Do Cats Remember People? Your Cat’s Memory & How It Works Explained
Whether on a business trip or out and about with friends, fur parents tend to miss their pet cats when they’re away. So we wonder if our feline friends feel the same way. Do cats remember people – you in particular, and does a cat miss you at all?
If this is you, you have come to the right page. Cats may seem like they don’t remember you given their “don’t-care” attitude when you’re at home, but don’t judge too quickly. There’s more to your cat than meets the eye.
Your cat’s memory is actually better than you think. If you want to learn more about it, read on. By doing so, you’ll also gain a better understanding of your feline friend – her cognition abilities, in particular.
Do Cats Remember People?
The short answer is YES. Cats remember people, and that includes you. And it’s not just that. Cats remember animals and things as well, including where their food bowls and litter box are located.
Based on recent studies, a cat’s memory recall ability is considered excellent. In fact, scientists suggest that cats are probably as intelligent as dogs. However, they are very selective. In what way, you ask? Read below to find out more.
What You Need To Know About Your Cat’s Memory
Gauging how much a cat remembers and how long it remembers it can be tricky given their inability to communicate with us verbally. The most we can do is to rely on non-verbal cues (like your cat’s behavior) and anecdotal evidence.
In both cases, cats show the ability to remember stuff. Interestingly, cats exhibit spatial memory, which enables them to locate their food bowls. Besides that, cats also display the capacity to recall information from both recent and longer periods. Enter: Short-term memories and long-term memories.
A Cat’s Short-Term Memory
As mentioned earlier, cats possess short-term memories like human beings. A type of memory that lets your cat remember a person or a thing for a short period (even after only one interaction).
For most animals, a short-term memory lasts for around 27 seconds, on average. On the one hand, it is assumed that a cat’s short-term memory can last up to around 16 hours. Note, however, that there's no scientific evidence to back this up.
Another type of memory that is closely related to, and often confused with short-term memory is the working memory. This memory involves the storing and manipulation of short-term memories, enabling us to process information for a short period of time (like solving mathematical problems without paper.
In the cat realm, survival and basic problem-solving skills are made possible thanks to their working memory. This memory helps cats remember where to find hidden objects and where to locate food. However, like your cat’s short-term memories, working memories are also short-lived.
A Cat’s Long-Term Memory
Now that you know a thing or two about how short-term and working memories work in cats, let’s take a closer look at how your cat’s long-term memory works.
As the name suggests, long-term memory involves storing information for a long period (think years). And you know what? Cats are thought to have superb long-term memories – even better than dogs.
When we say better, it is said that it’s 200 times better. Some say that a cat’s long-term memories can last up to 10 years.
So, if a family member left home or an owner left their pet cat, it’s possible for the cat to still remember their owners and other members of the family even after years of absence.
What Triggers Your Pet Cat To Remember A Person?
Remember, we mentioned that cats are highly-selective. So even if your pet cat is capable of remembering people, animals, and places for an extended period, a cat may not remember other cats in the same litter when they reunite.
Why so? Cats tend to recall memories that left a BIG impact on your cat’s life. This can either be a positive or a negative experience. This is because cats (and other animals) usually use associative memory to store information.
Associative memories refer to one's ability to recall the relationship between two unrelated things. For most cats, this often relates to their response to certain smells, sounds, or external events.
Here’s one good example. Ever wondered why your cat is quick to rush to your side when you’re just in the process of opening its can of food? It’s because your cat has associated the sweet sound of a can opener with something positive (think food).
Since cats tend to recall stuff that benefits them, do cats also remember a negative memory? Can a cat hold a grudge? The answer is yes and yes.
Cats recall negative experiences and tend to remember them for a long time – and even hold grudges. This can explain why your cat is reacting negatively to certain stimuli.
Whether positive or negative, this associative memory often turns into long-term memories that can alter your cat’s behavior towards you, your family members, and other companion animals for a lifetime.
Do Cats Have Episodic Memories?
In the past, cats were thought to only use associative memory to store information. However, 2017 studies suggest that cats (and dogs) may also have episodic memories.
What does this mean? This means that your cat might remember the details of their past and recall this whenever they want to entertain themselves.
Do Cats Miss Us When We Are Away?
Compared to dogs, cats are known to be independent. This makes us think that our cats do not miss us. However, recent studies suggest that cats are capable of establishing a secure attachment with their owners. In short, cats can miss their owners.
If your cats see you as a source of security and comfort, then your cats missing you when you are gone is a big possibility. So even if your cat does not look thrilled to see you and does not wag its tail like dogs do to welcome you after a long day at work or a two-week trip, do not feel too bad.
A simple greeting like a bit of purring and stretching from your cat is your cat’s simple way of telling you that it is happy to see you and that your cat missed you.
Memory Recall & How Long It Lasts
Honestly, it is hard to tell exactly how long a feline’s memory lasts since every cat is unique. And while a cat possesses long-term memories, like humans, a cat’s memory and brain cells deteriorate over time. Simply put, senior cats experience memory loss, as well.
This condition is known as feline cognitive dysfunction disorder (FCDD) or cat dementia. According to ASPCA, over 55% of senior cats aged 11 to 15 suffer from age-related memory loss. The chances of a cat getting it at age 16 to 20 increase to 80%.
So how would you know if your cat is suffering from cognitive dysfunction disorder? Here are signs and symptoms to watch out for.
- Reduced or lack of self-grooming
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme irritability
- Increased vocalization
- Excessive licking
- Reduced desire to play
- Unable to learn new tasks
- Restlessness or anxiety
- Disregard previous learnings and house rules
- Urinary and fecal incontinence or house soiling
- Unable to follow familiar routes
- Change in sleep cycle (like night waking)
If your senior cat starts misbehaving, destroying furniture, howling, and the like, contact your vet right away.
Are you a proud mom or dad of a cat that does not seem to remember or miss you? Do not worry. Every fur parent went through that phase.
Unlike many animals, cats seem to live in their own world. As a cat owner, you need to accept and understand that most cats are just hardwired that way.
So, does your cat remember you? Yes, they probably do. Did your cat miss you the last time you were gone? It’s possible. This all depends on whether you’ve established a strong bond between you and your cat.
That is right. Your cat can remember a person, a place, or a thing for a long-time. But since they're highly selective, they will only remember and miss you if they associate you with something positive.
So whatever your cat's personality is, make sure to leave a good impression and create positive associative memories.
Be careful with your actions and refrain from punishing them since that may leave a lasting negative memory, which may make your cat hold grudges. Instead, treat them right and shower them with TLC. This way, you’ll be stored in their long-term memory bank of happy experiences.
NOTE: If you have a senior cat, you’d want to feed your cat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. This will help slow down your cat’s brain’s deterioration.