We love our cats, and remember them long after they are gone from our lives. I still remember my first cat, and the day it passed away. We mourn for them when they are lost, and remember the good times we shared together. 

Do cats feel the same way about us? Can they remember you months, even years later? Are they sad when they have to leave their family and home behind? 

Do cats forget their owners?

Pets are a part of our family. Like marriage, it is supposed to be till death do you  part. However, things don’t always work out this way. There are many reasons why a cat can be separated from their owner. 

Some get lost, and are taken to new homes. Sometimes, circumstances cause the owner to give up the cat. When you say goodbyes to a cat, regardless of whether it’s temporary or permanent, you are bound to wonder if they will remember you. 

Cat Memory

Cats, like nearly all animals, have short and long-term memory. Their short-term memory is different from ours. Humans have an episodic short-term memory. We can recall specific events and details. 

Cats have an associative short-term memory. They remember associations, instead of specific situations. For example, they will associate food with comfort and happiness. This feeling may transfer to their food bowl, and their caregiver. 

Associations can be positive or negative. They will remember things that make them feel good and happy, as well as things that upset them. 

This is why negative punishments aren’t recommended for cats. Instead of associating the unpleasant experience with the bad behavior, they will likely associate it with you instead. 

They also have a very strong long-term memory. They can remember their owner long after they are gone, and even mourn them. 

Selective Memory

Cats, like most humans, have a selective memory. They will remember what is beneficial to them, and forget the rest.

They tend to remember things that make a strong impression on them, both positive and negative. This is why they can form very close bonds, or hold grudges for a very long time. 

Why Cats Remember

Cats are designed for survival. They have evolved into highly efficient and capable animals. They have such a strong memory because it is important to their survival. 

In the wild, there are many things to remember. They must remember their territorial boundaries, and those of other cats. They have complex social relationships, and will remember who they like, and who they don’t. 

They will remember where to find shelter and safety, and where the most successful hunting can be found. 

Memory is also part of a good defense against predators. They remember how to hide from predators, and escape routes should they encounter one. Hunting itself must also be remembered. Cats are born with instincts, but these instincts are honed through teaching and practice, which requires memory. 

Does Your Cat Miss You When Your Gone? 

Some studies have suggested that cats don’t miss their owners the way dogs do. However, other researchers believe that they simply express it differently. 

Dogs are loyal and unselfish. When they miss you, they become sad. They may even search for you. It’s possible for cats to exhibit these behaviors as well. However, they typically have a different reaction. 

Instead of becoming sad, they tend to become angry or resentful. Instead of thinking, “I miss you so much”, their thinking seems to be, “How dare you leave me. You know I don’t like it”. 

There’s no way to know for sure, since your cat can’t yell at you or write an angry email expressing their displeasure. However, based on their behavior, it seems they become hurt and angry at being left behind. 

Most research suggests that dogs can’t be passive aggressive. I believe they can. I have seen my favorite shoes chewed because my dog was mad at me. When someone else in the house offended them, they chewed their shoes in the exact same spot they had chewed mine. 

Cats are also capable of this type of behavior. If they are upset or angry with you, they will find a way to let you know. They may be standoffish, ignoring your pleas for affection. It’s easy to see this as them not missing you.

However, it’s likely that they are more like a child whose mother has just returned from the store. The child crosses their arms angrily, attempting to act like they didn’t miss her out of spite. 

Your cat may also show their displeasure in other ways. Peeing and pooping outside the litter box and destroying furniture and clothing are ways cats get their revenge. Don’t be too harsh on them, though. In their way, they are expressing their love for you. 

Does Age Impact Memory?

Yes, age does impact memory. Just like human babies, kittens have a much shorter memory than adult cats. As the kitten grows, it’s memory becomes stronger. A young kitten may not remember an owner, but an older kitten will. 

As cats age, their memory declines. Half of cats aged 11-15 experience memory loss. As they reach age 16, 80% have feline cognitive dysfunction. This is the cat equivalent of dementia. 

