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How Good Is a Cat’s Memory? (Memory Span & More)

cat lying on a cat bed

Every time your cat noses around the place you put their favorite toy or comes running to you after a long separation, the cat demonstrates just how good its memory is. As any cat owner will tell you, cats have great memories, though even most owners underestimate the cat’s memory.

For example, cats have great memories that can last them many years. Cats even have different types of memories, such as episodic or spatial memory, just like us! As your cat gets older, it even experiences memory loss and dementia, further proving that cat’s memory functions much like our own.

To learn more about how good a cat’s memory is, read on.

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How Good Is a House Cat’s Memory?

A house cat’s memory is shockingly good, which is one distinct difference between domesticated cats and wild cats. In fact, scientists have found specific genes related to memory formation in house cats that their wild counterparts lack.

It makes sense that house cats have good memories too. Through domestication, house cats have been dependent on people for food, shelter, and love. Without a good memory, house cats would not recognize their owners and potentially scratch or bite them.

Unfortunately, scientists have not been able to measure a house cat’s memory. We do know that certain episodic memories can last months and often years. That’s why cats that get separated from their owners act excited once rejoined together or abused cats never grow to like people.

In certain contexts, cats have a memory that is 200 times better than dogs. For example, cats excel at remembering facts about food and prey. In contrast, dogs have better memories involving people and non-food-related items.

two domestic cats playing with cat toys in the living room
Image Credit: Magui RF, Shutterstock

How Long Can a Cat Remember a Person?

Cats don’t take the time to remember most new people. On average, cats only remember a person for 16 hours after first meeting them. That’s because most first-time meetings are locked away in your cat’s short-term memory.

Once you interact with and feed the cat, the cat is much more likely to remember you since you are now a part of the cat’s long-term memory. Still, it’s unclear how long cats can remember long-term memories, though memories of owners may last a lifetime.

How Long Does a Cat Hold a Grudge?

Cats don’t hold grudges like humans do. Although they can associate bad memories with certain people or areas, they don’t act out of vengeance. Instead, cats will go the extra mile to avoid the bad memory from repeating itself by avoiding the place or person associated with the memory.

That being said, cats can have negative emotions that last a long time. Often, a traumatic experience can haunt the cat for years, which is why many abused cats are stressed and aggressive towards people – they have a traumatizing memory that forces the cat to act out of self-preservation.

Just as it’s impossible to know how long cats remember people, it’s impossible to know how long cats can hold grudges. If the memory is traumatic enough, such as repeated abuse, the memory may last the cat’s life.

If you accidentally step on your cat’s tail once, however, you likely have nothing to worry about. If the cat’s experiences with you are overwhelmingly positive, the cat will likely forget the bad incident quickly, especially if you offer a treat or some food as an apology.

A Note About Cat Grudges

It’s important to point out that acting out of self-preservation is widely different from vengeance. Vengeance requires high intelligence and self-reflection that cats lack. No matter how mad the cat is, it can’t act out of vengeance. Instead, cats will act out to protect themselves or prevent the same bad thing from happening.

A cat hiding under a couch
Image Credit: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

Do Old Cats Lose Memory?

Just like humans, many animals experience memory loss with age, cats included. Study after study has shown that senior cats experience a decline in cognitive function, which includes memory and the ability to learn. Sometimes, the loss of memories can cause senior cats to act out since they don’t remember as much as they used to.

Some signs of cognitive dysfunction in senior cats include spatial disorientation, wandering, altered sleeping schedules, blank stares, etc. These symptoms of cognitive dysfunction are similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. The disease is not fully understood, and it often affects cats over the age of 10.

If your cat is showing signs of cognitive dysfunction, take it to see a vet right away. Although the vet cannot do anything about cognitive dysfunction, they can rule out other potential causes of the cat’s new behavior and treat it if able.

Do Cats or Dogs Have Better Memories?

Whether dogs or cats have better memories depends on the context. If food is involved, cats almost always have the better memory. In contrast, dogs have better episodic memories that allow them to remember people and events better than cats.

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Conclusion

Cats have pretty good memories, especially when it pertains to food. If you are responsible for feeding your cat daily, you don’t have to worry about your cat forgetting you! More so, it’s unlikely for your cat to forget you easily if you frequently interact and play with it.

The same cannot be said for newcomers. Cats are unlikely to remember newcomers after the first meeting simply because the person will be stored away in the cat’s short-term memory files, which won’t last more than a day.

Likewise, cats may begin to forget faces and situations with age. Much like humans, cats experience severe memory loss with age, which often causes senior cats to act out. Until your cat reaches high up in age, you don’t have to worry about your cat forgetting you!


Featured Image Credit: VGstockstudio, Shutterstock

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