It probably helps to divide up the world of cats into five brackets when answering the question in the title. The reason for this is because each group has, in general, a different lifespan.
- Random bred domestic cats living in good homes
- Purebred domestic cats living in good homes
- Stray and feral cats
- Wild cats living in the wild
- Wild cats living in captivity i.e. zoos
Random bred domestic cats living in good homes
These are the cats who probably live the longest, just ahead of captive wild cats. Today, there is a newspaper article about a gorgeous black cat, Poppy. Poppy’s human guardians are wondering whether she is the oldest cat in the UK at 27. She might be. It is an exceptional age. She still has a good appetite which is a good sign. Geoff says that she is a brilliant cat. The oldest cat ever is Creme Puff, from Texas, USA, who was 38 years and three days.
Poppy is a random bred cat. What I mean is she’s not a purebred, pedigree cat. This is important because random bred cats live longer than purebred cats in general. The phrase “in general” is important because longevity depends to a large extent on the individual cat’s genes as well as the environment that they have lived in. Random bred cats can live to 18-years-of-age and older. Some people quote about 15-years-of-age as the average but I would go a little higher.
Purebred domestic cats living in good homes
I’m afraid that purebred cats in general have a shorter lifespan than random bred cats because of selective breeding which is effectively inbreeding. I’m not saying that all purebred cats have shortened lives but in general it is known to be true. They can suffer from inbreeding depression which is a weakened immune system and of course recessive genes importing inherited illnesses into a cat shorten their lifespan. All purebred cats have inherited genetic diseases to varying degrees. The modern Siamese cat is the worst together with the Persian flat-face. I would say that the average age for a purebred cat is probably around 12 to 15 years, about three years less than the average random bred cat lifespan.
Stray and feral cats
People who don’t like feral cats say that their lives are miserable and that they live for about three years. This is an exaggeration. But it does depend upon circumstances. Volunteers running TNR programs, managing successfully a feral cat colony in which the cats are fed clearly prolongs their life. Some of these cats might live as long as a domestic cat living in a good home. Although their lives are lkely to be shorter on average. Feral cats die of diseases that would normally be treatable in the domestic cat sphere. Individual feral cats living a very harsh life will probably die at a young age and they may be killed by a predator such as a coyote in America. Roads and vehicles are also massive hazards.
Wild cats in the wild and in captivity
My reading of the lifespan of wild cats in the wild is that they live on average to about 10 years of age. It depends a lot on circumstance once again and the species to a certain extent. To take one example, the leopard. A gentleman, Brian Bertram, used old photographs and postcards to track the history of two females in the Serengeti. He estimated that they lived for at least 10 and 12 years respectively. A female leopard in Londolozi Game Reserve produced nine litters in twelve years of observation. So she lived to at least 12 years of age and beyond. In the Israeli desert a female leopard was recorded for 16 years.
As for the jaguar, another big cat, in Central America, one scientist estimated that only a few jaguars in Belize live to more than 11 years old. This implies that most jaguars live to less than the age of 11. In captivity jaguars have lived to the age of 20 to 25 years and one female lived to 32-years-of age (amazing). This is clearly the equivalent of and perhaps better than your average domestic random bred cat.
As for the mountain lion a.k.a. the puma, they can live to 19 and 20-years-of-age in captivity. In the wild, a long-term study in California found that females lived an average of 7.5 years while males lived for just over 6.5 years. Although one female was at least 13 years of age.
Taking the smallest wild cat species, the rusty-spotted cat, one individual lived to 12-years-of-age in captivity. We don’t have information about their lifespan in the wild to the best of my knowledge.
To take a medium-sized wild cat, the bobcat, in a very large survey of 90,000 bobcats, the oldest individual was 23 years old. The bobcat is considered to be fairly long-lived in the wild, living to between 10 and 17-years-of-age. In captivity they’ve been known to live to 25 and 22-years-of-age.
I hope that this gives you a feel for the lifespan of the various species of cat on the planet. My conclusion is that the wild cats in captivity can live longer than the average domestic cat whereas wild cats in the wild live for a shorter time.
Source: I am deeply endebted to Mel and Fiona Sunquist the authors of Wild Cats of the World for the wild cat information. I relied on myself for the rest.