As humans, we always remember the feline friends we’ve had in our lives long after they are gone. But do you think your cat misses you when you’re gone for the day or remembers you when you come back months later from school or a trip?
I have read a number of touching stories online of cats that were reunited with their owners after years of being separated for one reason or the other and surprisingly, the cats still remembered their owners. As these stories piqued my interest, I decided to research the cat’s ability to remember people, particularly their care providers. And today, I’ll be sharing with you what I found.
How long can a cat remember a person? If you only have one interaction with a cat, she’s likely to remember you up to 16 hours later. However, a cat’s long term memory is quite strong (about 200 times better than that of a dog). This means that a cat can remember someone they are familiar with for years.
The above statement relies more on anecdotal evidence as there’s no exact scientific proof for it. Therefore, rather than wondering how long a cat can remember a person, perhaps a better approach to understanding this topic would be first, to understand how cats remember.
Cats have associative memories, meaning they remember by responding to external events and stimuli. Your cat may not remember the specific interactions she’s had with you but will associate you with food, love, and shelter.
Therefore, providing these three crucial things, especially in the long run, makes you pretty unforgettable. This article is going to help you understand your cat’s overall attitude towards humans so you can know how to interact better. So, keep reading!
Do Cats Remember People?
As mentioned earlier, the best way to understand this is to study how cats remember. Like almost all animals, cats have two types of memories: short and long-term memories. The former is what animals use to remember small bits of information over a short period while the latter involves storing information in the brain for a much longer period
Short-term cat memory
Cats are capable of retaining short-term memories. But unlike humans who use episodic memory, they use associative memory to keep information that helps them to survive. These kinds of memories are what regulate your cat’s ongoing behaviour.
Your cat will associate a specific action with what they see, hear, or smell, and determine whether or not they had a positive memory of it. This associate memory is probably how a British Shorthair cat remembers you. She will come to associate you with food, love, and shelter.
Cats can hold these kinds of memories for about 16 hours and only if it’s beneficial to them. This is a significant amount of time for an animal to hold a short-term memory considering most animals can only do so for an average of 25 seconds.
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Associative memory is probably the reason you shouldn’t punish your cat for making small mistakes like pooping outside the litter box. She might not have an idea why you are yelling and angry, instead she will associate your action with punishment and will remember that.
Associative memories only happen when something triggers your cat. If there’s nothing to associate the action with, their long-term memory comes into play.
Long-term cat memory
Some things are too important to forget while others occur so often that we cannot forget them. These are stored in long-term memory. Cats have excellent long-term memories. Studies show that it is around 200 times better than that of dogs.
Cats have been known to retain information for up to 10 years but are highly selective about what they remember. In short, they will only recall what benefits them. Cats will remember people they had a strong bond with; that is, those who fed and cared for them. Subsequently, they will also remember those who irritate them.
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Long-term memories also have the power to affect a cat’s behaviour for a lifetime. If a cat was abused or mistreated, she will have a hard time trusting humans again. These memories are what allow your cat to leap into your arms when you return from a long trip. It also means they grieve for losses in their life like when a family member moves out or passes away or even the loss of other companion animals.
Long-term memories are also what make them become afraid of certain people and hold grudges like there’s no tomorrow because they can associate those people with a negative memory that happened a long time ago.
So, if you are wondering whether your British Shorthair will remember you after years of separation the answer is yes, but only if you are worth remembering.
Do Cats Miss A Person When They Are Gone?
While it’s true that cats can remember their owners and other care providers for years, there’s still no scientific proof that they’ll miss you while you’re away at work or on vacation.
A group of animal behaviour researchers from the University of Lincoln noted that cats don’t get attached to their owners like dogs do, meaning they most likely don’t miss them when they are gone. Don’t feel bad though, as another research by scientists at IFL Science concluded that cats actually miss their pet parents just that they react differently from how dogs do.
Cats are usually passive-aggressive towards humans but this doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate you or your presence. Cats have been proven to exhibit a change in behaviour when their human friends are gone like destroying furniture, vocalising more, relieving themselves outside of the litter box, and so on.
Most cat owners view these actions as anger or revenge, but nothing could be further from the truth. Cats are naturally anxious animals and this can be made worse by scary or negative experiences like being left alone.
I believe cats miss their owners and become stressed, especially after long absences, that they end up getting mad at you for being left without care and affection. This explains why they will run away when you come back and even refuse to be petted. But don’t worry; this can easily be fixed by a few cat treats and a nice belly rubs.
Memory Loss in Cats
Sadly, cats risk developing a condition known as Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FCD) as they age. This condition affects a cat’s memory the same way Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease affects human beings.
Research shows that over 50% of the cats aged 11-15 years will begin to experience the symptoms of FCD, which include extreme irritability, confusion or disorientation, lack of self-grooming, lack of social interaction, anxiety and restlessness, and increased meowing among others. 80% of those aged 16-20 actual suffer from FCD.
As your British Shorthair gets older, she will begin to lose brain cells, thus resulting in both short and long-term memory loss and overall cognitive decline. That being said, some cats are susceptible to cognitive dysfunction and may develop the condition a little earlier. If your cat is showing the symptoms mentioned above, it’s best to speak to your vet about FCD to find out what can be done for your feline friend.
It goes without saying that a cat suffering from this condition may not be able to recognise you later in the day, let alone years of separation.
There’s nothing you can do for your cat in the long-run to prevent her from memory loss since this is the result of the ageing process. The good news is you can slow down the process and make her golden years much better. Studies have shown that feeding your British Shorthair foods that are rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can help to slow down the brain’s deterioration.