Do Cats Remember Their Owners?


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Cats are often dubbed as mysterious animals because it is so hard to comprehend how they feel, what they understand, and, particularly, what they remember. “Do Cats Remember Their Owners?” is a question that has always been a subject of debate among cat owners.

Yes, cats do remember their owners.  Cats remember their owners using stimuli from eyes, nose, and ears.  Cats have a short-term memory that allows them to remember for up to 16 hours, and a long-term memory likely tied to the frequency of something happening, such as how often a cat sees its owner.  

So, there is good news – your cat does and will remember you. Yes, your cat remembers all the times you smothered it with love and petting, even the time you accidentally stepped on its paw or tail!

Cats and their Memories

Cats remember people. Cats also remember faces, voices, activities, rewards, abuse, and punishment. Actions that caused it pain or discomfort are quick to embed itself onto the cat’s brain.

The same goes for memory on food and other things that give it comfort and security. Cats also remember other cats via exchanged scents, but the memory is contingent upon the nature and duration of the interaction.

Do Cats Remember Their Owners? 

Even though cats are not as articulate about their feelings of affection and love for their human friends and owners, cats, in fact, do remember their owners. They do so with a combination of the three main sensory organs- ears, eyes, and nose. The more the cat employs these senses to connect it with strong stimuli, the stronger is its memory of its owner.

How Long Will a Cat Remember You?

Cat memory can last up to 16 hours – much longer than a dog’s. It is comparable to a two or three-year-old child.

Many people think that cats are indifferent and do not feel any emotions in regard to their human mates unless it is for the hunt for food. But this is not true. Cats remember owners for a long time. The outward indifference in cats is due to their solitary nature – they thrive alone, not in packs or groups. Cats show remembrance via purring, rubbing their bodies against you, or even jumping on your lap the moment you come home after a long day out.

Departing from their long-term companions affects and saddens them. They may react adversely – attack, get cranky, etc. But these are their ways of expressing that they miss their owners. Cats can also remember abusive owners and begin to treat humans with distaste and danger as a result of past traumas- you may often witness it in some cats.

Scientific American states that have shown that cats may forget other cats that they used to know if they have been separated over a long period of time.  This may also be true with people, such as cat owners.  So, if you are planning a long trip that will take you away from your cat, you may want spend some quality time letting her get to know you again when you return!

How Exactly Do Cats Remember People?

Cats leave their marks on their owners – thanks to their Jacobson’s organ. The glands on the cat’s cheek and paws rubbing against humans release a secretion. Cats can trace back to their owners via these residual particles. This may also commonly be known as “marking the territory.” Hearing their owners and seeing them every day heightens the experience.

Will a Cat’s Memory Change Based on its Age?

Kittens

A kitten is in its learning phase and possesses some cognitive and associative memory. A kitten’s short-term memory lasts about 16 hours, and they are usually too young to have permanent or long term memories. This is especially true of harsh behavior or punishment- kittens don’t hold grudges.

Since the learning stage determines how much your kitten will remember in the long run, it is best to perform repetitions at this stage to make it accustomed to you. The first 2-7 weeks are very important for laying the foundation – the warmth of a mother’s love, playful antics with its siblings, and exploring new places and activities from this age remain in their minds for a long time.

Adult Cats

Cats usually associate memory with survival – what to eat, where to live, etc. They remember selectively but do remember well. They can differentiate between human faces, voice, pleasant and unpleasant experiences, and so on. They just do it at a pace and manner different from dogs.

A cat’s brain cells decrease in number with time, and hence, there is an inevitable decline in memory. However, indoor cats have access to better food, warmth, protection from diseases, and have better overall living conditions, making this less pronounced in comparison to outdoor cats. You can feed your cat diets rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to improve their memory.

Senior Cats

The majority of cats older than 16 years and fifty percent of cats aged between 11 and 15 years suffer from feline cognitive dysfunction, a condition similar to Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia in humans. Signs of age and mental deterioration are visible by a cat’s irritability, less interaction with humans and other animals, lower interest in petting, disoriented appearance, and lower ability to recognize known places, people, and environment.

The pain of arthritis, neurological hamper, or failing organs, especially kidneys, in older cats are visible in their loss of appetite, disrupted sleep patterns, not using the litter box, etc. Sadly, you can’t do much except for giving it nutritious food and consulting a good veterinarian.

Do Cats Remember Where They Live?

Outdoor cats have very precise geographical knowledge, but the same can be said of indoor cats. There has been much debate about it, and nothing concrete has been concluded. Cats are wanderers by default. The fact that they prefer solitude enhances this. However, their vision, hearing, and their sense of touch can make cats powerful beings capable of knowing directions.

