Most cat owners ask themselves the same question whenever they leave their cat with a friend or cat sitter for more than a couple of days: will they remember me? If I’m away for a week, or a month, will my cat forget me?
While we don’t yet fully understand human memory, let alone how exactly cat memory works, there are a lot of facts we have discovered, and can to some level of certainty claim how long cats can remember their owners (and other humans).
How Long Can a Cat Remember a Person?
Cats can remember a person indefinitely, as long as they have had numerous positive interactions with them. If you’ve interacted with a cat once, they won’t remember you for very long. If you’ve fed and cuddled them for a long time, they will probably remember you for years, even decades.
A cat’s short-term memory lasts about 16 hours. They are not likely to remember insignificant facts for longer. However, since they have associative memories, meaning they remember things of importance, both events and people can move into their long-term memory, provided that they were significant enough, to the cat at least.
This is how cats remember when feeding times are, where the food is kept, which member of the family gives great cuddles, who to stay away from, et cetera. They label it as important for their wellbeing, and retain the memory for a long time.
If you’ve spent any impactful time with a cat, for example if you have nursed them through an illness, they can remember you forever. Similarly, if you have hurt a cat in any way, they may remember that forever too.
Short-Term Cat Memory
A cat’s short-term memory can last up to 16 hours, which is a lot longer than most animal short-term working memories, which usually last around 25 seconds.
They will store information for as long as it is relevant. If it’s not something they need to recall, they will simply remove it from the system, so to speak.
Long-Term Cat Memory
When an information is repeated enough times however, it will become part of a cat’s long-term memory. They can remember which places to avoid as there are dogs there, when the roads tend to be the busiest, or when a kind human usually comes home and feeds them.
Cats have associative memories, which means they will remember things based on past experiences, both good and bad. They can’t recall things without this association.
Their long-term memory thus hugely impacts a cat’s behavior. As they amass their positive and negative experiences, they will shape their actions accordingly. They may never venture near a spot they were attacked in, for example.
Cats tend to retain all information that is beneficial to them: be it positive or negative. As long as it will help them survive, they will hold on to it.
How Long Does a Cat Retain Long-Term Memories?
Cats can retain long-term memories indefinitely. There are countless stories of cats remembering their owners after years, even decades apart.
How long a cat remembers something will have to do with the usefulness of the information, and how deep a bond it has actually formed with the person in question. For example, even if you have spent a couple of significant months with a cat, it can remember you years later.
A cat’s spatial memory also plays a role in their long-term remembrances. Spatial memory relates to the movements of their own body. They are very good at remembering how to do certain things: climb up the cabinet, jump from the table to the kitchen counter, and so on. Once they learn something, they are not likely to ever forget it.
They will also use this type of memory when looking for food. They will recall exactly who has fed them if they live on the street, or where they may be able to score a meal on their own.
Human-Related Cat Memory
While cats don’t actually remember faces every time, they do remember scents, voices and behaviors too, so they can remember a person for decades.
They will however be very selective about who they remember, as they form long-term memories based on positive and negative interactions. If you are very nice to a cat, feed them, cuddle them and generally forge some positive memories, they can remember you for a very long time indeed.
Similarly, any person who has wronged a cat can expect to be remembered. That’s not to say that if you step on your cat’s tail once they will never forgive you. Cats don’t hold grudges, but they do remember the bad things people do to them. If you are mostly kind and caring, they will remember you for that. But anyone who repeatedly hurts a cat and makes no effort to apologize will be blacklisted.
What Do Cats Usually Remember?
Now that you understand how a cat’s memory works, let’s take a look at the things they most often remember. It will of course depend on the cat, but most felines retain these memories:
Cats will remember their owners, especially if they spend a lot of time interacting in a positive way. The hand that feeds and cuddles them plays a major role in a cat’s life, and they will remember it.
Even if a cat changes owners, it can still remember the people she used to live with. My friends’ daughter left her cat with her parents when she moved out of the country, and it remembered her for the rest of her life. Whenever she came to visit, it would run up to her, tail held high, and instantly start to cuddle.
Cats will remember other cats. The more time they have spent together and the better they have gotten along, the longer they will remember.
