Cats remember the good, the bad, and the ugly.

January 18, 2020 3 min read

Can a cat hold a grudge? Can she recall your special moments together? Does she remember your shortcomings as a feline parent? 


If someone is nasty to your cat or does something she isn’t fond of, she may just hold a grudge. You can bet she’ll also remember you feed her every morning and knows exactly where to find her food bowl when it’s time for breakfast.

Several studies suggest that cats are able to bank memories and recall certain positive or negative ones when triggered. And when it comes to food, cats’ memories are spot on.

Stories about cats finding their way back home or recognizing a long-lost buddy after months or years have passed provide anecdotal evidence to support research that suggests cats have the ability to log memories, both short-term and long-term. The younger the cat, the more impressionable he is and the more likely to secure longer-lasting memories, animal experts say.


What do cats remember in the short-term?

Cats have a short-lived working memory, which aids in helping them locate food in the wild. They can stalk a rodent and lie in wait if the rodent hides, briefly remembering what they’re chasing. 

A domesticated cat demonstrates his working memory during playtime. For instance, watch your cat playing with a toy that inadvertently rolls under the refrigerator. His interest in trying to retrieve the wayward toy may last up to a full minute before he gives up and moves on to something else. Your cat's short-lived memory capacity makes it unlikely he will return for the toy after some time has passed.


What do cats remember in the long-term?

A cat who has a bad experience with another animal or with an unkind human may lodge such an episode in the long-term memory bank and recall it more readily when he’s triggered. Animal behavioral experts believe certain events, whether positive or negative, are more memorable and therefore stick for a longer span of time. Overhead movements or certain noises may frighten an abused cat, triggering a long-term memory of prior trauma. It’s possible your cat will carry that unpleasant memory for the rest of his life.

On a more positive note, cats are able to remember their cat parents, even when they’ve gone away for a time and return. Cats also can locate their litter box, food bowl, and toy box, all mainly associated with pleasant events. More proof that cats have a memory is their ability to find their way home if they go outdoors and to recall how to perform tricks you’ve taught them.


Remembering has consequences.

Because of their ability to recall, cats will inevitably react to the loss of a cat buddy or human companion. A cat will notice their friend’s absence and demonstrate their discontent in a variety of ways, such as dirtying outside the litter box or losing interest in eating as they grieve. Yes, cats grieve like their human counterparts.

It is possible to implant more positive associations in your cat’s memory bank. For example, going to the vet triggers a stressful reaction in most cats. After all, who likes being poked and prodded? Animal behavioral experts recommend cat parents drop by the vet office for an occasional happy visit, devoid of treatment and filled with positive attention by the staff.


Think before you react!

Knowing your cat can file away memories can make you regulate your response to undesirable behavior, realizing that an angry reaction could compromise the bond you’ve built with him. If cats are able to remember, then they’re able to hold grudges. Don’t lose ground on what you’ve worked so hard to establish. 
Cats watch and observe even when you don’t realize it. And they tend to remember the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful of life. Just like the rest of us. 

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