Humans are living longer than ever before thanks to improvements in diet and medical care. At the same time, advances in nutrition and veterinary care have also increased the lifespan of our family pets.

Twenty percent of cats in the United States, for instance, live an average of 11 years or older. But thanks to all these crazy, newfangled medical advances, more and more are reaching the ripe old age of 15 (the equivalent of 76 years in human terms). That, apparently, is now considered the ‘geriatric’ life stage for cats.

Astounding, right? But wait, there’s more!

These days, however, it’s not uncommon for a cat to live into their late teens or 20s. (Once a cat reaches 21 years old, it is considered the equivalent of a centenarian in human years.)

I once knew a cat who lived for 24 years. She had no teeth and drooled a lot in her later years, but she was alert, clever and always a pleasure to be around.

Fortunately, it is now generally accepted that ‘healthy aging’ is achievable for more of these ‘golden oldies.’

We tend to treat our pets as members of the family, so it would make sense that we would try to prolong their health, much in the same way we do with our aging parents and human family members. However, while we know what healthy aging humans should look like inside and out, we haven’t a clue really as to what it looks like in a cat.

To answer this question, a groundbreaking special issue of the international, peer-reviewed Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery has been devoted to the subject ‘feline healthy ageing.’ Comprising two comprehensive systems-based reviews written by a distinguished group of experts, it collates information on common changes observed in cats in a wide range of health areas of interest — from musculoskeletal system health through to cognitive and behavioral health. The authors’ aim throughout has been to support health and wellbeing in the aging animal.

Among the findings: In terms of cognitive abilities, a healthy aging cat should not display signs of the following: disorientation, interaction changes, sleep/wake disturbances, house-soiling and changes in activity (DISHA). The same pattern of signs is used for diagnosing dogs.

The researchers also detail new developments in serum biochemistry and complete blood count reference intervals specifically for mature to geriatric cats, which were generated from a population of over 600 healthy aged cats.

Image Above: The hair coat of older cats may take on a clumped and spiked appearance associated with a reduction in grooming activity. Courtesy of Margie Scherk