Littermates exchange scents so they can recognize each other if separated. This memory can be stored for years, and cats can recognize their littermates even when they are all grown up.
The same goes for cats they used to live with as adults. If the bond was strong, they will remember another cat for decades.
Cats will also remember negative experiences. Years later, they may react to certain smells, sounds, even people they have never seen before.
This is especially true of rescue cats, who may have behavioral issues as a result of the negative things that have happened to them before they were adopted.
Cats will remember where they live. Even if you leave them with someone else, they can walk back home on their own, even if the road is thousands of miles long.
Similarly, cats will always know where the litter box is, where the food bowl is, and probably where you keep interesting things, like food and toys.
Do Cats Remember If They Were Abused or Mistreated?
Yes, cats will remember if they were abused or mistreated for a very long time. They can exhibit all kinds of behavioral issues as a consequence.
Cats that have gone through a hard time may be afraid of certain scents or certain types of people. For example, if they are always freaked out by people in hats, they have most likely been hurt by someone wearing a hat.
You can get a cat to overcome these memories, but it will take a fair amount of time and a lot of patience and work.
Do Cats Remember People?
Yes, cats do remember people. In fact, they can remember humans for the rest of their lives, if they have made a big enough impact.
Cats associate their memories with positive or negative inputs. So, if you have done something very good, or something very bad, a cat will retain that memory of you.
Cats can remember their owners, foster parents or anyone who they have formed a bond with for years, even decades, so don’t be surprised if a cat you’ve spent some time with a while ago remembers who you are when you next meet.
Do Cats Recognize Their Owners?
Yes, cats do recognize their owners, even when they don’t appear to do so. They remember smells, mannerisms and faces, so will be able to identify their owners in a crowd.
Some cats are more people-oriented than others. Consequently, some cats will form deep bonds with a single human being, while others can become very attached to an entire family, even other pets.
You can’t do much to change a cat’s personality. What you can do is provide plenty of positive reinforcements, to ensure a cat remembers you in a positive way.
Do Cats Miss Their Owners?
The jury is still out on whether cats miss their owners. Some researchers believe they don’t, while others, as well as cat owners, are sure their cats miss them when they are away.
We may never be able to tell if our cats actually miss us, or at least if what they feel in our absence is similar to what we feel in theirs.
Cats can certainly act out when their owners are away. They can start destroying the furniture and being very passive-aggressive towards the person who is taking care of them.
Or. alternatively, they can behave quite well, but completely ignore their owners when they do come home.
It will also depend on the cat. Some will just be happy to see you, while others will appear to hold a grudge for quite a long time.
Maybe it has more to do with the fact that cats have formed a negative memory about you (i.e. you disappeared), and now need to form some positive ones in its stead.
Will My Cat Remember Me After 5 Years?
Your cat can remember you after five years if you have spent some significant and impactful time together, and they have formed a positive long-term memory about you.
There is no telling what a specific cat will choose to remember. You may discover that some cats remember you for longer, even though you have not grown as attached to them, while others don’t seem to remember you at all.
Will My Cat Remember Me After 6 Months?
Your cat is likely to remember you after six months, as long as you have spent at least six months with them beforehand, and formed a strong bond.
Cats tend to remember their owners for a long time, so if you are away for six or so months, they will most likely know who you are when you return. Even then, they may appear a bit standoffish, but that is just to be expected. You had the audacity to leave them after all.
Do Cats Remember One Another?
Cats who are raised together tend to remember each other for a long time. Cats who have flocked together on the street and formed a deep bond will remember each other too.
Cats tend to remember their littermates for a long time, so you may discover that your cat is very friendly to another adult cat, if they have spent a lot of time together as kittens.
Cats who have been fostered together can form the same bond, as can cats who have been a part of the same pack, so to speak, on the street. Even though cats can be rather solitary creatures, they are still very capable of forming deep attachments to others, humans and animals alike.
Wrapping It Up
Cats can remember people for the rest of their lives, as long as they have formed a deep enough, positive (or even negative) bond with them. The more quality time you spend with a cat, the higher the chances they will remember you for years to come.