Do cats remember you?
Do Cats Remember People? How Much Do Cats Remember?
Carol has worked in specialty, emergency, mixed animal and general veterinary practices, and enjoys all aspects of veterinary medicine. Her special areas of interest include anesthesia, critical care, emergency, dentistry, internal medicine and small animal nutrition.
Updated on: 04/21/2023
Photo by Kazuend on Unsplash
We have all heard that elephants have great memories, but what about cats? Although they can’t talk, they communicate in various ways, from purring, meowing, and rubbing up against us to demanding a tasty treat or a nice scratch behind the ears.
Although there is not much research on memory in cats and if they remember people, most owners, and veterinary professionals will tell you that pets rely on their senses and associative memories to recall interactions with people and other animals. For example, when you come home at the end of the day, your kitty may greet you warmly at the door because she associates you with food, cuddling, and companionship.
But does that mean that your cat remembers you?
The definition of memory is the storing of data and information that can be encoded and retrieved later. If we consider this definition, then yes, felines remember people, but it may not be the same kind of memory as with humans.
Do Cats Have Good Memory?
Like most animals, including humans, felines have what researchers call short-term and long-term memory. Short-term memory is the ability to hold a readily available amount of information for a short amount of time. In contrast, long-term memory takes short-term memories and stores them for a long time.
Although both human and feline memories may be triggered by the senses (such as a smell or a sound) or by an association (a certain person tied to a particular behavior or action), felines may rely more on their senses and association than humans do.
For example, pets probably don’t sit around reminiscing about that fun toy you bought her, as they most likely “live in the moment.” However, showing your feline friend her favorite toy can trigger her “memory” or associations with play and fun and get excited.
But do cats have a good memory?
Photo from Freepik
Results from an experiment published in 2008  showed that pets have a good memory, but only when it comes to spatial memory. Spatial memory is the storage and retrieval of information needed to plan a route to the litterbox, associate a place with an event (like vaccines at the vet), or remember where an object is located.
In that same 2008 study, cats could easily remember what food bowls they had eaten in a given area. Another study in 2006  showed that they couldn’t remember where food bowls were once they were removed from sight.
So, science shows that in spatial situations, pets do have good memories.
Do Cats Recognize Their Owners?
Using their senses and associative memories, cats can recognize their owners. The owners will tell you that after being gone for a few weeks on vacation or away for work, their pet (depending on the personality) may exhibit joy at their return by purring, head-butting, and/or rubbing up against their legs.
How do cats recognize their owners? Although cats are very visual, it’s more likely that they distinguish between humans using smell, sound, and tracking movements rather than recalling our faces. For example, your kitty knows what you smell like and can recognize the tone of your voice and the way you move.
This was demonstrated in a 2013 study  by the University of Tokyo. That research found that pets can discern recordings of their owners’ voices apart from strangers’ voices.
According to a Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas at Dallas 2005 study,  kitties aren’t very good at recognizing human faces (or maybe they just don’t care). When shown pictures of human faces, the cats could tell their handler apart from a stranger about 54% of the time. Interestingly enough, the pets in the study recognized each other’s faces about 91% of the time.
Don’t take it personally, but even though pets can remember their owners and other care providers for years, being felines, they may or may not miss you while you are at work or on vacation.
How Far Back Can Cats Remember?
There is not a lot of information as to how far back a cat can remember something or someone, but many owners might tell you that their pets have the memory of an elephant. Anecdotal evidence suggests that pets possess excellent long-term memories, and can recall their humans and fellow pets as well as those who annoy and irritate them.
Some sources  claim that cats can remember a person for up to 10 years, and form strong, long-lasting memories of other animals and humans who they form deep bonds with over time. For this reason, owners have seen pets mourn when a trusted companion passes away.
According to Mikel Delgado,  a certified feline behavior consultant, pets do well at remembering details related to their evolutionary history, especially when it comes to hunting. However, if it’s out of sight, “it’s out of mind.” For example, if a cat is chasing a rabbit in the wild, the rabbit may hide behind a bush, but cats innately know that the rabbit probably won’t be there later.
There is no concrete data regarding how far back they can remember, but we do know that they “recognize” and remember their people and other pets via association and their senses.
Photo from Pixabay
Do Cats Remember One Another?
Cats do recognize one another and even can remember each other’s faces and even names.
A study  conducted by Kyoto University in Japan found that cats can identify other cats by their names and faces. The researchers showed cats who lived together in homes and pet cafés photos of pets they lived with, then played an audio recording of their owners or handlers calling out a name.
The study found that when a researcher presented a photo of a cat but called it by the wrong name, the cat spent more time looking at the image than when the researcher called it by the correct name. Although not conclusive, this study suggests that pets do recognize one another.
But let’s not forget that cats rely on smell and their senses when recognizing familiar pets and their humans.
Does Your Cat Miss You When You’re Gone?
Cats have always been known to be a bit more independent, and although each animal is different, some may miss us when we’re gone, and others not so much.
Cats do associate us with certain things such as food, playtime, and affection, and when we are away, our feline friends may miss this kind of interaction and companionship. Perhaps the best way to test this theory is to observe how your kitty reacts to you returning home from a long absence: She may run up to you purring and rubbing against your leg, or perhaps look at you casually and demand a meal.
Do Cats Experience Memory Loss?
According to the ASPCA,  memory loss and cognitive decline, or feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD), affects more than 55% of felines aged 11-15 years and more than 80% of pets aged 16-20 years. In addition to memory changes, senior felines experience reduced sight and hearing and tend to have a harder time learning new tasks.
