Last Updated on: March 11, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Cats actually have incredible memories! They can remember a person’s face for up to 10 years! And kitties become seriously attached to their humans, so in case you were wondering, yes, your cat remembers and misses you when you’re gone for a few weeks, and they absolutely mourn when a trusted companion drops out of their life.
Cats also have fantastic associative memories — they’re great at linking positive and negative experiences to both people and places. And, of course, after a move, they’re notorious for showing up at their old home, sometimes thousands of miles away, demonstrating the strength of their place-related memory skills! Read on for more information about cats and their stunning memories.
Cats, just like humans, have both long and short-term memories. Cats mostly use their short-term memories to solve problems, often situations involving obtaining access to food. And anyone who’s ever been around a cat can tell you these creatures have serious abilities when it comes to getting hold of supposedly well-locked up cat food — feline short-term memory is a pretty powerful problem-solving machine.
Cats also use their short-term memories to recall where they most recently found prey and where and when their food bowl most often appears. Feline short-term memory encodes and recalls events experienced and information learned within the past 16 hours and then uses that data to solve problems.
Feline long-term memory is often tapped when it comes to remembering people and experiences. It’s a long-term memory that’s responsible for a cat recognizing a returning loved veteran or student after a long period of separation. It’s also what’s behind the tendency some cats have to avoid certain types of people or react negatively to particular environments. It’s also the reason particular cats respond to certain noises or smells by becoming extremely stressed.
Feline long-term memory links people, sounds and environments to positive and negative experiences. Cats are more likely to remember individuals they associate with pleasant experiences such as being fed and getting petted. Long-term memories can stay active forever. It involves the types of memories we can actively direct our brains to recall.
Moments high in emotion that result in memorable consequences tend to be the ones cats, and humans remember the most. And while clarity of recall does decrease over time, long-term memories fade in order of impact, with truly traumatic or comforting memories perhaps never disappearing entirely from a cat’s psyche.
Do Cats Remember Other Cats?
Yes. Cats form strong bonds with other household pets, such as dogs and other cats. If a cat dies or is rehomed, it’s quite common for the remaining cat to become withdrawn and sad due to grief related to the sudden loss of a close buddy. We also know that kittens constantly exchange scents while nursing and playing — scent being how cats identify family members.
Kittens who grow up together probably remain able to discern the other by smell for some time after being separated, but no one knows how long this ability to identify a littermate by scent continues. Cats probably have strong, lasting memories of other animals who they form deep bonds with over time.
Do Cats Remember Places?
Absolutely. Cats have an uncanny ability to find their way back home when lost or after a move. Howie, a cat in Australia, was sent to stay with friends while his family went on vacation. He escaped and found his way back home, a trek of more than 1000 miles.
And then there’s Holly — a cat who ran off in Daytona Beach, Florida during a road trip and was given up for lost. Holly somehow found her way home, walking more than 200 miles to her family’s home in West Palm Beach. Scientists aren’t entirely sure what allows cats to remember places so well and navigate to them so efficiently, but they suspect it has something to do with cats’ ability to read the earth’s electromagnetic fields.
Do Cats Have Memory Problems?
Yes. Cats can end up with memory problems due to disease or age. Cats who have brain tumors often show signs of cognitive decline. And diseases such as hyperthyroidism can cause symptoms resembling those associated with feline dementia. Cats who’re going blind or having trouble hearing frequently start to exhibit behaviors often seen in cats suffering from cognitive difficulties.
But a sizable number of cats simply begin to experience cognitive problems as they age — feline dementia occurs relatively frequently in cats over 10 years old. About 1 in 3 cats will exhibit at least 1 common dementia-related symptom by the age of 14. And at least 50 percent of cats older than 15 have symptoms associated with cognitive decline.
No one knows what causes feline dementia, although there’s some suggestion of an inherited component. What veterinarians do know is that cat dementia is a disease in which the feline brain progressively degenerates, resulting in the development of one or more symptoms associated with cognitive decline.
Memory problems in cats, however, don’t manifest in the same ways they do in humans. Instead of forgetting where the car keys are, cats suffering from dementia and other forms of cognitive decline tend to become easily disoriented and exhibit serious behavioral changes. Some begin to lick themselves excessively, go to the bathroom in inappropriate places and refuse to engage in their favorite activities. Others begin to sleep during the day, staying awake all night. Refusing to eat and excessive vocalization are other common symptoms.
Is There Anything I Can Do to Protect My Cat’s Memory?
Good food, lots of exercise and tons of mental stimulation are the keys to great feline health, including good long-term cognitive function. Food puzzles encourage cats to use their curiosity to solve fun problems and are a wonderful way to keep your cat’s brain sharp. Food puzzles, games and plenty of feline-human interaction are critical when it comes to preventing feline cognitive decline.
There are also supplements that may decrease your pet’s risk of experiencing cognitive decline. There’s some evidence that cats suffering from memory loss benefit from getting extra vitamins E and C, selenium, beta-carotene and carnitine. Some veterinarians suggest that Omega-3 fatty acids can also be beneficial.
Cats should never be given human vitamins or supplements, and a good consultation with your pet’s veterinarian should be your first stop if you suspect your cat is having memory issues. The veterinarian can provide an accurate diagnosis and give you medically sound advice regarding treatment options, including nutritional supplementation, if appropriate.
Cats absolutely remember people, environments and events. They recognize the faces of those who treat them well and with love for up to 10 years. Cats also form strong negative memories and will avoid people, sounds, environments and situations associated with traumatic moments in their lives. Kitties form strong attachments to people — they not only bond deeply with their humans, but they remember the good times spent with their favorite people.
Cats deeply mourn the death or departure of intensely loved people, cats and dogs. And cats, just like humans, often suffer from cognitive decline as they age, but there are several things you can do that may reduce your cat’s chances of developing feline dementia, including providing tons of mental stimulation through games and puzzles.
Featured Image Credit: izmargad, Shutterstock
Cat mom to Ivy – a feisty little rescue kitten that is her one and only child. For now! Throughout her life, she has been introduced to the special love that can be found in the bond with a cat. Having owned multiple felines, she is more than certain that their love is unmatched, unconditional and unlike any other. With a passion to educate the public about everything, there is to know about felines, their behavior, and their unique personalities, Crystal is devoted to making sure that all cats and their owners know the importance of conscious living – and loving!
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