Can Cats Hold a Grudge?

Do cats hold grudges? We provide answers.

©Nils Jacobi | Getty Images

When clients reach out to us for help, they often have their own theory as to why their cat is doing things deemed inappropriate by human standards. Revenge, grudges and payback are often mentioned as a feline motivation for bad behavior. An example we hear quite often: “Every time I leave town for business, my cat poops on my bed to punish me.” But, is that really what happened here?

Humanizing our felines

Humanizing our cats’ behaviors and actions is a common thing among us cat parents. Admit it: You happily refer to yourselves as “cat moms and dads.” (Yeah, so do we!) We often talk to our cats and confide in them much the same way we would a trusted friend. Cats are such an integral part of our everyday lives that we often refer to them as our BFF’s (best feline friends) or even as our fur kids. After all, there are many commonalities between our cats’ actions and those of our human children.

However, assigning human emotions to our cats is not a good idea. Cats are actually motivated by something more important than emotions.

Behind the behavior

Human beings are very expressive, and we often make decisions based on our emotions. But everything a cat does is based on survival, not emotions. When you look at what your cat is doing — good or bad — and compare it to how wild or stray cats live, it’s clear that they are using their survival instincts to act as they do.

While cats do have long memories, they don’t really hold grudges like people may do. Cats might avoid certain people, places, situations or things they have had bad experiences with. In nature, this is how cats, both big and small, use their survival instincts in everyday situations. Even if they have never lived outdoors, cats are born with that instinct to safeguard themselves. This is a constant motivation in every cat’s life.

Instinctive and/or memory motivation to act a certain way, however, isn’t the same as holding a grudge. Your cat is not retaliating for something that makes him unhappy. He doesn’t even know what a grudge means. He’s simply acting to protect his resources and is actually feeling fear.

As a cat parent, it’s crucial to learn as much as possible about cats, their history living with humans and their natural habits. Cats are in the middle of the food chain as both predator and prey, so they are more vigilant about their security than your dog might be about his. Learning what makes cats tick will make it much easier for you not only to understand what your cat is doing but also will enable you to redirect unwanted behaviors more easily.

Think like your cat

The next time you feel that your cat is acting out of spite or anger, put yourself in his place. What is he really trying to communicate? Assess the entire situation, find the what or who that is causing him to misbehave, then find ways to relieve his feelings of threat, fear and anxiety behind his actions. Make changes or redirect his actions to relieve his stress. You’ll both be much happier, and your home will be peaceful with a kitty happily snoozing on your lap.

Why is kitty acting this way?

Here are a few examples of unwanted cat behaviors and what the behavior is actually communicating. Always check with your veterinarian to rule out any medical reasons for your cat’s irksome actions.

Peeing or pooping on your bed: We hear this one quite a bit, and most people think it either means the cat is retaliating for something he didn’t like or that he doesn’t like them. It’s neither. Mixing his scent with yours is comforting to your cat when he is feeling anxious or stressed.

Spraying: Quite different from peeing, spraying behavior occurs when a cat feels his resources are being threatened, and he’s putting up his sign that lets everyone else know “I live here, and you do not!” Changes in the household, like new pets, outside feral and/or stray cats being near your home are all examples of what may cause your cat to sense a lack of enough of his resources to go around. So he reclaims them as his by marking with his scent.

Scratching: This isn’t retaliatory behavior either — it’s part of your cat’s DNA to scratch. Scratching keeps his claws and paws in tip-top shape as he scent marks where he’s scratching with those paw pads. It’s a natural and necessary part of your cat’s physical needs.

Aggression: A cat acting aggressively is one who is in fear for his life and/or his well-being. That fight-or-fight mentality is triggered when a cat feels threatened, and he will do whichever one he feels is necessary to survive. Moving, new people in the household, new pets and any type of major change could create aggressive behavior in your cat. But again, this is not any type of hatred nor grudge your cat is harboring.

10 thoughts on “Can Cats Hold a Grudge?”

  1. As a life-long cat lover and having multiple cats the last 28 years, I concur with all that's said in the article. Cats do have long memories though for that which bothered or pleased them deeply, and because we mainly know what motivates us, we can attribute what we do and why, to what they do and why. We're highly emotional so when we snuggle into bed and find a pee spot, we can over react. I've done it and I know it wasn't a retaliation, but that it's in response to a situation or condition that's bothering them. The social dynamic changed or they're in pain like with a bladder infection or something. It's just not so much a reasoned response as it is an instinctual reaction.

