5 curious discoveries about long-living cats

UPDATE December 2011: The eBook is ready! Get it FREE here.

Would you believe the world record for feline lifespan, verified by Guinness World Records, is a 38 year-old cat?

Yep, a cat named Cream Puff.

In fact, most of us have met or heard of someone who had a 20 year-old (or older!) cat.

This kind of information makes me crazy and gives me hope that there may be more we can do to help our cats live longer.

Which means I had to investigate it with my usual obsessiveness.

As you may recall, I ran a quick, random a survey several weeks ago and closed it after it reached 30 cats. A wide range of folks were invited to participate.

I thought you’d like to know 5 things I found very interesting about the 20+ year-old cat survey results. But first…

Can we really make a difference? What about genes?

Genes are a funny thing. We tend to assume they predetermine longevity because it’s just easier to grasp “all or nothing” concepts.

Yet the influence of genes on longevity is complicated and small. Based on human studies at Boston University, longevity is determined by about 70-80% environment and lifestyle and only 20-30% genes.

How can this be? As Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D. explains, science has discovered that genetic expression can actually be modified throughout our lives. He speaks of how nutrition is one factor that modifies it.

Very few people seem to know this yet!

So I say yes, you bet we can make a difference. More on this soon, with my upcoming eBook , How to Get More Happy Years with Your Cat. (Which will be free as a gift to newsletter subscribers – sign up below.)

Now, copied straight from that upcoming eBook, are 5 things you may find interesting about the survey results.

1. Most of the cats had wet food as at least part of their diet and most did not use chemical flea control.

The presence of wet food and lack of flea control chemicals were the factors that stood out the most among these long-living cats.

The few 20+ year old cats who were not fed any wet food and were indoors (unable self-supplement their diet) had other important beneficial factors working for them: most lived completely free of pesticides, smoke, and chemical flea control!

2. Almost every cat had at least two beneficial factors going for them.

From a list of beneficial health factors (practical things we can all do for our cats), almost all the long-living cats had two or more of those factors going for them.

I was able to create a point system for these beneficial factors and find that almost all the 20+ year-old cats had at least 5 points from the system – most had more.

I was also able to look at the two cats I’ve had who died under age 20, and realize they would not have had many points in this system, much to my regret. My family and I were not aware of these things when I was younger.

3. One woman had a magic longevity touch.

Bernadette E. Kazmarski, an artist and blogger at The Creative Cat, has had two 20+ year old cats, plus a cat who made it to 19 and another who is currently 19 and on the way to 20!

None of these cats are related and none are of any “special” breed, so we can’t attribute to shared genetics. Bernadette’s story speaks loudly for a focus on food because her cats did have toxin exposure for some time, yet she did a lot to give them a healthy diet.

It was mainly a grain-free, wet food diet, including some homemade food, though there were four years when all she could afford was dry food.

She made a point of giving her cats senior cats extra vitamins and all the wet food they wanted.

Some of her long-living cats did have health issues (one came to her with signs of kidney problems at age 15), but through devotion, love, and good nourishment she kept her long-living cats going to a ripe old age.

4. It inspired a closer look at grass and insects.

In spite of all the extra risks cats who go outdoors face, half of the of the 20+ year-old cats did have regular outdoor access.

I have a theory that, in addition to more exercise and supplementing their diet with the raw food called “prey,” eating insects and grass helps promote the longevity of these cats.

I did some digging and confirmed that insects, grass, and soil microorganisms may have more health benefits for cats than we realize.

That doesn’t mean the outdoors is required for longevity–there are other ways cats can get these benefits.

5. Most respondents had a very close or soulful relationship with the long-living cat.

93% of the people in the survey said their relationship with the long-living cat was special, very close, or even soulful or spiritual.

So many of us have lost feline soul mates who were under age 20, so I don’t want anyone to worry that they weren’t close enough to their cat: If you were heartbroken when they died, you were very close.

However, a couple people mentioned that they suspected their cat lived so long because he or she had a unique purpose–either to be there for a family member or even for other cats or kittens.

Do you think that sometimes cats manage to live longer for someone else–that having a special purpose gives them a longevity boost? I wonder.

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20 Responses to 5 curious discoveries about long-living cats

  1. Adriana LaMarchina October 6, 2019 at 5:50 pm #

    Just lost my beautiful 20-yr old cat, Keiko. Am lost and heartbroken without her. Life in black and white.