Cats with dementia can forget many things, including how to use the litter box, and who their owners are. A diet high in omega 3 fatty acids can support brain health, and may prevent or slow cognitive decline as your cat ages.  

How long does it take for a cat to forget their owner?

It’s difficult to put a concrete number on a cat’s memory. It’s bound to vary from cat to cat, just as memories vary from human to human. There’s also been little research into the subject. However, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests cats can remember their owners for long periods of time. 

Long and Short Term Time Frames

A cat’s short-term memory can last for up to 16 hours. Dogs, by comparison, have a short-term memory of about 2 minutes. Most other animals have a short-term memory of only 25 seconds, including dolphins. A cat’s long-term memory is much stronger. They can remember their owners for up to 10 years. 

Lack of Research

Cats are fascinating, but difficult research subjects. They can’t communicate with us using language, and they are harder to read than dogs. Dogs clearly show their thoughts and emotions, but cats are more reserved. 

Cats are also less likely to do as they are told. Dogs are easily trained, and will follow instructions. This makes it easier to perform experiments. Cats, on the other hand, are more independent. They tend to do what they want. If pleasing you is in their interest, they will do so. However, they are likely not doing it for your benefit. 

Researchers have made some interesting discoveries in the past few years. Cats were once thought to be solitary creatures. It was speculated that they didn’t have a close bond with other cats, or their owners. 

Now, we know this isn’t true. Cats can live in social groups, and have close bonds with each other. They can also become very close with their owner. Perhaps in the years to come, we’ll learn more about cats’ mysteries, including how much they remember. 

Kunkush The Cat

Despite the lack of empirical research into the subject, many cat owners have experienced their cat’s memory first hand. Anecedotal reports may hold the answer to just how strong a cat’s memory can be. 

Kunkush the cat boarded a boat in Greece with his family. They were fleeing the violence in Iraq, heading to a destination in Europe. He got separated from his family, who had to continue their journey without him. 

Kunkush was found by some Greek fishermen. They, along with other members of the community, cared for him. They also began attempting to locate his family.  

After months of searching, Kunkush’s friends located his family. They were far away, in Norway. Kunkush’s first contact with them since he had been lost was a Skype call. 

He seemed happy to see them. In fact, he even searched behind the laptop, trying to locate the family he saw on the computer screen. It was clear he remembered his family, even though months had went by. 

He knew his family by sight and sound alone, even though cats rely heavily on their sense of smell. 

Do cats remember their home after being away?

Can your cat remember your home? Do they feel homesick if they are away? It seems they do, and some cats will go to great lengths to get back home. 

Cat’s Environmental Recall

Cats in the wild must remember their environment. They need to know their territory, where to hunt, and where to sleep. Even if they roam, they will always come back home. 

Domesticated cats feel similarly. Their home is their territory. They are familiar with it, and it’s important to them. Not only for survival, but for comfort. They have many positive memories associated with their home. 

Coming Home

Cats not only remember their homes. Many will attempt to return to it if they get lost or move. Up to 30% of cats will attempt to travel to their previous home after moving, even if they are a long distance from the home. 

Lost cats can travel immense distances to get back home. Lost pet reports state that cats have been known to travel 50-80 miles in 2.5 years. Other cats have traveled 30 miles in only 10 days.  

Cats can find their way home because they have a honing instinct. It’s believed that this is based on the earth’s magnetic field. Essentially, your cat has a magnetic map of the area around their home. This allows them to navigate and find their way back. 

Of course, some cats have a better sense of direction than others. This is one reason cats get lost in the first place. Often, they are distracted by something. They may be searching for a mate or hunting, and wander far from home.  Then, they can’t find their way back. 

How Long Does It Take a Cat to Consider a Place Home?

This seems to vary from cat to cat. Some cats will take to a new home almost immediately. Others may take weeks or even months to settle in. If they are with the same owners, the transition will be much easier. 

Their owners are their social group. Even though the home is different, the people they care for are the same. They may miss their old home, but they won’t miss their owners. 

However, if the cat changes homes to go to new owners, the adjustment process can be harder. They will miss both their home and their previous owners. They may even try to find their way back. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.