How Long Do Tabby Cats Live?

This kitten displays the distinctive marks of one pattern of tabby coat.
i A kitten fighting sleep. image by Penny Williams from

All domestic cats – even breeds that look nothing like tabbies – possess the “tabby” gene. Tabby cats are not a breed, but a pattern. The assorted stripes, spots, and swirls on the body and characteristic “M” on the forehead of tabbies come from wild cat ancestors of domestic cats.


Many factors influence longevity in cats, but some genes are recessive in certain breeds or they have been manipulated through controlled breeding to produce or dilute distinctive traits. Color and pattern are among the genes that sometimes mutate and produce unusual effects, so even a pure black cat, for example, is a tabby with its pattern hidden within the color. Often you can see such underlying tabby markings on a black cat sitting in bright light.

With selective breeding, some cats have lost many of the genes their original ancestors possessed and they are now further from the tabby archetype, exhibiting characteristics -- including other colors and patterns -- not associated with what we call a tabby.

All cats have the tabby gene, but "tabby" today refers only to those domestic cats that outwardly retain the markings of the tabby. Those cats, being genetically closer to the original wild cats from which domestic cats spring, generally have longer lifespans than named breeds, such as Persians or Siamese, that are more specifically manipulated away from the tabby archetype by humans.

Diet and Exercise

Most cats – including those with tabby patterns – live as long as 15 or 20 years, some older. Just as with humans and other animals, diet and exercise have a great deal of influence on lifespan. A cat that eats too much or gets a nutritionally inadequate diet or less than optimal exercise is at risk for health problems like heart disease, arthritis and diabetes, which could contribute to an early death. Give your cat the longest life his genetics allow by feeding proper amounts of a healthy, veterinarian-recommended diet and ensuring he gets plenty of indoor exercise to keep him fit even when you cannot be there. Offering him things to climb on or play with will stimulate his muscles and brain – helping him stay physically and mentally fit.

Indoor vs. Outdoor

Indoor cats live longer – period. Outdoor cats live only two or three years on average compared with about seven times that length for indoor cats. The reasons are simple, though varied. Outdoor cats face hazards indoor cats seldom or never encounter, like traffic, communicable feline diseases, predation, traps, extreme weather, dog attacks and pet theft. The more of these potentially life-threatening dangers you can avoid, the longer your pet will live. Given a stable, interesting and loving home environment, an indoor cat will thrive.

Non-Tangibles Contributions to Longevity

It is relatively easy to list the variables under which a pet will ideally live a long life, but often the factors contributing the most to our beloved cats' lifespan are those we cannot see or readily define. All pets thrive in an atmosphere of calm and loving care. Giving your cat your attention and companionship, will stimulate her mental and physical health in not so subtle ways. Playing interactive games forces your cat to move – providing necessary exercise. Good emotional health contributes to long life too – talking gently to or merely petting her sends positive signals that reduce stress and benefit health.

the nest