  2. scott March 3, 2019 at 12:44 am #

    My two sister Cats just turned 19 on 3/1/19. The key to their longevity and only 1 vet visit between them in 19 years is,

    1) Grain Free
    2) they have back yard/sunlight access
    3) flowable filtered water.
    4) 1 tsp of mira-lax per day (vet prescribed) total game changer!! clean litter access outdoors. Monitor their poop and adjust mira-lax and food accordingly,
    5) wet dry food mix – measured amounts at timed and measured amounts. Intermittent fasting is a must for all living things. protein for old cats that need to put on weight, grazing/snacking is bad for all living things.
    6) Monitor health and adjust diet accordingly. Most health issues are diet related.
    7) comfortable sleeping arrangements.
    8) TLC
    9) Catnip – they are stoners!!!
    10) Monitor and adjust, monitor and adjust, monitor and adjust. sleep, energy, poop and eating habits.
    11) do the same for yourself!!! It is about all living things not just cats!!!!!

  3. Kim August 30, 2018 at 1:04 pm #

    My best friend, Wendy, lived to be 22 years old. She was indoor-outdoor, ate wet and dry food, very minimal flea treatment over the years, and grain-free or raw from age 12. She overcame a lot in her lifetime – age 6 had 2 bouts of kidney failure which was overcome. Age 12, developed IBS and overcame it with diet, age 15 developed a hyperthyroid, and then went into liver failure when she started the thyroid medication. With some holistic drops and pills I had to force-feed her with peanut butter, she pulled out of it. At that time I had just divorced, and I’m convinced she stayed because I needed her, and because we loved each other so much. She gave me 7 more love-filled years. I constantly told her when it was her time to go, she must promise me she will wait for me to be there. About the last 2 years, I had to clip and file her nails, and occasionally bathe her since she was unable to groom very well. I would climb in the tub with her so she would feel stable. She slept with me every night until about the last 6 months, when her kidneys again started to go and she couldn’t last the whole night without visits to the litterbox. At that time I had to give her IV fluid to hydrate her 2 to 3 times a week. She took this well, and had a good quality of life and great appetite up until her last 5 days, when she stopped eating, and began to get dehydrated. At that time I knew it was her time to leave. I carried her out into the woods and sat with her on the ground at her old hunting grounds, and she seemed to appreciate the gesture. 3 days after she stopped eating, she was very disoriented from dehydration. I made arrangements to be off work the next day, intending to take her in for her final vet visit. I had always dreaded the thought of having to do it on a cold table at the place she hated. I inquired if any of the vets made house calls for this purpose, and was told yes, one would be available, but not until the next day. So I sat on a blanket on the living room floor with her and we had the whole day to say goodbye. At 11 a.m. the next day, I held her on my chest on a bench on our porch on a beautiful September day, and the vet sent her on her way.

    2 other of my cats have lived to be 17 years old. Wendy’s younger brother is now 15 and going strong.

  4. Kathleen E Kearney October 14, 2017 at 9:14 pm #

    I had a cat that was thrown out a car window in front of my friend and myself back in 1993. He was given wet,dry food and fresh water to which I placed out on my porch however it was thundering out and he came meowing to my bedroom window and I took him in and named him P.J. I took him everywhere with me and my parents used to drive 137 miles to my house and pick him up and take him in our limo back to their house because my mom said he was her grandson. He even saved my mom’s life by jumping on her chest which caused her to start breathing right. She had terminal cancer and took P.J. with her and credited him with saving her life. I would carry him on my hip like a infant and when he had a urinary tract blockage and could not stand, was already showing neurological damage and had died on me while rushing him to the ER all the Vet’s wanted me to put him down but I begged the vet to give P.J. a chance. The most amazing thing happened when the vet and nurses tried to take him from my arms; his grip on my neck with his paws was strong and it took 3 people to get him to let me go. Only when the vet saw the shear love between P.J. and I did he agree to give him a chance and 5 hours later with an cath-tube in him and two IV’ s he lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw me. The vet told me that it was the complete love and attachment we had that gave him the will to pull through. He had his penis removed and was made to pee like a female, that was New Year’s Eve 2008 through the 1st week of January 2009. I believe that the love, devotion, attachment, healthy diet, his being allowed outside when with my mom/ his grandmom and his being stubborn as hell allowed him to live to be 22 years old. He was drinking water and then he came up on our bed,sat on my lap and was panting like a dog, it scared the hell out of me so I put my oxygen on his nose and gave him oxygen as I called his vet and then called my friend to borrow money. I kept the nose cannula on P.J. for 5 minutes and he stopped panting then I drove as fast as possible to the vet. He was in full congestive heart failure and I was told his lungs were full of fluid and I had 2 choices; allow the doctor to put a huge needle in his lungs and drain them but since he was so old the risks were huge or two give him peace and put him down. My heart was and still is heartbroken because I had to choose, however as the vet was telling me this P.J. lost his bladder and he was panting again and he was having a full on panic attack so bad that he had to be given a shot. I spoke to him like a human being and told him that he was so very loved, that I was so very sorry that I missed the signs and that it was time to go up to heaven and to remember the talk we had about going to grandmom because she’s up there with bells on waiting for her boy. I kissed him and kept telling him that I loved him and thanked him for choosing me and before I knew it the vet injected him and he was gone. I’m not ever going to be over his loss because for 22 years we were partners in crime, I even would joke that he was my fur-husband. I truly believe that he lived for 22 years for the simple reason that we were soul mates and we depended on each other and he helped me through the loss of my brother. Simply put we loved each other and that bond was incredible. I’m still grieving for him and he passed on August 6th 2013 at 5:22 p.m.

