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Do Cats Hold Grudges? Feline Behavior Explained

Written by: Ed Malaker

Last Updated on January 19, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

portrait of an emotional angry cat

Do Cats Hold Grudges? Feline Behavior Explained

Few things are more upsetting to a cat owner than when their pet is angry with them after they had an accident and did something wrong, like stepping on their tail. While hiding under the bed after getting their tail stepped on is understandable, many pet owners worry that they will hold a grudge.

Fortunately, that’s not usually the case, and cats don’t really hold grudges like humans, but keep reading while we dive in to understand cat feelings a little better and talk about some ways you can get back into your pet’s good graces.

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Can Cats Hold Grudges?

While there is not a lot of scientific research, some studies show that cats don’t develop grudges toward their handlers, even after being restrained against their will, though many pet owners might beg to differ. It could be that they are so dependent on us that they are willing to look the other way as a form of life preservation.

Most owners will agree that their cats are quite forgiving and will not hold it against you if you accidentally step on their tail or kick them while you make your way to the bathroom at night. That said, cats are incredibly intelligent, especially about things they don’t like and things that try to cause them harm. While they might not hate you for putting them in the cage to go to the vet, they will remember that they don’t like the cage, and they will likely run and hide when you bring it out.

angry calico cat lying on edge of bed wagging tail
Image By: KristiBlokhin, Shutterstock

Cat Memory

Cats have complex memories, much like humans, with both long- and short-term memory recall. They can recognize their owners, other pets, their food bowl, and more, even if they haven’t seen them in a while. Their memory helps them form strong bonds with us but also protects them from danger, and it’s their memory of riding in the cage to the vet that will stay with them for life, not that you put them in it.

Intentional vs. Unintentional

Cats are extremely forgiving, and if you accidentally step on their tail, they may become vocal and run and hide temporarily, but they are unlikely to hold it against you and will come back out when you call them to say you’re sorry. As mentioned, they have good memories and will know you are friendly and don’t mean any harm.

However, in the case of small children who can get a little rough when playing, though they don’t mean to hurt the cat, their actions seem intentional, and your pet might run in fear, putting the child on their enemy list. Once the cat perceives you as a threat, it can be hard to change their mind. While this might seem like it’s holding a grudge, the cat probably doesn’t have any ill will toward the child. Instead, they see them as a threat to their safety, and cats put all threats to their safety in long-term memory for the preservation of life.

An angry brown and white cat with black stripes
Image By: RomanaMart, Shutterstock

Single vs. Repeated Events

While cats will usually let you get away with something once or twice, they will make adjustments if something keeps happening, like kicking them off the bed while you are sleeping. While it might seem like they are holding a grudge, they are just protecting themselves by moving to another area.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can Positive Experiences Override Negative Ones in a Cat’s Memory?

Yes. Alhough it can take some time, positive experiences can help reshape a cat’s perception and override negative associations.

How Can I Mend My Relationship With a Cat?

Patience, positive reinforcement, and creating a calm environment are essential to helping a cat feel more at ease. Gradual reintroduction, providing treats, and engaging in interactive play can help rebuild trust and improve the relationship.

pet owner feeding blue maine coon cat with treats outdoors in garden
Image By: NilsJacob, Shutterstock

Can a Cat Forgive and Forget?

Cats may not “forget” in the way humans do, but they can learn to forgive and move past negative experiences. Building positive associations and consistently providing a secure and enriching environment contribute to a cat’s ability to forgive.

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Fortunately, cats don’t seem to hold grudges the way humans do. However, they do often remember traumatic events for a lifetime, and if they consider you a threat because of something that happened, they will likely avoid you. It can be slow and challenging to change their mind, not because they don’t like you but because they see you as dangerous, like a hot stove.

However, you shouldn’t worry if you accidentally step on the cat’s tail or knock them off the bed because they are very forgiving and can recognize that you don’t intend to harm them. Though they may run and hide, they will usually come back out in a little while when you call them for treats.

Featured Image Credit: Akim Lakeev, Shutterstock

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