How Long Are Cats Memories?

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How long cats remember things depends on the classification of the information they process. According to a 2006 study by Animal Cognition, cats have short-term memory that declines as more as seconds pass.

Cats also have long-term memory and can keep memories for up to 10 years, which begs the question:

What information do cats store on their short-term and long-term memories?

I’ve parented two cats for over a decade. And I’ve heard several touching stories of cats reuniting with their owners after years of separation for different reasons. Surprisingly, the felines still remembered their owners.

Such stories piqued my interest, and I decided to dig deep into how long cats’ memories are. I researched scholarly articles, sourced vets’ views, and listened to other cat owners to establish the most accurate lifespan of a cat’s memory.

Types of Cat Memory

A cat’s memory length depends on the nature of the experience, interaction, and the part of the brain the cat chooses to store the information. For instance, if you have one interaction with a cat, it’s likely to remember you for 16-24 hours. 

Your kitty can also store memories 200 times better than a dog.

In other words, cats have short-term and long-term memories.

Short-Term Memory/ Working Memory

Short-term memory (working memory) is a temporary and limited capacity system within the broader memory system of your cat. Short-term memory holds and processes information for brief periods, ranging between a few seconds to a few hours.

In humans, working memory allows people to store and manipulate temporary information, such as following directions, comprehending spoken language, and remembering someone’s address.

For your kitty, short-term memory helps solve problems. For instance, the short-term memory helps cats:

  • Remember where they hunted earlier to find their prey 
  • Recall food location if you place it in a corner and walk away
  • Master specific meal time during the day

Cats short term memory is associative and helps them keep information for survival. They can hold information for about 16 -24 hours which is longer as compared to other animals which averages at 25 seconds.

Long-Term Memory

Cat’s long-term memory can retain and recall information or experiences over an extended period (ranging from days to years). The memory allows your cat to remember and learn from past events, situations, and interactions.

A cat’s long-term memory is split into two main categories, depending on the information stored.

  • Implicit memory
  • Explicit memory

Implicit Memory

Implicit memory (non-declarative memory) is a long-term memory involving the automatic recall of information, skills, or behaviors without intentional effort.

Implicit memory allows your cat to remember:

  • How to groom itself
  • Hunting behaviors
  • Navigations
  • How to stalk, pounce, and catch prey

Implicit memories are permanently ingrained, and cat recall them instinctively.

Explicit Memory

Explicit memory (declarative memory), on the other hand is more intentional. It entails the recall of facts, events, experiences, and information. It allows them to learn from experiences.

It informs their overall behavior and adaptation to the environment. Your kitty will store important information in its explicit memory and bring them up when it wants them. 

For instance, your feline can keep information on food preferences and reject some tastes, textures, and food forms. That explains why transitioning a cat from dry to wet food requires time.

According to a report, your cat’s long-term memory is 200 times superior to a dog’s. Kitties can retain information for up to 10 years but are selective about the data stored in their long-term memory.

A cat will only remember what benefits it, such as caregivers, people who irritate it, and even traumatic experiences.

An abused cat might have a difficult time trusting humans. Memories of mistreatment may make a cat avoid people or strangers.

How Cats Use Their Long-Term Memories

Your kitty’s long-term memory defines its character. Here are some ways your cat uses its memory.

Learning from experiences

Cats can remember past experiences and use that knowledge to make decisions and choices in the future. For example, a cat remembers:

  • A food that made it sick in the past, and avoid it in the future
  • Past dangerous encounters and avoid similar situations to reduce the risk of harm
  • Successful hunting strategies and might refine them based on what worked in the past
  • Solutions to problems they’ve encountered before (like solving puzzle games)


Your feline also stores information about familiar people, animals, objects, and places in the long-term memory. Even after a significant amount of time, the cat can retrieve the information and use it to distinguish familiar humans, scents, and appearances. The kitty will respond with affection to familiarity.

Cats also use their long-term memory to recognize other animals they encounter regularly and separate friendly animals from threatening ones.

Training and Conditioning

Long-term memory allows cats to learn from training and conditioning experiences. While felines aren’t as trainable as dogs, you can leverage their long-term memory to condition and teach them specific behaviors, commands, and associations.For example, you can train your cat to associate certain actions with rewards.

Long-term memory enables a cat to remember past experiences and the outcomes of those experiences. You can use treatment or affection to make your cat perform the desired behavior. Repeated training will make your cat associate the behavior with a positive outcome.

Once your cat has learned a specific behavior through training, you can reinforce the learned behavior with rewards.

Emotional Associations

Cats can form long-lasting emotional associations with specific experiences. Positive experiences can create positive long-term behaviors, while traumatic events may result in lasting fears or anxieties.

Over time, a cat can habituate to certain stimuli or situations. 

If a cat receives affection, treats, or enjoyable playtime during interactions with a particular person, it may form a positive emotional association with that individual. The association can lead to the cat seeking out that person for attention and affection in the future.

Alternatively, if your cat encounters a frightening or traumatic event, it may develop fear or anxiety related to similar situations or stimuli. The emotional memory can lead to avoidance behaviors or defensive responses when confronted with similar triggers.

Cats have a remarkable ability to remember the layout of their territory and navigate through it. Its long-term memory helps your kitty establish territorial boundaries and find essential resources.

