Wednesday 23 July 2014

Feral vs Indoor Cat Lifespan

I have seen a lot of variation in the estimated lifespan of feral cats compared to indoor cats. In general people say that about 3-5 years is the lifespan of a feral cat and 14 years is the average lifespan of a domestic (not specifying whether the cat is a full-time indoor cat or not).

The truth is no one has been analysing cat lifespans. These are estimates or to be more generous "guesstimates" based on a reasonably assessment.

Another point to make is that a full-time indoor cat might not, on average, live longer than an indoor/outdoor cat.

ASPCA says that the average lifespan of an indoor cat is 13-17 years with some living to 20 plus but that is not an average is it? That is a very generous spread based on informed guesswork.

My late lady cat aged about 16 years of age at the time. I had just wiped her coat
which is why it looks a bit wet. She lived four more years.

Petco says that an indoor cat has an average lifespan of 12-20 years (even more of a spread and not an average in my view). They also say that outdoor cats (cats kept outdoors full-time I presume) live for 1-5 years. This is highly simplified. No one keeps a domestic cat full-time outdoors - well, very few people do. I suppose they are referring to feral cats but don't say that. This is neither scientific nor accurate information.

Wikipedia confidently state 12-15 years as an average "life expectancy of a cat". They must mean the domestic cat as opposed to the feral cat.

Wikipedia quote a study as assessing the feral cat lifespan at 4.7 years. The links to the study are broken so I could not read it.

Indoor cats need more play to make them active. People in general don't play enough with their cats. An indoor cat arguably is more likely to become obese and obesity is the cause of many serious illnesses which can be life threatening. Outdoor cats within a secure enclosure will get exercise safely. This is rare however. People aren't bothered to build decent enclosures to be honest.

We know that outdoor cats, meaning stray cats and feral cats, live shorter lives than well cared for domestic cats who live mostly inside the family home. We can probably rely on 14 years as being a reasonable guess at the domestic cat lifespan. I'd favour a bit longer say 15 years. Like people cats are living longer but also like people dementia is more commonplace. Are cats living too long sometimes?

Feral cats will be lucky to live beyond five years on average but many may live to a not dissimilar age as domestic cats if cared for by a feral colony carer i.e. a person who feeds and TNRs the cats as part of a program. Many feral cat carers provide winter housing as well as feeding. There are many factors so averages don't really help. It is about individual cats.


  1. I see an average feral, on their own, living to the 3-5 years too.
    But, with caretaking, I see ferals living beyond 10 years, and I have some that are more.
    I have taken in some older ferals with ease, because they have less of a "fight" about them.
    The winter really isn't a big issue in my climate; but,summers are brutal. Adult ferals are savvy and know how to deal with heat. But, little ones succumb quickly unless they have a mother to show them the ropes and keep nursing them.. I just had 2 orphaned kits that I came across and couldn't save because they had had too much exposure to the elements..

    1. I liked your comment because it shows a lot of common sense about the lifespan of feral cats. I think it is simplistic to simply say all feral cats live between 3 to 5 years because as you say with caretaking and proper management they can live much longer. It depends on many factors and I don't think website should generalise.

  2. I think it's important to point out that managed colonies (spayed and neutered cats) probably live longer and are the ones referenced in studies of feral cats.

    "In 2003, a long-term study of a Trap-Neuter-Return program noted that 83% of the cats present at the end of the observation period had been there for more than six years."

    - Levy, Julie K, et al., "Evaluation of the Effect of a Long-Term Trap-Neuter-Return and Adoption Program on a Free-Roaming Cat Population," Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 222, no. 1 (2003): 42-46

    The feral cats were compared with a "mean lifespan of 7.1 years for household cats".

    - Key Scientific Studies on Trap-Neuter-Return -

    That seems low to me, but could be correct given the way that so many cat owners and veterinarians feed cats improperly and are not practicing feline disease prevention and correction.

    [There's a variety of resources (articles, videos, webinars...) about Feral and Community Cats by those doing life saving focussed animal sheltering on]

    Exotic cats in captivity have a shorter life spans when fed improperly, notes Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue. -

    Thank goodness their felines refused to eat the zoo kibble blend that came out in the 1990's!

    Diet has a huge influence on health, and therefore life span, of domestic cats

    1. Hi Cee, I agree with you about feral cats and their lifespan. I feel that some so-called experts and websites under estimate their lifespan and this may be because they want to argue that rather than suffer short miserable lives they should be killed. There may be an underlying hidden agenda here. There are still lots of people who believe that killing feral cats is preferable to TNR. They are wrong of course but it is taking a long time for TNR to gain acceptance with the authorities.

      As to 7.1 years being the lifespan of house cat, that appears to be plain incorrect. Modern domestic cats live longer than before due to better veterinary care and in addition there are more indoor cats in America than before. Some people argue that domestic cats live too long (like people in the West).

      Purebred cats live shorter lives than random bred cats (on average) and some cat breeds may have an average life span of around 7+ years e.g. Siamese cat-the modern version.

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  4. The one feral female in the colony that lived in our back garden when we moved in, in 1989, lived until she was 15. We cared for all of the adults, got them all neutered and kept the 4 kittens that Muzz produced when we started feeding them.

    Muzz endured some hardship in those 15 years, including abcesses (thank heavens for liquid antibiotics that mix in food) and her retinas fell off. This probably happened due to stress induced diabetes, eventually, after about 2 years, it was evident that they had re-attached. A really coarse family had moved into the village on the far edge of Muzz's territory, they had unruly dogs, and we think Muzz must have witnessed one of the dogs killing a neighbour's cat. This is the point we think either the high blood pressure/diabetes struck.

    Muzz had a cosy cat house in the back garden, she'd disappear for months at a time now and again, we'd all be fretting, searching. But then she'd turn up again, out of the blue, stamping around in the back garden, which indicated she was hungry.

    During her evident blindness, she became quite self limiting, but coped very well. She even disappeared for a month during that time.

    Muzz was a true feral, she may have been older than 15 when she disappeared for the last time as she was a mature adult in 1989. In all those years, the most direct, voluntary interaction with her we had, was when she'd sit on top of the shed roof and give us a long slow, cat smile (blink)

    She was a very good Cat Mummy and we miss her still.

  5. Michael, did you know that the RSPCA now class all cats that are living outside as ferals? This includes obviously tame/stray cats. This is the latest excuse they use to avoid doing anything to actually help living animals.

    1. I did not know that. It is interesting and disturbing. Thanks for that. I'll look into it.

  6. I a cat that lived to 20 almost 21. Most of mine seem to live 12-14 years.


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