Feline Memory Retention Cats Remembering Cats Memories Short Term Memory Long Term Memory

Understanding A Cat’s Memory

“Thousands of years ago, cats were worshiped as Gods. Cats have never forgotten this.” – Anonymous

There is more truth to that statement than most people know. Just because Fluffy won’t come when you call her name or refuses to perform tricks like a dog, doesn’t mean she can’t remember. Cats not only display long-term memory capabilities, but are also capable of emotional mapping, manipulation, can use tools, figure out the spatial configurations of mazes or puzzles and, when stalking prey, execute carefully planned schemes.

Researchers have discovered that there is not much difference between how a cat, a human, or another animal’s brain utilizes certain cues to assist in the creation of short and long-term memories. A cat’s brain functioning has been compared to that of a two to three year old child and, when compared to a dog, a cat’s memory is almost 200 times more retentive. Without repeated and reinforced training, a dog’s memory span is about 5 minutes. Cats, on the other hand, averaged about 16 hours, only IF the activity benefited THEM.

Years before cats became domesticated, their survival depended heavily upon their memory. In the wild, cats were forced to hunt for their own food. Unlike dogs that hunted in packs, cats operated alone. The hunt involved many hours of study, problem solving, patience, and the formulation of an appropriate attack strategy. Various distances were traveled to expand their “hunting circles” and every scent detected, sound that frightened them, or predatory danger they encountered along the way, had to be remembered to ensure their safe return home.

Domesticated cats re-enact some of these ingrained memories even if they are “indoor kitties.” They will sit at a window for hours studying birds, squirrels, or other “prey” and “plot” an attack strategy. They will also amuse themselves for hours by “playing” with toys that resemble “caught” prey.

Cats, like most mammals, learn through experience. Good and bad memories are created by their experiences involving physical activities and interactions with things in their environment like people, other animals, smells, and sounds. Cats form “learning sets,” or sequences of events, through observation and copying. Kittens learn by copying their mother. They watch her eat, use the litter box, and interact with her environment. The kittens mimic her actions and carry them into adulthood. As cats mature, and develop a relationship with humans, they will often copy us, too. They watch us open cupboard doors and then figure out how to repeat the action. Some cats have even been known to flush toilets or raid refrigerators!

A cat’s long-term memories are directly related to experiencing pleasure (benefit) or displeasure (pain, fear or threat). For example, it takes a long time and a lot of patience to gain the trust of an abused or neglected cat. If they suffered physical or mental abuse from a man or child, then they will associate that memory with all men and all children. The same holds true for positive experiences. Every time a cat receives affection, praise, or a treat for doing a specific activity, it is logged into their memory as “a good thing” and they will continue to use it to their benefit.

In 2007, the University of Alberta, Canada, conducted a study on a feline’s short-term, visual memory. They discovered that short-term memory depended heavily upon the cat’s most recent physical movements to solidify the memory in their brain and, it only lasted about 10 minutes. This study proved that a cat’s memory relies more on physical experiences, involving trial and error and imitation, than on visual cues.

Though not in the same way humans mourn the loss of a loved one, cats grieve. They understand the feelings of absence and loss. Behavioral changes normally accompany their reaction to the sudden upheaval in their lives and they should never be punished or verbally reprimanded during this time. They are remembering what used to be, the past, and trying to deal with what is happening now, the present.

Every creature’s ability to remember decreases with age. As cats get older, they may forget certain things, just like we do, undergo a personality change, or can even suffer from dementia.

While some of a cat’s memories are purely instinctual, most are created through mental and physical experiences. Their memories are catalogued within their brain according to how they felt at the time and what benefit was derived. A cat’s short-term memory may be fleeting, but their long-term memory is truly amazing.

“After scolding one’s cat one looks into its face and is seized by the ugly suspicion that it understood every word. And has filed it for reference.” – Charlotte Gray

For further details on feline memory capabilities: