Cats and dogs have tons of similar qualities, from long sleep schedules and impromptu wrestling matches to carnivorous palettes and coexisting peacefully. However, one difference leaves many pet owners scratching their heads: the fact that cats live an average of three years longer (15 vs. 12 years, respectively). So, why do cats live longer than dogs?
Cats live longer than dogs because of survival instincts. Their sharp teeth and claws, 30 mph (48 kph) speeds, and climbing abilities help them ward off predators better. A cat’s aloofness reduces the risk of disease spread, while inbreeding (and genetic defects) in dogs can reduce their lifespans.
How Long Do Cats Live?
The average life expectancy for domestic cats is in the ballpark of 10-20 years, with 15 years being most “typical.” However, some felines are far more resilient than others — like Creme Puff. Hailing from steamy Austin, Texas, this beautiful tabby mix lived to the ripe old age of 38 (1967 to 2005).
How Long Do Dogs Live?
The average life expectancy for dogs is closer to 7-14 years, with 12 years being closer to the realm of “normal.” Though this average lifespan trails cats’ by three years, some canines are anomalies within the species. For example, an Australian Cattle Dog named Bluey still holds the record for “oldest dog ever” (29 years).
Of course, not all cats will live to be 15, and many dogs won’t make it to their 12th birthday. In the grand scheme of things, a three-year difference doesn’t look like much at all, but if we convert these “average” life expectancies to human years, that equals:
A ten-year difference is much more remarkable, which brings us back to our original question: why do cats live longer than dogs? Let’s take a look at three possible explanations.
Cats are stereotypically skittish and aloof, leading many to classify the species as rude or even aggressive. Yet, a cat’s constant “on-guard” mindset, willingness to retreat, and self-defense skills prove to be assets when facing life-threatening scenarios.
Cats have a “righting reflex,” an instinct that allows kitties to always land on their feet. Whereas a dog might tumble on its side and receive organ damage after a car collision, a cat can lessen the damage by landing gently on all fours.
Cats can survive falls from almost unrealistic heights. Since cats naturally “brace” for falls by sprawling their legs on the way down (like a makeshift parachute), cats are no strangers to surviving 32-story tumbles — dogs typically succumb to 6-story falls.
Cats have a stockpile of natural weaponry when they come face-to-face with a predator. In scenarios where dogs have little more than powerful jaws and canine teeth, cats:
- Run for safety at speeds up to 30 mph (48 kph).
- Use their ultra-flexible spines to squeeze through tight gaps.
- Jump 5-8″ (12.7-20.3 cm) high to clear obstacles standing in their way.
- Swat their predators in the eyes with their sharp, thorny claws.
- Scale tree trunks to escape danger.
- React quickly to evade falling or encroaching objects.
The benefits of these traits are two-fold: cats will almost always reign victorious in battles with their natural predators (like coyotes), and everyday household accidents aren’t nearly as harmful. In other words, felines have a knack for surviving in situations where dogs struggle.
Lack of Genetic Defects
While there is a community for purebred cat enthusiasts, about 90% of all cats are standard domestic shorthairs — or “mutts.” Now, this certainly nixes the “aesthetic appeal” of owning a cat (i.e., ice-blue eyes, luscious locks, and rare coat patterns). But mixing breed and bloodlines also allow for more genetic variation, adding a level of longevity that purebred dogs lack.
On the quest for exotic or “pure” dog breeds, humans exposed the genetic consequences of selective breeding. For example, intentionally breeding dark-haired poodles comes with a heightened risk of squamous cell carcinoma. Inbreeding in the German Shepherd community is putting GSDs at severe risk for arthritis muscular problems.
Cats aren’t “free” from predisposed genetic illness. However, breeding a Persian and a Burmese or even allowing domestic shorthairs to thrive can help phase out many genetic disorders.
When cats are less likely to develop cancers, heart defects, or even urinary tract infections, they’re far more likely to live a long, healthy life. In other words, cats live longer because they’re less likely to have genetic defects — mostly at the fault of humans.
Rate of Disease Spread
To the outside world, cats are almost offensively independent. Many kitties will remain entirely out of sight until you rustle a treat bag, jingle a mouse toy, or make those irresistible kissy noises. However, this level of aloofness and independence also makes cats far more likely to outlive dogs. This extended lifespan all comes down to the concept of infectious disease spread.
Cats prefer to have their own space, both in the wild and in the household. Meanwhile, dogs hold the title of “pack animals” — they eat, sleep, hunt, raise their puppies, and play together. So, when one dog becomes infected with a disease like parvovirus or ringworm, the infection slowly works its way through the entire pack. It’s not “if” a dog will develop the condition, but rather “when.”
Now, that’s not to say that cats don’t pick up viruses in feral communities or even in shared households, but the typical, lonesome cat will remain generally healthy and free of diseases. In other words, cats live longer than dogs because they’re less prone to disease spread.
How to Prolong Your Cat’s Lifespan
A 15-year lifespan projection isn’t a guarantee by any means. Here are some tips to make sure that your cat lives a long, full, and happy life:
- Get your cat fixed as soon as possible. Spaying and neutering cats can add an extra 3-5 years to their lifespans.
- Keep your cat at a healthy weight. An obese cat is nearly three times more likely to experience early death, so a balanced diet is necessary.
- Stay up-to-date on vaccinations. Many highly-transmissible feline viruses, like herpes or distemper, are preventable with regular vaccinations. Take your cat to the vet annually.
- Don’t let your cat outside. Cats have a knack for exploring the wilderness, but the risk of poisoning, car accidents, and predator interactions can cut your kitty’s life short. Outdoor cats may only live 2-5 years.
- Give your cat regular playtimes. Cats who get daily exercise have healthier hearts and are less likely to be overweight. Play with your cat for 15-30 minutes a day.
While you can’t “undo” your cat’s genetic makeup, you can implement lifestyle changes to add years to your feline’s lifespan.
Do you want to make sure your cat lives a long, healthy life? Of course, you do! The video below explains ten helpful tips for prolonging your cat’s life expectancy:
While cats live an average of three years longer than dogs, the projected lifespan depends on a few things — like breed and size. For example, Burmese cats can live to be 25 years old, and smaller dog breeds can outlive larger breeds by almost three-fold.
A healthy weight, balanced diet, annual vaccinations, spaying/neutering, regular exercise, and keeping your cat strictly indoors can all help her to surpass the standard 10-20 year average.
- Wikipedia: Burmese cat
- American Kennel Club: Why Do Small Dogs Live Longer?
- PetMD: How Long Do Cats Live?
- PetMD: How Long Do Dogs Live?
- Guinness World Records: Oldest Dog Ever
- Wikipedia: Creme Puff (cat)
- American Kennel Club: How Old is My Dog in Human Years?
- International Cat Care: How to tell your cat’s age in human years
- Wikipedia: Cat Righting Reflex
- Wikipedia: Selective breeding
- CVMA: CATS CAN SURVIVE FALLS FROM HIGH PLACES
- Paws Chicago: Benefits of Spay/Neuter