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Aging a cat is as much an art as a science. To be truly good at it, one needs to have evaluated hundreds (or preferably thousands) of cats.
The teeth generally are the first area of the body to be evaluated when trying to determine a cat’s (or dog’s) age. Kittens less than three weeks old may have no teeth. Deciduous (baby) teeth erupt between three and six weeks of age. These are replaced by adult teeth between four and six months of age.
For the first year or two of life, the adult teeth will be clean and white, with minimal evidence of dental disease. Over the next several years, the teeth will show progressive discoloration, infection, gum loss, and root exposure.
Cats who benefit from good oral care (tooth brushing or regular dental work) will not develop characteristic symptoms of dental disease as rapidly as those whose teeth are neglected. Well-cared-for cats with healthy mouths tend to look (and feel) much younger than they are.
The eyes can assist in determining a cat’s age. At about seven years, most cats develop a slight hazy discoloration in the lens. This phenomenon does not compromise quality of life, but it does become more prominent as cats mature.
Young cats tend to have very soft and supple coats. As most middle aged men can verify, youthful hair rarely lasts forever. Elderly cats (especially those over 12) often have coarse, dry fur that appears to grow in clumps.
Finally, the flexibility of the rib cage changes as cats mature. Young cats have very supple ribs. After about seven years of age, the ribs become progressively firmer and more brittle. Always be gentle when feeling a cat’s ribs!
Remember that each individual ages in a unique fashion. Some cats age more gracefully than others. Some cats look young for their age; others appear older than they are.
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