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How Long Do Cats Remember People? Feline Memory Explained

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on June 20, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

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How Long Do Cats Remember People? Feline Memory Explained

Imagine this: you are preparing to spend your summer vacation in another country to visit your family. You pack everything you need, and then you see your cat watching you, sitting on top of your suitcase. Since she cannot come along, she will be home with your roommate for 2 months. A thought crosses your mind: do cats remember people? will she miss you? Will she still recognize you when you get back after 2 months?

Will your cat still remember your face? Yes, cats can remember you for up to 10 years. Keep reading to learn how a cat’s memory functions.

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Cat Memory Span: Long-Term Memory & Short-Term Memory

When we think about “memories,” what comes into our heads is one’s ability to recall specific events, places, people, and procedures, among other things that we have experienced at least once in the past. Although the answer is yes, cats can remember your face after a long period, it is essential to note that cats store memories differently than humans.

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Image Credit: tovsla, Shutterstock

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory (sometimes called working memory) is recalling information after a short period, perhaps a few minutes, hours, or maybe a day, until ultimately forgetting it when it is no longer relevant or of any use. For cats, however, their short-term memory works a little differently. Cats were found to be able to hold information for up to 16 hours, which is significantly more than your average animal’s short-term memory span of 25 seconds.

Cats’ short-term memory is crucial to their survival instincts, allowing them to remember locations abundant with prey, shelter, or danger. This also includes certain times of the day when food may be abundant or when danger is apparent. Just like humans, enough rehearsal and exposure to the information can result in storage in long-term memory.

Long-Term Memory

When a piece or set of information is rehearsed and repeated enough, it then gets encoded into one’s long-term memory. Humans have episodic memory, which is the ability to recall specific details such as our parents’ phone numbers, the names of our loved ones, or maybe where we celebrated our last birthday party. Cats, in contrast, have associative memory, which involves recalling memories or information in association with past experiences, whether positive or negative.

Because of cats’ associative memory, long-term memory plays a vital role in a cat’s behavior. Cats associate certain things with positive or negative experiences in the past and can store information for up to 10 years! Although cats have a lengthy long-term memory span, they are incredibly selective with the information they store.

Blone Woman with Russian Blue Cat showing her affection
Image Credit: Nailia Schwarz,Shutterstock

Do Cats Remember People?

Compared to dogs, cats have a long-term memory that is 200 times larger than the long-term memory of dogs! But due to the cat’s selectivity in the memories that they retain, dogs have a better ability to remember people and their faces mainly due to the longer association with humans rather than brain power. Regardless, cats indeed remember people’s faces.

Like the other data they store in their long-term memory. cats associate the humans in their lives with positive or negative experiences that they have experienced. Perhaps they remember one person’s face because the person provides them with food, and then another person’s face because of how often they provide pets and cuddles. As these are stored in their long-term memory, a person’s face can be stored and remembered for up to 10 years!

Cats can also remember people by associating them with negative experiences, such as when someone hurt the cat. Cats are known to hold grudges because of this reason. The cat may behave differently toward the person by exhibiting aggressive behavior or avoiding the person entirely, all due to associating the person’s face with negative experiences.

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Do Cats Miss Their Owners?

A cat’s change in behavior in the absence of their owner may be mistaken as the cat missing the person, but that is not entirely the case. Changes in behavior can include excessive fawning, destroying of furniture, or relieving itself in inappropriate areas of the house.

Cats are naturally anxious creatures, and their anxiety about being left alone is often mistaken for missing their owner. Although cats do not miss their humans, that does not mean they are not happy in their presence.

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Final Takeaway

Cats’ method of storing information in their short-term and long-term memories are different compared to humans, but they are still able to encode and retain information through association.

With their lengthened long-term memory span, cats can remember a person’s face for up to 10 years. Because of their associative memory, it is important to share pleasant experiences with your cats to ensure that they remember you in a positive manner.

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Featured Image Credit: Elisa Putti, Shutterstock

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