Cats, in general, have a homing instinct, as proved by various experiments. Professor Frances Herrick, in 1922, showed via research that a mother cat separated from its kittens came back, as the distance varied between one and four miles. German researchers placed cats in mazes and discovered that cats came out of exits closer to homes.
Most theories, in trying to explain why cats return home, usually make use of magnetic locations or even cat smells. Most people actually attribute the homing instinct to scent glands on their paws, their furs, and their urine, which is used to mark their territory.

However, all lost cats don’t find their way back, and this is why you should keep your cat in close quarters. Indoor cats have a lowered sense of going back home.

You can keep your pet cat safe in the following ways:

  1. Indoors:  Keep it indoors when you move to a new place for at least a month. Cats often have the urge to go back to previous homes.
  2. Toxic People and Plants: Check if your neighborhood is free from people who dislike and may even harm cats. Check out for toxic herbs and plants too.
  3. Strays: Keep stray and abandoned animals away from your cats. They may sometimes get embroiled in nasty fights that often prove to be dangerous.
  4. Leashes: Use cat leashes when going on walks, and don’t allow your cat to stray very far when in the garden or outdoors.
  5. Identification: Consider getting your cat microchipped and keep identification information on her collar.

Will a Cat Remember its Name?

Although cats only barely respond when their owners call out to them, a recent study confirms that cats recognize their names being called out by their owners.  I can confirm this myself, as my cat Charlotte does come to me when I call her name.  However, it takes me saying her name about 30 times in rapid succession for her to get up from where she is at and walk over to me.  I will say that when she shows up after I’ve been calling her name she is ready for pets and is already purring.

Atsuko Saito, a behavioral scientist now at Sophia University in Tokyo, conducted experiments on more than 70 cats, all of them belonging to people or particular animal homes, trying to figure out their memory linked to their own names, identity, and the voices they hear. The owners called out the cats by their original names after muttering some other unknown words repeatedly.

The cats showed various degrees of visible responses to their names being called out. Some pricked their ears, twitched the whiskers, moved their ears slightly, meowed, cocked their heads, shook their tails, etc. – clearly showing signs of familiarity. When the same name was called out by a stranger, the cats displayed little to no reaction.

Cats actually don’t find the names to be a part of their identity. Instead, they associate it with another activity – reward or punishment. Owners call out their pets for snuggles, cuddles, food, etc. Hence, the recognition is linked to that.

Cats are not as prompt at learning new words, recognizing them later, and are less open to instructions and commands like dogs, who can learn very easily. And even though cats do absorb information and learn words, they may not express it. Don’t be disappointed if your cat has a blank look on when you call out to it.

Do Cats Miss Their Owners?

Research, from the University of Lincoln, that adapted the Ainsworth “strange situation” test concludes that when placed in an unfamiliar or environment, cats have little regard for its owner or caregiver. It will also not miss the owner if the owner leaves the room. They can survive independently, unlike other animals like dogs who need reassurance and need protection from their owners.

Cats, however, show the following signs, which clearly show that they miss their owners when separated for a long duration:

  • Affection:  They will purr for more rubbing when the owners return home. Other signs of affection include cuddles, rubbing themselves against you, following you around, and more. These are signs that they crave your attention, time, and love.
  • Aggression:  Aggressive behavior can also be an indicator of a pet cat’s underlying loneliness and depression. They may cry, weep, mope around or even seem clingy and irritable. They’re just missing you. Some cats may show a greater range of emotions like scratching, biting, not using the litter box, etc.
  • Illness:  Physical illness may be a sign of isolation and its effect on your precious cat. Not taking food, being lethargic, and so on are signs to look out for. Check on your cat regularly to avoid a greater problem in the future.

Summary

Cats, being mammals, are similar to humans in brain function and health. So, they do remember their owners to an extent.  Separation is just as hard for cats as humans. You can make separation easier for your cat by minimizing the time spent away from each other. Habituate it to a routine and don’t mess up the routine. Keep it busy with activities and toys during your absence.

Give your cat easy access to clean food and water before leaving. Make sure to leave behind treats. Get a cat sitter if you must who is as doting upon your cat (or close) as you are. Nothing substitutes your presence –spend ample time with your cat to make up for any time lost.

Christopher Carlson

I have an Domestic Shorthair Tabby named Charlotte. She is full of energy when she isn't sleeping most of the day. I share what I learn about cats on this site.

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