If you have an older feline and you are noticing some cognitive changes, contact your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes. Your veterinarian can also make recommendations as to how to help your senior pet.
Cat Memory: Do Cats Have A Good Memory Span? Do They Remember Things?
Regardless of their whimsical and often misunderstood ways, cats are actually more intelligent than we give them credit for.
Just because they’re capricious doesn’t mean they can’t grasp what they’re told. Or that they can’t remember what’s good and what’s bad. They see the world in color (no, cats aren’t colorblind) and can recall memories of images, sounds, odors, and situations that occurred years ago!
Cats can comprehend different words, sounds, and intonations. As such, you can easily teach a cat its name.
Furthermore, you can also teach it how to perform tricks and respond to commands. Sitting, jumping, giving a high five – all of these and many other tricks are easily carved inside a cat’s memory for years to come. Of course, getting the cat to carry out the commands is the tricky part, but it’s not impossible.
Felines of all breeds have excellent cognitive skills.
However, as with human beings, cat memory is affected by age and some cat breeds are just naturally more intelligent and more susceptible to training than others.
Cat Memory 101
How A Cat’s Brain Works
The feline cerebral cortex, which plays a crucial role in memorizing, has a surface of around 83 cm2. For reference – the human one is 2,500 cm2. Cats are mammals just like us and their brains function on the same basis as ours. Just like us, cats can also benefit from diets that are healthy for their brains.
High quality cat food manufacturers focus on Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins, and taurine as they’re fundamental for cat memory and for the kitty’s overall health. Without such brain performance-boosting essentials, furballs of all breeds and ages will suffer from reduced brain activity. Thus, their ability to recall memories will also worsen.
How Cats Memorize Things For The Long Term
Cats in general are outstanding hunters. They have enviably heightened senses, such as smell, hearing, and eyesight. Even though they have been domesticated for centuries, they still carry the inborn instincts they’ve inherited from their wild ancestors.
Felines use these instincts, as well as all of their senses, to analyze, comprehend, and remember various details about any given situation, so that they can recall those memories at a later point in life.
Depending on what the cat is associating a certain memory with (a positive or negative experience), it will be easier or harder to make the furball memorize or forget something. For example, if your cat associates playing with another cat with something traumatizing (due to cat bites or other unpleasant consequences), it will be harder for you to erase the bad memories and to help the cat memorize that socializing is something good.
Cat puzzles and interactive play sessions help develop the cat’s senses and boost brain performance, thus also improving the kitty’s memorizing abilities.
Young kittens, especially newborn ones, haven’t developed their full brain potential, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t making memories. They are memorizing everything – from the warmth of their mothers’ bellies to the playful fighting techniques of their siblings. These memories also help them develop survival instincts.
For kittens of all breeds, the first 2-7 weeks are the most essential ones for building the foundation of their memories.
The curiosity, playfulness, and willingness to explore everything help kittens create a wide base of memories early in life. These memories, along with inborn instincts, will be of intrinsic importance throughout the cat’s entire lifetime.
As cats get older, their memory worsens. Senior cats find it difficult to recall things they knew from when they were younger, similarly to elder humans.
Of course, if you’ve been away from your senior feline pal for a few weeks, it won’t forget you just because it hasn’t had any interaction with you. However, elder cats lose brain cells. This results in the loss of memories and also affects the ability to analyze new things and memorize them. Some studies have shown that advancing age affects a feline’s short term-memory more than it affects its long-term memory. In other words, it would be easier for seniors to recall something from the past rather than learn something new.
Some diseases like feline cognitive dysfunction can also affect adult feline memory and overall behavior to the point of making the cat lose its litter box habits, sleeping routine, and willingness to socialize.
Brain Stimulation To Boost Memory
Truth be told, every single situation your cat finds itself in offers some sort of brain stimulation. However, there are ways to boost your furry pal’s brain activity – even when it’s playing with the pet camera alone at home.
You can increase your kitty’s brain performance by switching to nutritious, high quality cat food that is rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, taurine, selenium, and vitamins C and E. Not only do these ingredients help prevent brain cell aging, but they also have strong antioxidant properties.
There are supplements for feline brain health, many of which are available online or in pet pharmacies. What’s great about these supplements is that they come with instructions regarding the correct dosages, are moderately affordable, and you don’t need a special prescription to buy them. Despite the latter advantage, it’s always safest to consult with a vet prior to giving any supplements to your furball.
Instead of using dietary supplements, you can also opt for all-natural ways to boost your cat’s brain and memory.
Training the cat to learn new things is a great way to exercise its brain. It can be something as simple as the command “sit down” or something as challenging as walking on a leash. Either way, making the kitty learn and remember something new will boost its cognitive performance.
Don’t allow your pet to become overweight. Not only does this lead to health problems, but it also provokes the cat to become lazy. And we all know a lazy kitty will prefer napping instead of making efforts to use its brain.
Lastly, fight off boredom. Sense-stimulating toys, DIY obstacles, daily play sessions, and social interaction are efficient all-natural ways to prevent brain cell rudiment. Come up with new entertaining things for your cat to explore. Sometimes something as simple as helping it make a new feline friend can do wonders for its mental stimulation.
Emily Parker is the Content Manager at Catological. She’s passionate about helping cat parents love their cats better by providing the best information and recommendations about everything you’ll need to know about your cat, from kitten to senior years. She believes natural, biologically-appropriate products are best. why wouldn’t you provide the best for a member of your family?!