    • Ogles April 7, 2018 at 12:38 pm #

      I can totally relate. I lost my 23 year old pumpkins on Halloween 2 years ago and it was heartwrenching. He gasped and fell asleep on my bed.
      I had thought he was still alive and rushed him to the vet. He had rigamortis by the time I arrived.

      Strange thing though, as I was having a small wooden box made for him outside, I sat indoors and said my last words to him, wrote him a eulogie to go with him in his grave…., his eyes began to well up with tears.

      At that point, he had been at least 3 hours but when I pulled the towel away to see him one last time before burying him , that is what I saw. So strange, but true.

      He is now buried with a tombstone in my yard along with his life mate and my dog.

  5. Daniel Brooks April 13, 2016 at 9:02 pm #

    My two female cats are sisters, strictly indoor, and are 19 years young. They sometimes fued, but keep each others company as 2 sisters should. They eat a combo, wet and dry, always fresh water and I often bring grass in the house for them, which they totally love. My English Cocker Spaniel keeps them on their toes. They have rarely been flea medicated, thankfully. I share this story because I feel like they are my personal guardian angels. Thank You for reading.

  6. Shaylen March 6, 2016 at 4:47 am #

    Can anyone tell me the 5 factors that the cats had in common?

  7. Nicola Ziegler November 4, 2015 at 10:16 am #

    Hi,
    I recently lost my 21+ year old DSH, ex-diabetic, indoor cat to kidney disease; I lost my previous cat, an Apple head Siamese, at 22+ years; she was an ex-feral, never had a sick day . Both rescues, both with tough beginnings. I fed them a mix of wet/dry high quality food, with pots of grass available, plus filtered water. My two DSH prior to these were 17 and 18, they were fed dry food only.
    I come from England and was shocked when I came here that the cats lived such short lives! I have personally known cats live to their mid/late twenties there. I think it is all to do with quality wet food and outside access.

  8. ellie November 28, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Plenty TLC is the answer

  9. tragicurlyhip September 18, 2013 at 1:43 am #

    That doesn’t mean the outdoors is required for longevity–there are other ways cats can get these benefits.

    – what other ways?

    • Shaylen March 6, 2016 at 4:45 am #

      you could provide greens indoors, including wheat grass (and other cat friendly and healthful grasses), but get organic and grow in organic soil. you can also give your grass green supplements. I want to start giving my cats dry freezes, organic, raw (obviously) wheat grass, but the only cat supplements I found are not organic so I’m probably gonna get Garden of Life’s dry freezes wheat grass. It’s the best quality in general and for bioavailability. It’s about 30 bucks but for a cat, it would last a long time and go a long way. I have to do research on how much is safe for them though, first.
      I take my indoor cats outside on the patio as well, where one of them likes eating grass. No fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides are used on the lawn so it’s safe.

      • Heather Butler December 2, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

        I have been giving my 18 year old powdered spirulina since she came to me at 4 months old with terrible digestive problems. This cleared up with the spirulina and never returned. Vet recently said she has the most amazing retinas he has ever seen. Her eyes are very good with only the slightest ghost of cataracts. I have always grown cat grass for her as well, but I credit the spirulina for a lot with her.

  10. Sarah Elizabeth February 28, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    My childhood cat is turning 21 in may and sometimes she still goes ‘kitten crazy’. I consider her a best friend, like most would consider their dogs. She’s my heart! This is a great article.

    • Liz-cat February 28, 2012 at 10:43 am #

      Thanks Sarah. It’s great to hear about a 21-year old cat who still goes kitten-crazy! And thanks for the kind words too. : )

  11. Crysti December 3, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    Great article! Can’t wait for the book! My childhood kitty lived to be over 20, I am hoping the same for our other children, they are my world! Couldn’t love my Chloebug more even if I gave birth to her, she is my special Angel.

    • Liz-cat December 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

      Crysti, thank you! That’s great news about your childhood cat living over 20 years. I understand what you mean about your Chloebug. It’s amazing how much we can feel for our special felines (who love us back so much!).

  12. Steph November 30, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    I’m so excited about the update, can’t wait to get the e-book! Thanks for all of the hard work you have been doing Liz, we appreciate it!!!

    • Liz-cat November 30, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

      That’s great to hear Steph! Thank you. : )

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