  2. I had a show cat till he was 8 years old…carried him in show halls and was judge to a quad grand champion. Could have reached Supreme accept for Covid. I stopped. He is now like a FEREL, wont allow petting. I speak soft and sweetly, to him, but he is outside in a heated and air conditioned shed with A/C and heat. Loads of toys, beds, scratch post, hammock and a large run with benches and trees. He is alone, is that why he has become aggressive and not allow petting? He is 12 now.

    1. Ms. Sharie Acheson

      You have put him in solitary confinement??!! He needs total integration, acceptance and encouragement

    2. Can’t believe you would be so cruel after all that positive human attention. He was the star and loved now you treat him like an outcast. He should be in the house with you always. Shame on you for being so insensitive and taking your love away.

    3. What were you thinking? Would you like to be alone in that condition? No fresh air, over heated. Heat exhaustion! Environmental factors… you forgot to mention “why YOU HAD TO HAVE YOUR CAT AS. “Show Cat!”.
      At what age did you start to “show” your Cat? Did you have any issues with your Cat during that period that the “judges” missed?

      You do have a Veterinarian do you that you take him to get Annual vaccinations and check ups!

      You continue to keep your Cat as an outdoor Feral Cat he will become one, especially when you described yourself to be as untrustworthy as a parent to a fur baby that should be kept inside with unconditional love and respect 24/7!

      You also did not mention that you left clean fresh water and clean non stale food for him. You justify your actions with leaving air conditioning, toys, and running space? For him.

      Where are you or family members to play with him or clean his litter box (he does have a litter box does he not?)
      Wal-Mart has a lot of Cat supplies if you’re interested in taking care s in grooming him and giving him a quick bath if not at a Veterinarians office.

      Hey, if YOU’RE INTERESTED IN ASPCA/OSCPA or …. Slogan “If it’s TOO hot for You, It’s TOO HOT FOR THEM!”
      I grew up with this slogan from my parents now it’s a OSPCA/ ASPCA(Aus)SLOGAN on T-shirts!
      You can be charged with negligence with leaving your Cat(or Dog) alone in the heat!

      Personally, I spent 3 years with my Cat in our apartment without any Air Conditioning, when I was supposed to have it! I took my fur baby to his Veterinarian to be re-hydrated, 2 months after his annual vaccinations/ check up.
      Thank goodness for pet strollers and that I had the funds!

      My fur baby was my everything… I live with Epilepsy…. We were waiting for the phone call to let us know if we had be connected with a Service Response Dog to help me with school, and a lot more.
      That never happened a decade ago.

      End on a worse note… identity thieves torn my fur baby away from my hands and heart because of rumors, gossip, and lies that my they started and they believed and continued…. .

  3. You did not talk about when cats “turn their back on you” which is a behavior they practice when they are unhappy. They do it to other cats and humans that they love. It doesn’t last very long at the worst 30 minutes but when I return from a trip be it a weekend or a week there are at least two of my fur babies that are going to immediately sit with their back facing me to show their displeasure at my being away. Even though I hire a cat sitter who stays at the house.

    1. So true my cats are exactly the same when I go away and even with a cat sitter who stays with them. I believe that behavior reflects the close bond shared with my cats in that they consider me their family and just another cat who cares for them.

  4. Well, that explains it. I just moved and my normally just a furry lump, has been extremely active and even aggressive to me. Both not normal self, a lump.
    The boy is stalking and aggressive jumping in her she growls, hisses and screams. So I believe they are fighting for the best spots in the apartment
    Putting one in the bedroom for sanctuary, would work. Thank you.

    1. Actually when I had those issues with aggression and spraying I purchased pheromone diffusers and sprays used in multiple rooms and worked almost immediately. Continued for a few months and my 7 cats are best buddies again. Sleeping, playing and eating together. 😻

  5. Had a cat once that sprayed everywhere. She was a super social cat. Loved everybody and every cat. Turns out her problem was she couldn't smell and had a serious sinus infection. She died after surgery because her blood wouldn't clot. Ever since then, I have always looked at the cat as a whole. The signs were all there, but it was at a time my vet had died and many vets seen her and the last one decided she needed to go see a shrink. I do think if my vet hadn't died he would have sent her to UC Davis to find out what was wrong with her.
    Another cat I left alone for overnight… she hollered at me when I got back and avoided me for a short time. The next time was longer and again with the same attitude. Eventually she accepted the time she spent alone. Maybe a mild upset, but even she had a grudge, it didn't last long. LOL

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