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Happy Birthday, Kitty!

birthday_catBy Kim Everson, DVM

People always want to know how old their dog or cat is in human terms. The rule of thumb for dogs has been one dog year equals seven human years, but we know that it not exactly right. Little dogs like Bichons tend to live longer than big dogs like Newfoundlands. Also the first few years of a dog’s life are accelerated. A one-year-old dog is capable of reproducing and so it is definitely not the equivalent of a seven-year-old human (unless you believe those crazy tabloids)!

Unlike dogs, after the first few formative years of life, the ratio of cat years to human is about 1:4. As you can see, a feline surpassing 20+ years is deserving of a Willard Scott-esque birthday celebration!

Cat’s Age               Equivalent Human Years
1 year                    15-18 years
2 years                   21-24 years
3 years                        28 years
4 years                        32 years
5 years                        36 years
6 years                        40 years
7 years                        44 years
8 years                        48 years
9 years                        52 years
10 years                       56 years
11 years                       60 years
12 years                       64 years
13 years                       68 years
14 years                       72 years
15 years                       76 years
16 years                       80 years
17 years                       84 years
18 years                       88 years
19 years                       92 years
20 years                       96 years
Adapted from Think Like a Cat: How to raise a well-adjusted cat — not a sour puss by Pam Johnson-Bennett

Here are some tips for helping your kitty reach his or her “centennial” celebration.

  1. Schedule annual wellness exams with your cat’s veterinarian even though vaccines are not due. Most progressive veterinary clinics now booster feline vaccines only every three years. That’s the equivalent of 12 years between doctor visits in human terms! Screening bloodwork should be performed periodically (and at least annually in senior cats) to catch certain diseases early. Early detection allows for easier management and a longer, happier life.
  2. Spay or neuter your kitty to avoid medical and behavioral problems that may result in accidental death, illness or euthanasia.
  3. Feed your cat a high quality cat food but limit portions! Obesity is a huge problem in felines leading to diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and skin problems from inability to groom. Most cats do not get enough moisture in their diets and suffer from GI and urinary problems as a result. Train your kitty early on to enjoy quality canned or moist foods. Dry food does not — I repeat, does not — prevent dental disease.
  4. Dental disease is a common and painful condition in many cats, and it negatively affects their overall health. Ask your veterinarian for advice on how to prevent and manage dental disease in your cat. Just like people, most pets should have their teeth professionally cleaned (i.e., by their veterinarian) periodically.
  5. Know what plants and household items are potentially toxic for your cat to avoid tragic illness or death. Also, PLEASE remember very few human medications are safe for cats. Some over-the-counter flea and tick treatments are OK for dogs but are deadly for cats!
  6. Environmental enrichment can improve the quality and length of your cat’s life. Many feline diseases are linked to stress. Learn as much as you can about feline behavior and play with your kitty every day. Especially in multi-cat households, make sure you have provided the proper resources for cats that may not get along all the time. A rule of thumb for litter boxes is “1 per cat plus 1.” That means if you have three cats, you should have four litter boxes. Also properly placed scratching posts may eliminate the supposed need for declawing. By “properly placed” I mean in highly visible areas the cat has chosen, not the owner!
Sadly, even with proper care and the best intentions some cats do not live to ripe old age. It is no different with us humans (I’m thinking of the fit and trim 30-somethings who die tragically from cancer or accidents). However, cats who receive proper exercise and nutrition, regular medical and dental care, and environmental enrichment will have an improved quality of life no matter how many candles are on their tuna cake.

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