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How long is a cats memory?

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 span is, read on.


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

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

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.



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!

  • You may also want to read:Can Cats Find Their Way Home If Lost? What You Need To Know!

Featured Image Credit: VGstockstudio, Shutterstock

Lead Pet Expert & Pet-ditor in Chief

Nicole is the proud mom of 3 rescue fur babies, Baby, a Burmese cat; Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway; and Mac, a Lab/Mastiff. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband and new baby daughter in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ know ledge with pet lovers across the globe. . Read more

Do Cats Remember People? How Great Is Their Memory?

kitten and owner

Many cat owners wonder whether beloved familiars will remember them if they go away for an extended period of time. There are many anecdotal stories about lost cats remembering their old owners’ years later or finding their way home after being lost hundreds of miles away. Does this mean that cats remember people? How great is their memory anyway?

Do Cats Remember People?

The truth is that memory in pets is not a topic that science has explored much and no one can say that cats definitively remember people. Memory is a finicky topic even for researchers focusing on the human brain with subjects that can actively respond to questions and participate in testing that measures their memories. To understand whether cats can really remember people and whether their memory is any good, we’ll have to take a look at the short-term and long-term memory of cats.

orange cat touched by mans hand

Short-term memory in cats

Short-term memory, or “working memory,” is when the brain allows you to keep track of information for a short period of time before using it or manipulating it in some way. Working memory is important for any kind of problem-solving. A 50-cat study performed two experiments in which the cats were able to remember which bowls contained food after the cats were removed from the room for 15 minutes. These results led researchers to believe that cats could remember details regarding what and where something was for short amounts of time when food is the primary motivator.

Another study showed that cats also have good spatial memory. Spatial memory means you’re able to store and retrieve information regarding a way to a location and remember where an event happened or where an object was last located. In that study, cats were able to remember what cups they ate food from on a board with half-hidden cups. This kind of memory helps cats remember where to find food, or whether they have visited a certain location recently.

Working memory in cats is short-lived though. In a 24-cat study, researchers hid an object in one of four boxes and then made the cats wait 0, 10, 30, or 60 seconds before asking them to locate the object. Most cats started having trouble locating the hidden object after 30 seconds, which likely means their short-term memory is short-lived.

tabby cat sitting on pieces of paper on the table

Long-term memory in cats

Long-term memories are saved in your brain and can be remembered at will, such as what you did last week, a vacation memory from three years ago, or that time two weeks ago when you spilled coffee all over the boss. Long-term memories can remain for years, if not indefinitely.

Long-term memory is not something that has been studied extensively in pets. Some researchers, as well as those anecdotal stories we mentioned earlier, seem to suggest that pets have episodic memory abilities. For example, some pets seem to behave differently when owners are gone for longer periods of time, suggesting that they may understand how long ago their owner left. While not many studies have been done on long-term memory in cats, new research seems to suggest that while cats have long-term memory, it’s difficult to determine just what they remember and for how long.

cat owner talking to his pet

How great is their memory?

Determining how great your cat’s memory may be a tricky thing to do. Studies have shown that cats do not have the best short-term memory. Just like people though, each animal has its’ own distinct personality and memories. Research is still being conducted and there is still more to learn about short-term memory in felines.

In terms of long-term memory, cats tend to forget other cats if they have been apart for a long time, so sadly it’s likely that your cat will forget you after a length of time. However, some studies suggest that cats seem to have less memory decline in their elder years than dogs, which may mean have they still maintain some long-term memory in old age. These are topics still being researched and no definite conclusions have been made at this time.

siamese and mackerel cats touching nose


Studies have shown that cats don’t appear to have the best short-term, or “working,” memory if food is not involved in the memory. Long-term memory in cats is proving trickier to determine, but cats do forget other cats if they are separated for a long time. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that some cats remember people they have long been separated from, but there is no scientific research to back up those stories. The important thing to remember is that each animal is different and your cat may have a better memory than what research currently suggests as memory in pets is still an evolving field.

Featured Image Credit: Kadres, Pixabay

  • Do Cats Remember People?
  • Short-term memory in cats
  • Long-term memory in cats
  • How great is their memory?
  • Conclusion
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