How To Get Your Cat To Live Until 20… And Beyond
Sometimes, when I’m feeling extra morbid, I think about the day my cats will inevitably leave me. Lying on a cloud, bathed in sunshine, they stretch out languidly and yawn, blinking sleepily at me.
“Well mum,” they purr, “it’s been real. Catch you on the flippy-flips.”
And with that, they drift away into a dandelion-filled sky to cross the rainbow bridge. It’s not something I think about often. But when I do, I like to get a nice good cry in. (I told you, I’m morbid. Besides, crying is cathartic.)
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. And it goes without saying that I do everything in my power to try and delay this tragic event. A lot of these strategies are obvious (but I’ll repeat them anyway, cuz that’s how I be), but the rest are a little less so.
Time to bust out our cauldrons and pointy hats—today we’re whipping up some longevity brew, kitty-style.
I’m never one to state the obvious.
HA! Just kidding, I love repeating myself to the point of inducing nausea. So here we go.
Keep your kitties inside.
Indoor cats live drastically longer lives (think 10+ years longer) than their outdoorsy compatriots. It’s easy to rationalize an outdoor kitty’s life as being more stimulating and fulfilling, but as with everything else in life, it’s all about context.
Imagine our earth as just a tiny fraction of the inhabitable worlds in our galaxy. Your mom, being the overprotective helicopter parent that she is, never informed you of this startling fact. You spend an entire blissful existence on this solitary planet, never the wiser.
Cats raised and brought up indoors never know what they’re “missing.” (And really, all they’re missing is disease and car wrecks and wild animals.) Your home is their world.
With that said, it’s absolutely essential that we keep their worlds stimulating and enriching.
Keep their world stimulating and enriching.
(I told you I like to repeat myself)
Yes, that extra sunny perch by the window actually does help your cat live longer. A mentally and physically stimulated cat is a happy cat. A happy cat is a healthy cat. It’s not rocket science, friends!
Repeat after me: Toys, beds, & vertical space.
Educate yourself on proper kitty nutrition.
Turn off that TV and punch your vet square in the face. Nearly every pet food brand that advertises on TV is going to be garbage. And while vets are awesome human beings (for the most part), SO many I’ve encountered mindlessly shill shitty pet food (like Hill’s Science Diet, Royal Canin) without bothering about proper cat nutrition.
Here’s the rule of thumb: The first 5 ingredients listed on your pet food package should be some sort of meat protein. Not pea protein. Not soy. Not corn meal. Not a by-product. MEAT. If you can swing it, grain free is ideal.
Oh! And one more thing: Don’t free-feed your cats. Cats (especially bored cats) have a tendency to overeat. Start regulating their diet with twice a day mealtimes, and don’t leave food out for more than a few hours.
Here’s how to tell if your kitty is on the tubby end of the spectrum*:
Remember, just like with peoples, the key to healthy cats is plenty of exercise (playtime) and a controlled diet.
*As these are silhouette diagrams, it’s easy to confuse actual tubbiness with primordial pouches, which most cats carry. If your cat’s belly is loose and floppy, that’s normal pouch action. If it’s firm and tubby, that’s…well, that’s a fat kitty.
Keep their water fresh.
Cats tend to have a low thirst drive, and derive most of their water needs from their food (which is why wet food is preferable). On top of that, they are picky as hell. Keep multiple water sources set out, refreshed daily. And by refreshed, I mean rinsed and wiped down. You know that tiny film of scum floating at the surface of your cat’s water bowl? They don’t want to ingest it any more than you do. And it comes from a dirty bowl that hasn’t been washed in a while.
Also, be sure to keep their food and water bowls separate. Instinctively, cats consider any water found near their food (which in nature would be a dead animal) to be contaminated. I know, sometimes I wish my cats would be more like dogs, happily slurping down whatever murky liquids are placed before them—but alas. It is not to be.
The bottom line is this: When cats aren’t drinking enough water, they can quickly develop urinary tract diseases and die with very little warning. (9 lives my ass, kitty! Aren’t you supposed to be indestructible like a cockroach??)
Get on them annual checkups.
Our cats are warriors. When something is wrong, many tend to suffer in silence. “Just muscle through it,” they tell themselves. This is no bueno from a cat parent perspective. Even if kitty seems to be in perfect health, swing by your vet at least once a year to screen for any silent-but-deadly maladies.
The Slightly Less Obvious
Brush kitty often.
Cats are always grooming themselves, as you may have noticed. When summer comes around and shedding season is in full swing, they’re working overtime to whip their coats back into manageable shape. This mean swallowing a lot of extra fur, which, if your cat already has a problem with hairballs, could be a problem.
Get yourself a nice soft slicker brush and lend a helping hand. You’ll also be doing double duty of bonding with your cat (I firmly believe that cats with a loving, close bond with their owners live much longer) and checking for fleas/ticks.
Speaking of fleas…go natural with your flea control.
Avoid chemical flea control and pet shampoos like the plague. The toxins in chemical flea control are extremely harmful to cats and their ability to ward off disease. In your daily life, I’d encourage you to go natural with your household cleaners and soaps. I know I’m sounding dangerously like a crunchy-ass hippy right now, but that’s OK. I kind of am. The amount of chemicals and toxins we allow into our homes these days is appalling. It’s killing us, and it’s killing our pets.
Toxins in chemical cleaners, pesticides, and flea control products build up in our cats’ bodies, weakening their immune systems and making them much more prone to cancer and disease in old age.
If you’re not ready to give up your Lysol disinfecting sprays (the worst…seriously), at the very least dump those chemical-laden flea collars, sprays, and shampoos. Go natural.
We’re not trying to turn our kitties into radioactive mutants, y’all.
Shall we get a little preachy? …Eh why not, you’re already here.
Secondhand smoke kills. You’ve heard that before, no? It kills babies and fur-babies alike.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that cats are animals in the same way that humans are animals—what harms us is likely to harm them just the same, if not more, considering their considerably smaller body mass. In fact, cats are twice as likely to get cancer and die prematurely if their owner smokes.
Don’t believe me? According to Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, veterinarian:
“Secondhand smoke has been associated with oral cancer and lymphoma in cats, lung and nasal cancer in dogs, as well as lung cancer in birds.
One reason cats are so susceptible to secondhand smoke is because of their grooming habits. Cats constantly lick themselves while grooming, therefore they lick up the cancer-causing carcinogens that accumulate on their fur. This grooming behavior exposes the mucous membrane of their mouth to the cancer-causing carcinogens.”
If you want your kitty to be with you until the ripe old age of 20, take your chain-smoking outside! (And maybe consider cutting down a bit yourself? …I know I know, I’m sorry, I care!)
Want more natural cat care tips? Head over to Natural Cat Care Blog – one of my favorite cat care resources. Be sure to subscribe to Liz’s newsletter and get her free ebook on cat longevity, where she goes more in depth into the factors that affect our cats’ health and lifespans. It’s a seriously interesting and enlightening read.
According to Liz, every cat, properly cared for, has the potential to live to 20. Now that I can get behind.
Hope this has been enlightening. I expect us all to be caring for healthy, happy, unnaturally old cats years from now. Deal?