At the other end of the spectrum a feral cat living in a hostile urban environment with freezing winters may not live beyond two years of age.  It all depends on so many variables. However, most “experts” rate feral cat lives at 2-5 years.

All we can say is that an outdoor cat is likely to live a shorter life than a full-time indoor cat on average.  If the average age of a domestic cat is about 14 years then at a guesstimate we might say that the outdoor cat life expectancy on average might be about half that but it is rather pointless creating an average when the spread of lifespans of outdoor cats is so wide.

There are hazards which can shorten the life of both indoor and outdoor cats.  It is these hazards which result in the outdoor cat having a shorter lifespan.  Outdoor cat dangers include: predators, diseases and parasitic infections, fencing and boundaries, domestic refuse, other cats, outbuildings, pesticides and garden sprays, roads and cars, theft, traps, trees and water.  Indoor dangers that are hazardous to cat health include: plants (safe ones), foods, kitchens and the equipment in them, bathrooms (the dangers of water), electric power points and appliances, sewing boxes, string, cat litter dust, carpets (the chemicals in them), furniture (the chemicals in them including fire retardants), DIY products, human medicines, open windows and balconies.

You could argue that there is an equally long list of hazards for cats living indoors as there is awaiting the outdoor cat. Some of the indoor hazards are hidden. People don’t know about them such as the chemicals impregnated into new carpets. There is also the issue of stress and boredom which is more likely to occur indoors which could arguably lead to shorter lives due to the stress itself or obesity which carries with it diseases such as diabetes type II.

There are also many cats who live outdoors a large percentage of their time but also have access to an indoor environment. There is a range of cat lifestyles which also muddies trying to work out outdoor cat life expectancy.

As people are researching information about outdoor cat life expectancy, we should ask ourselves why people are looking for that information. The likely reason is that they are working out whether they should keep their cat indoors permanently or let them out and a major factor in the decision making is the lifespan of an outdoor cat. If I am right in this assessment then the better research might be, “how can I keep my cat healthy while allowing her to go outside sometimes in order to provide her with the natural stimulations that the outside brings?”

The answer to that question comes down to the degree of excellence of cat caretaking provided.  The answer really is not whether the cat could or should be an indoor cat or an outdoor cat but something in between, a compromise which allows outdoor stimulation whilst ensuring that the cat is as safe as if she were inside.  Committed cat caretakers are sometimes able to work out how to achieve that.

11 thoughts on “Outdoor Cat Life Expectancy”

  1. I have been caring for a stray cat for 18 months outside of my work location. It is a male and has survived the winter and hot summer. I have a home I bought for him; feed him fresh Friskies-Purina; bottled water and can of wet Friskies food every AM and PM. Over the weekends and holidays I only feed in AM. It took him 10 months before trusting me. This cat, Goldie, is the MOST AFFECTIONATE/LOVEABLE cat I have ever known. He trots to me at every sight of me. Goldie gives me non-stop kisses also. I just lost another stray kitty last Thursday, Patches. Patches came about around 6 moths after Goldie did. He also was a lover but mixed personality/passive-aggressive. However, I taught Patches to not bat or bite me and became a lover. Goldie though was the alpha. Patches whereabouts became unknown for 2 days and then found him lying in front of the cat house I bought them. Patches was lethargic and having great difficulty lifting his back end up, specifically his back left leg/hip area. I eventually was able to place him in a spot with a towel underneath his neck, leaving a bowl of fresh water and kisses. However, I found Patches by side of the office no longer breathing. Patches did have a bad cough the past few months which was not a fur ball. I do not know what happened but have been emotional since his passing. One of my co-workers buried him for me in the woods.

    • Thanks, Kelli, for your tender, sweet but sad story about caring for feral cat that you domesticated. I may turn it into an article.

      • Hi,
        Thank you for responding to this. However, both of the cats are not feral but stray. Goldie is still around and greatly cared and loved for. Because Goldie is like a domesticated lap cat would I ever or someone be able to care for him in their home? I would take him in a minute but have a home cat of my own who is 10 years old and spoiled so do not feel would make a good fit??????

  2. Indoor/outdoor cats here live to around 17 years of age on average, enjoying the fulfilled life which every cat deserves to live.

    • My theory is that indoor/outdoor cats are likely on average to live a bit longer than full-time indoor cats as long as going outside for the cats is safe from cars, cat haters and predators.

      • Quality of life is as important as quantity of life. I’m sure American cats would choose to keep their claws and take their chance outside rather than sit day after day imprisoned for a long unfulfilled life.

  3. A completely outdoor cat can expect a life expectancy the same of a feral. ie. 3-5 years.
    An indoor/outdoor cat (50/50) can probably expect a lifespan of about 8-12 years. If they are well cared for, their life could exceed 12-15 years.
    A completely indoor cat can expect to live 15 .

      • So many factors come into play – all that you mention, right down to the types of food eaten. I think there is even an element of luck.
        Nothing is set in stone. I have some ferals that are beyond 10 years old. Absolutely certain, because I was there after they were born.

        • The fact you said that some ferals that you know live to 10 was the sort of detail I was looking for because almost every website quotes feral cat lifespans at 2-5 years as if all feral cats are preordained to die aged five. There so many variables and some outdoor cats are barn cats and well cared for. In the right climate and with vet treatment they should live as long as any other cat.

          • I, personally, believe that climate and medical care are key to most of it.
            I’m sure that I wouldn’t see the longevity that I do if I lived in the frigid north.
            I hate even thinking about that. I would be frantic trying to build warm shelters.


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