Tue. Jun 6th, 2023
Deciphering Cat Stages

How many human years old is your cat? How many phases are there in a cat’s life? At what stage of life do you take care of your cat? A veterinarian offers solutions.

The idea that cats (and dogs) age at a rate of seven years for every human year is one of the myths about companion animals that persists (and still drives me crazy).

I’ll be honest; I’ve never really understood this concept. All of us have encountered cats that have survived to be 20 years old. At fact, I once had more than 30 cats older than 20 in my veterinarian clinic. A 20-year-old cat would be the equivalent of a 140-year-old human, which is simply not feasible using the 1-equals-7 rule. Now let’s think about reproduction. As young as six months old, cats and dogs are capable of becoming pregnant and giving birth to young. A 6-month-old cat is equivalent to a 312-year-old human according to the 1-equals-7 rule. Can someone have a child now? Obviously not! For the simple reason that cats age more quickly while they are younger and less rapidly as they get older, the 1-equals-7 rule does not hold true.

How to compare cat years to human years

An age-comparison chart that takes this into account was developed a number of years ago by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). In the sidebar. This graph compares a 1-year-old cat to a human who is 15 years old, and a 2-year-old cat to a person who is 24 years old. After that, for each cat year, you add four human years. This strategy is more sensible, and based on my observations, it appears to be fairly accurate. Note that dogs are not included in this graphic. Dogs’ age equivalents vary based on their size (big dogs have shorter life spans than small dogs, for example). Since cats are all essentially the same size, the chart applies to all cats.

How many life stages do cats have?

Cat life stages are another issue associated with aging and longevity. There are a variety of viewpoints on this matter, but none are universal. The differences primarily depend on your tendency to “lump” or “split,” as well as semantics. Splitters tend to separate the phases into smaller categories whereas lumpers want to group some stages together into a single category. The initial life stage, kitten, is the sole aspect of all the variants that are the same.

Deciphering Cat Ages
Deciphering Cat Ages

Kitten: 0 to 6 months

Junior: 7 months to 2 years

Prime: 3 to 6 years

Mature: 7 to 10 years

Senior: 11 to 14 years

Geriatric: 15 years and older

Although as a cat veterinarian, I had mixed thoughts about this six-stage version, splitters were undoubtedly pleased with it. I’ve never been sure how to define the distinction between “adult” and “senior.” Based on these age ranges, categorizing older cats into “mature,” “senior,” and “geriatric” groups made sense. Separating young adult cats into “junior” and “prime” felt somewhat artificial, though.

In a recently updated (2021) report, the AAFP/AAHA described four basic age-related feline life stages:

Kitten:  birth to 1 year

Young adult: 1 to 6 years

Mature adult: 7 to 10 years

Senior: Older than 10 years

If you lump, you’ll likely adore this simplified version. I’m happy with the first three categories and the age ranges that go with them, but I believe that the senior stage should be further separated, leading to a five-stage categorization that, in my opinion, covers all the bases:

Kitten: birth to 1 year

Young adult: 1 to 6 years

Mature adult: 7 to 10 years

Senior: 11 to 15 years

Geriatric: 16 years and older

I’ve seen variants of the aforementioned versions using the phrase “super senior” instead of “geriatric.” I suppose some individuals consider the term “geriatric” to be overly clinical or to have unfavorable connotations. Although I understand why cat parents would like the phrase “super senior,” which evokes awe and wonder and makes the cat sound like a superhero, which is a fairly fantastic concept, I prefer the term “geriatric” as a veterinarian.

Choosing the appropriate care for your cat at every stage

The main reason that veterinarians categorize a cat’s life into stages is to make it easier for us to create health and wellness regimens that are suitable for each stage of the cat’s life. Depending on these stages, different diseases and behavioral abnormalities may be present, and different diagnostic procedures may be advised. It depends on your own preferences whether you as a cat parent choose the four-stage system (kitten, young adult, mature adult, senior), a five-stage system (kitten, young adult, mature adult, senior, and geriatric), or a six-stage system (kitten, junior, prime, mature, senior, and geriatric). The fact that so many life stage charts acknowledge the presence of a geriatric or super senior stage indicates that cats are surviving longer than ever before, which we can all agree is fantastic news as a cat veterinarian who believes that all cats die too early.

Cat to human age chart

You can view the entire 22-page AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines released in 2021 at: aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/life-stage-feline-2021/feline-life-stage-home/.

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