Cats are wonderful pets, and contrary to what many believe, they also love being in the company of their favorite people. However, while our feline companions stay in our memory for years after they are gone, is it the same for them? Do cats remember people after they’ve gone away?
Do Cats Remember People?
Cats have a very special relationship with humans; we provide food, shelter, affection, and playtime. But do cats even remember us when we’re not around? Do they miss us when we leave them alone at home all day long? Or when we go on vacation?
Cats are somewhat social animals that generally live in colonies in the wild. And while human interaction isn’t necessary for them, cats that are raised with humans seek out human interaction.
When they don’t get enough attention from their owner, they’ll seek out other humans to be near. This could mean spending time with family members, friends, neighbors, or even strangers.
While some cats may enjoy being around new people, others will prefer familiar faces.
Studies have indicated that cats have a short-term memory of 16 hours more or less. They are known for having associative memories. For example, they may associate eating with the sound of you opening your fridge, or opening their cat food.
The same goes for their associations of humans. If the same person is feeding a particular cat, the cat may begin to associate that person with happiness.
Short-Term Cat Memory
As with humans, there are two kinds of memories. Short-term memory, and long-term.
While most animals only have a short-term memory of around 25 seconds, as mentioned above, cats can hold their short-term memories for 16 hours!
This kind of memory is associative memory. When using associative memory, a cat associates specific environments, aspects, or smells with a certain memory.
Long-Term Cat Memory
Cats are known to have a very good long-term memory. It is said to be 200 times better than the long-term memory of dogs! They are said to retain memories for up to 10 years, but it will usually only be what benefits them.
For example, cats may remember people they had a bond with, and those who provided them with food and shelter, and they may also remember individuals who irritated them.
A cat’s long term memory will also affect its behavior. If a cat was abused by humans, it may associate that trauma with all humans it comes into contact with, resulting in the cat having trust issues.
They can also be afraid of certain people if they associate them with a negative memory.
This is adaptive evolutionarily because cats retaining information about situations helps them avoid stimuli associated with bad or fearful memories. And on the other hand, will seek out stimuli associated happy and pleasant memories.
Do Cats Recognize Their Owners?
If you think about it, cats are like little sponges. They soak up information through olfactory senses, touch, sight, and hearing.
It would make sense then that they would recognize their owners by smell. But does that really happen?
The answer is yes! In fact, studies have shown that cats can distinguish between different scents and this skill transfers to the smell of their humans.
One study showed that cats were able to differentiate between two different types of catnip. Another study found that cats could tell apart three different kinds of mints.
In one study, researchers tested whether cats could recognize the scent of their own owners. They used a method called habituation to determine which scent was most familiar to each cat.
Cats seem to show a strong preference for the scent of their humans, significantly more than chance would suggest. This shows that cats can recognize their owners’ scent. As mentioned earlier, cats have associative memories, so they can also associate their owners with certain aspects, such as feeding.
Do Cats Remember One Another?
Cats are highly social creatures who live in groups. They spend a lot of time playing together and interacting with each other.
Studies have shown that cats who are raised in the same household will form strong bonds. This is made even more likely to be the case if these cats have enough space to roam around freely and aren’t hostile to each other.
Cats also like routine, so if their companion goes missing, or passes away, that cat is likely to continue to search for him/her, and miss them.
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Does Your Cat Miss You When You’re Gone?
While we miss our little cats terribly when we need to go away on a trip, or even to the supermarket, it begs the question, do they miss us?
Unfortunately, studying this emotion is tricky, and researchers have struggled to find an answer. The best way to determine whether your cat misses you or not is to monitor their behavior when you are gone.
Some cats get more vocal when they are left alone or are without familiar faces. Some may begin to destroy furniture and refuse to use their litter tray. Some may hide in their safe place or begin to whine.
Many cat owners will determine this behavior as their cat missing them, but it may just be the cat feeling anxious after being left alone.
Can Your Cat Hold A Grudge?
The ability to hold a grudge has been widely debated among animal scientists.
It’s believed by some that animals don’t have the cognitive abilities to hold a grudge, while others believe that they can. It seems that cats can remember things for quite long periods of time. As mentioned earlier, they seem to have better memory retention than dogs.
A study published in 2014 looked at how well cats remembered where they had hidden food from previous times. The researchers found that cats could remember where they hid food for up to six months, which shows greater object permanence than young human children have.
As mentioned in this article, cats have a good associative memory. While this is positive when it comes to happy thoughts, this also means they can associate certain objects and experiences with negative emotions.
For example, if your cat had a traumatic experience at the vet, they may associate that building with negative emotions.
If they have had a bad experience with a stray cat around your home, or even the neighbor’s cat, they may be afraid of going outside. Therefore, it is believed that cats can in fact hold grudges.
To conclude, cats have a generally good memory and are likely to remember those worth remembering. This means it will remember select individuals who have certain memories associated with them.
So, if there is one particular person in the household who feeds the cat every day, it is likely to associate that person with food and happiness, and so they will remember that person.
The same goes for if a cat had a bad experience with a person.
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