Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Cats > Do Cats Remember People & For How Long? Feline Memory Explained

Do Cats Remember People & For How Long? Feline Memory Explained

cat looking man's chin

As humans, we remember our feline companions for years after they’ve left us. Cats make a lasting impression on the humans who love them. The kitten you had that followed you everywhere in the house and curled up on your lap for snuggles turned into the cat that slept on your desk while you did your homework.

However, will that same cat remember you after you graduate and head off to college, only to come back on breaks? The answer to whether cats remember people is yes. How long they remember us is difficult to ascertain, however. In this article, we’ll go into the reasons cats remember people, their short and long-term memory capabilities, and more.


Do Cats Remember People?

We already know that cats are intelligent, so it stands to reason that they remember the people who feed, take care of, and love them. Studies have shown that cats have a short-term memory of around 16 hours.

As previously stated, there is no indicated time as to how long a cat’s long-term memory might be. This means that cats can remember people they’ve been around for years after they last saw them. So, for example, if you move to another state, leave your cat with family members, and don’t come back for 6 years, it’s highly possible that your feline friend will remember you when you do.

cat sleeping near man's face
Image Credit: Maliflower73, Shutterstock

Do Cats Recognize Their Owners?

Many people wonder if their cats even recognize them because, in most cases, these felines seem to be indifferent to the people around them altogether. However, cats often identify their owners by smell and often visual clues as well, since felines have associative memory.

They are also able to tell their owners from strangers. The cat’s capability for doing this depends mainly on the cat’s personality. Some cats are fiercely independent and will never bond with a person at all, though they do recognize the person. These are the cats that you need to be careful around, give their own space, and sometimes deal with meltdowns or aggressive behavior.

Other cats have the type of personality where they quickly learn who their owner is, become part of the family, and easily form bonds with someone in the household, or several family members for that matter.

There’s nothing you can do to make your cat a people cat. However, he is quite capable of recognizing you and the other people in your household.

Do Cats Remember One Another?

It’s also thought that cats remember other cats that are raised in the same household. Studies have shown that cats who are raised together tend to form strong bonds. However, there needs to be lots of space and no reason for them to be hostile to one another for that bond to form.

If one of the cats is taken from your home, the other cat will miss him and search the house for his missing companion. So it stands to reason that cats can miss their owners as well.

cats staring at each other while leaning on a small chair
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Does Your Cat Miss You When You’re Gone?

Many pet parents wonder if their feline companions miss them when they’re at work, on a trip, or even just at the grocery store. The fact is that memory and a feeling of loss are complicated, and scientists haven’t been able to determine if cats actually miss us when we’re gone.

Studies have shown that our cats don’t change their behavior when we leave the room. However, some other studies show that felines get a bit more vocal when their owners leave the room, as opposed to when a stranger leaves a room.

There are other signs that many experts say point towards cats missing their human owners, however. These experts say that cats exhibit certain behaviors when left alone. We’ll list a few of those behaviors below.

  • Shredding and destroying furniture
  • Not using their litter box, but other areas of the home instead
  • Whining, loud meowing, or yowling
  • Hiding in small places
  • Cowering

It’s tempting for pet owners to attribute this behavior to being angry or the cat getting revenge because they were left alone. However, it’s probably just the cat being anxious that they were left alone, as cats are known to be an anxious species.

While it’s true that cats are happy to see you when you’ve been gone and return home, it’s doubtful that they actually think about you when you aren’t there, as cats are pretty indifferent to humans most of the time.

shorthair cat lying on table, looking sad
Image Credit: 9lnw, Shutterstock

Can Your Cat Hold a Grudge?

Cats have strong associative memory. For example, your cat may associate happiness with chasing butterflies in your garden or eating with the sound of a can being opened in the kitchen. The bad thing about a cat’s strong associative memory is it also allows them to associate certain things with negative memories.

This leads experts to believe that cats can indeed hold grudges and grieve losses. However, it’s hard to determine what will trigger a cat to remember a negative experience. It’s thought that even if the person or event is out of the cat’s life, smells, sounds, and other things in the environment can trigger these emotions in felines.

For example, if your cat threw up in the cat carrier on a trip, he might associate the cat carrier with that negative experience. Likewise, if your cat was bullied by the cat next door, he might have a hard time leaving the house, and that could carry into the next neighborhood you live in as well.

That leads us to believe that cats do indeed hold grudges against anything they think might harm them, just as humans do.


Final Thoughts

The answer to the question of whether cats remember people and for how long is complicated. We know they remember us, but how well and for how long is still in question.

Suffice it to say, your cat loves you and hopefully will remember you whether you’re only gone out of town for the weekend or gone to college and won’t be home for months.

Featured Image Credit: Magui RF, Shutterstock

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets