How Long Is a Cats Memory? Everything You Need To Know

So, how long is a cat’s memory? This article will dive deep into our loveable pets’ brains.

Key Takeaways

  • Contrary to popular misconceptions, research shows that cats have a long-term memory comparable to that of monkeys. Cats experience some memory loss as they age, but it’s unique to their species and doesn’t necessarily impact motor functions.
  • Cats have both short-term and long-term memories. Their short-term or “working” memory is used for immediate tasks and may last only a few seconds to a few hours. Long-term memory, on the other hand, can be formed through early life experiences and is likely to stick around for years.
  • Cats are more likely to remember events or places that are repetitive, associated with physical activity, emotionally charged, or traumatic. Early training and positive experiences can turn short-term memories into long-term habits.
  • Older cats may show signs of forgetfulness, including disorientation and changes in sleeping patterns. These could be early indicators of unusual cognitive decline, warranting a visit to the veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Read on to know what to expect as a cat parent.

Table of Contents

How Long Is A Cats Memory? – Misconceptions

Some people jokingly compare cats’ memory to that of a goldfish. Many believe that a cat’s memory underperforms when compared to intelligent animals, such as dogs and monkeys.

However, a study by the Research Centre for Experimental Neurology of Georgia has shown that the long-term memory of cats is as strong as monkeys’ memory.

As cats age, some owners would report changes in sleep patterns, training difficulties, and cats losing their way. This has led many pet parents to believe that old age affects the cognitive functions of cats like humans.

A study from 2007 has shown that cats lose memory as they age, but in a way that’s distinctive to their species. The study has found that older age does not affect motor functions, like walking on a narrow object.

Cat Memory Types

Cats, like humans, can be forgetful on a certain level. We don’t remember everything in the same way.  In broad terms, we can differentiate between two types of memory: short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Memory In Cats

Like humans, cats need short-term memory for problem-solving. For instance, you only need to remember a restaurant’s hotline number until you dial it up and make your order.

For cats, short-term memory may last for a few seconds, as in the case of remembering that you just patted them on the back. Short-term memory can also last for hours, depending on the significance of the information.

white and brown tabby cat laying next to a half completed jigsaw puzzle

In the 2007 study, researchers use ” working memory ” when referring to things cats must remember to finish a task. An example of working memory is remembering to uncover a plate before eating the food.

Another study has pointed out that the working memory of cats is extremely short when remembering the location of a hidden object. Cats will probably forget working memories like short-term memories unless they’re repeated.

Long-Term Memory In Cats

On the other hand, our brains store long-term memory, which can be retrieved later. We might sometimes remember childhood events better than what we ate for breakfast.

Similarly, cats form their worldview in the early stages of their life. Whatever impressions they form on those first days will likely stick around for years.

That’s why exposing pets to the required training and conditioning during this period is crucial. Most importantly, they must be around humans to accept them as parents later in life.

Which Things Do Cats Remember Better?

Besides impressions made earlier in life, cats tend to remember the following memories better:

Repetitive Memories

You can place your cat’s food in front of the entrance door, and your cat will remember its place until they finish eating. However, if you place the food in the same spot daily, they’ll keep returning when hungry until you change the spot.

Active Memories

Cats tend to remember specific details if they’re associated with physical movement. This early study has shown that cats can adapt their walking patterns to a particular environment with frequent obstacles. 

The cats can fix this walking pattern even after the obstacles are removed. Therefore, if you want your cat to learn a new habit, like using a cat door, it’s better to trigger them to move towards the spot with different physical exercises.

Emotional Memories

Cats will more likely develop a long-term memory of any extreme behaviour, whether positive or negative. For example, your cat might favour your friend over you if they associate your friend with fun times or treats. The key here is a deeply emotional experience that they treasure.


Some cats can also show strange reactions towards household items like vacuum cleaners because they had a traumatic experience with them as a kitten.

white kitten next to a roomba hoover

If you notice that your cat is showing some signs of trauma, there’s a chance for them to heal. 

We recommend seeking professional help for desensitization, but your attitude is the most important factor. As a cat parent, you must remain calm when your cat shows trauma symptoms.

Ageing Cats Memory

Cats can get forgetful as they age because they lose brain cells. A previously mentioned study has indicated that ageing affects short-term memory more than long-term memory.

So, if your cat is getting old, you can expect it to be less observant and reactive to recent environmental changes. They may not easily remember a sleeping spot or where you leave the food if you move to a new house.

Still, provided your cat enjoys critical moments that define your relationship, they should be able to remember them, even after they get old. Rest assured, your petting and snuggling rituals should remain their priorities.

old tabby cat

A word of caution, though, there are early signs of extreme forgetfulness in cats that you need to pay attention to. If your cat shows the following signs, contact a vet soon.

  • Behavioural changes
  • Increased vocalization at night
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Disorientation

These signs can indicate an unusual cognitive decline, but you’ll need a professional diagnosis to confirm it.

Do Cats Remember Traumatic Events?

Whether cats remember traumatic events is a sensitive subject, but it’s crucial for understanding how to support best pets who have had distressing experiences.

While cats may not have the same emotional range or memory complexity as humans, evidence suggests that they remember traumatic incidents, at least for some time.

Emotional Memories in Cats

As mentioned earlier in this blog, cats are more likely to remember emotional experiences, whether positive or negative. Negative experiences, such as trauma, can imprint deeply in a cat’s memory.

For example, a cat with a traumatic encounter with a dog may display signs of stress or aggression when around dogs for a long time afterwards.

Similarly, a cat that has been mistreated may show signs of fear or aggression in specific situations that remind them of their trauma.

Physical Responses to Trauma

One of the ways that cats cope with traumatic memories is through physical response mechanisms. A cat might freeze, hiss, or try to flee when faced with a trigger that reminds them of the traumatic event. These behaviors can be understood as survival mechanisms, hardwired into the cat to protect them from further harm.

Dealing with a Traumatized Cat

If you suspect your cat is dealing with traumatic memories, providing a safe and stable environment is the most important thing you can do. Avoid known triggers as much as possible and introduce new experiences very gradually. Positive reinforcement through treats and affection can help your cat form new, positive associations to counterbalance the negative memories. In some cases, especially if the trauma is affecting your cat’s quality of life significantly, professional help such as behavioral therapy or even medication may be required.

The Role of Time

The impact of traumatic events on a cat’s memory and behavior can lessen over time, especially if the cat has not been re-exposed to the traumatic situation. However, this is highly individual and can depend on the cat’s overall temperament, their relationship with their human caregivers, and the severity of the traumatic event.

While cats might not remember traumatic events in the same way humans do, they do seem to store emotional memories of such incidents. These can influence their behavior long-term, but with the right support and environment, it’s possible to help a traumatized cat live a happy, fulfilling life.

Do Cats Remember Their Owners?

One of the most common questions cat parents ask is, “Do cats remember their owners?”

The thought that your furry companion might not remember you can be distressing, especially for those who have to leave their cats behind for extended periods, whether due to travel, relocation, or other life circumstances.

The Science Behind Feline Memory

As discussed earlier, cats possess short-term and long-term memory, each serving different functions. According to research from the Research Centre for Experimental Neurology of Georgia, long-term memory in cats is surprisingly strong—comparable to that of monkeys.

This type of memory comes into play when considering whether cats remember their owners.

Emotional Bonds and Memory

Cats form emotional bonds with their humans, especially if they have been raised from kittenhood with consistent positive interactions. Emotional experiences, whether they’re based on play, feeding, or cuddling, have a better chance of being encoded into a cat’s long-term memory.

While cats may not remember specific events with the same detail as humans, the emotional undertone of those events is likely to stick around.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, or Forgetful?

If you’ve ever returned home after a long trip, you may have experienced different reactions from your feline companion. Some cats immediately run up to greet their returning humans, while others may act indifferent or even a bit standoffish initially.

This isn’t necessarily a sign that your cat has forgotten you; it might just be their way of “punishing” you for leaving them. Cats are creatures of habit, disrupting their routine can lead to stress and various behaviors.

Real-Life Observations

Countless stories of cats recognizing their owners even after a prolonged separation. In some instances, cats have been known to trek long distances to return to their original homes and human families, suggesting a lasting impression or bond.

These anecdotes provide compelling real-world evidence that cats remember their owners, at least for a certain period.

A Complex Connection

So, do cats remember their owners? The answer is generally yes—though the extent and nature of that memory can vary.

While your cat might not remember every detail of every interaction you’ve had, they will likely remember you as a significant figure in their life, particularly if you’ve provided them with consistent love, care, and emotional engagement.

The bond between cats and their owners is complex and influenced by various factors, including the duration and quality of time spent together. Rest assured, the love and care you invest in your relationship with your cat will likely be remembered, improving your furry friend’s life.

Final Thoughts 

In a nutshell, how long is a cat’s memory?

A cat’s short-term memory can last a few seconds or hours until they finish the required task.

You can turn those brief impressions into long-term habits through repetition or physical training.

Still, at some point, science fails to explain what we read in our cats’ eyes. It might say that they won’t remember those intimate moments on paper, but deep down in our hearts, we know why they keep returning for it.

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