When do cats start to get old?

It is said that domestic cats start to get old at the age of seven but it is unfair to generalise as it depends on the individual cat. It can be difficult to really accurately convert cat years to human years but the age of seven is middle-aged and about 44 in human terms. I’m not sure that 44 is getting old for humans! I would say that getting old for humans is about the age of 60, approaching the retirement age. A 7-year-old cat is “mature”. Is mature starting to get old?

Poppy is aged 7
Poppy is aged 7. She looks well and she’s lost some of that youthful appearance. Photo: Pete the Vet.
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But of course it depends upon your perspective. If you are a young person a 44-year-old man can look very old but if you are a 72-year-old person a 44-year-old man can look relatively young. And if you are very fit domestic cat who has inherited excellent genes, and who may live to beyond 20-years-of-age, the age of seven is not an age at which that cat is getting old.

It is the Japanese veterinarian and author Dr Yuki Hattori in his book What Cats Want who says that cats start to get old when they are seven-years-of-age. You can make your own mind up but I would prefer to say that domestic cats start to get old when they are almost aged 10.

There will be variations, too, between random bred cats, purebred cats and stray and well looked after domestic cats. This obviously goes without saying. A domestic cat in a very nice home where she is well looked after is likely to live longer than a stray cat. As the ageing process is in effect speeded up in stray cats you would have to place a different figure on them as to the moment when you could say that they start to get old.

It is generally agreed that purebred cats have a shorter lifespan than the equivalent random bred cat. This is because of selective breeding which is effectively inbreeding causing inbreeding depression which harms the health of the cat. I think you’ll find that the fancy modern Siamese cats have a similar lifespan to many dogs at around 12 years. This is significantly shorter than the average age of a random bred domestic, which is probably, nowadays, somewhere in the vicinity of 15 to 18 years.

Cat to human years
Cat to human years. Chart: PoC.

The point that I am making rather laboriously is that it is difficult to generalise as to when cats start to get old so one should do it with caution. It is useful, nonetheless, to be aware of the ageing process because older cats slowdown and their personality changes. My cat certainly, even at the age of six, has started to behave more sensibly! He is very active and a great athlete. He is also allowed outside. I am a little concerned that he may be more susceptible to injury as has put on some weight (a good thing for him as he was too slender) and will naturally be a little less agile. I hope that he realises it.

The general guideline of how a cat owner should relate to a more elderly cat is the same as how you would relate to a more elderly person: with sensitivity, awareness and gentleness combined with a desire to accommodate a gradual decline to infirmity in very old age. Good food in the form of specially adopted commercial food may help to lessen the impact of ageing.

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