Over time, your kitty will create a mental map of its territory, including landmarks and scent markers. These help your cat recognize and distinguish its territory’s limits from neighboring territories.

Your cat also stores information about the locations of essential resources within its territory, such as food, water, and litter box, in its long-term memory. Memorizing resource location makes it easy for your feline to access resources when necessary.

Social Interactions

Cats keep information about their interactions with other animals and humans in their long-term memory. This allows your cat to form and maintain bonds from its social experiences and interactions.

If a cat has enjoyable and nurturing interaction with you or another cat, it can form a stronger bond over time. The cat can recall past social interactions and use the information to adjust its behavior in future encounters.

On the flip side, if a cat has a negative experience with another cat or human, it may show avoidance or defensive behavior if it encounters the cat or human again.

In a multi-cat household, social interaction memories help cats understand social hierarchies. Based on the previous interactions, cats establish their position in the social hierarchy and respond appropriately to other cats. A cat can show submissive or dominant behavior based on their past interaction and experience.

Cats’ Lifelong Memories

Some long-term memories can fade away. However, cats can have lifelong memories, but their strength can vary, depending on:

  • Significance of the memory
  • The individual cat
  • The quality of memory encoding

Your cat will likely retain lifelong memories of significant or emotionally charged events like:

  1. A traumatic experience
  2. A strong bond with a person or other animal
  3. Consistent positive or negative interactions
  4. Territory layout, boundaries, key resources, and familiar scents

How Do Cats Acquire Memories?

Cats acquire memories through sensory perception, repetition, and practice. Once the outside world provides a sensory stimulus, your cat processes and stores it as memories.

When your cat encounters something new or experiences a new event, its brain will process the sensory input and encode it into neural signals. The process involves several brain regions that play a role in memory formation.

Once your kitty encodes a memory, it will consolidate it, depending on its impact. The brain will strengthen the neural connection associated with memory if repeated or the event is intense. The strengths of these connections influence the durability of the memory.

Depending on the nature of the memory, your cat will then store it in the appropriate part of the brain, such as:

  • Cerebral cortex (if it’s an important long-term memory that your cat might want to revisit later)
  • Hippocampus (if it’s a spatial memory like territory layout)
  • Amygdala (if it’s an emotional memory)

Once stored, a cat can retrieve a memory to use it. The retrieval process involves accessing the neural pathways and connections associated with the memory and activating them. The retrieval process can be caused by cues or environmental triggers associated with the memory.

Ways Cats Make Memories

1. Sensory Perception

Your kitty’s senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch — gather information about their environment and experiences. Sensory stimuli from the outside world provide the raw data that your cat processes and stores as memories.

2. Repetition and Practice

Like humans, memories are often formed and strengthened through repetition and practice. When your kitty repeatedly engages in a specific behavior or task, it creates a long-lasting memory. 

You can reinforce or weaken cats’ memories with subsequent experiences and learning. The positive and negative outcomes associated with your cat’s memory can strengthen or modify your cat’s future behavior and responses.

3. Practicing Motor Skills

Cats also develop memories for motor skills and physical behaviors like:

  • Grooming
  • Hunting
  • Pouncing
  • Climbing
  • Stalking through practice

Practicing the motor skills creates implicit memories that guide your cat’s automatic actions.

4. Social Interactions

Cats acquire memories related to social interactions, such as:

  • Recognizing familiar individuals
  • Remembering the structure of social hierarchies
  • Memory of object in the environment 

The memories your cat acquires in social interactions influence their behavior and responses in a social setting.

5. Emotional Experiences

Cats form emotional memories based on their experiences during specific situations or interactions. Positive emotions related to enjoyable experiences such as treats, receiving affection, and engaging in play can create positive memories.

Conversely, negative emotions linked to traumatic or unpleasant events can create negative memories. For instance, if your cat has a negative experience at the vet’s office, it might develop a fear or anxiety associated with vet visits. 

6. Visual and Spatial Memory

Cats have a visual and spatial memory that allows them to remember the layout of their environment, landmarks, and the locations of resources. Your cat captures the location of key resources like food, water, litter boxes, and safe hiding spots. Memorizing the territory and landmark layout helps the cat move around its territory.

Your kitty can remember the spatial relationships between objects and locations. The memory allows it to judge distances and heights accurately when climbing, jumping, or hunting.

7. Trial and Error Learning

Cats may learn from trial and error, remembering the outcomes of previous attempts to solve problems or access resources. 

The best illustration is when cats learn from their play experiences with toys. Your cat can remember how to manipulate an interactive toy to receive rewards or treats. Alternatively, cats may remember the outcome of previous attempts to access resources like food, water, or comfortable resting spots.

Things a Cat Remember

Your kitty keeps records of animals, people, or objects it interacts with, especially if pleasant or unpleasant. However, the lifespan of the memory depends on the intensity or the frequency of the interaction.

While there are thousands of things a cat can remember, here are the five most common ones kitties remember in the long term.


A cat can remember its owner even after years of separation. A study by Animal Cognition Journal established that cats can recognize their owners’ voices and more positively respond to their calls than to unfamiliar voices. 

A feline’s long-term memory is impressive. According to the report on Animal Cognition, a cat can recall its owner after six months of separation. If the bond is strong enough, it might take a lifetime for your kitty to forget about you.

Other Cats

According to a study by Scientific Reports, the findings affirm that cats can recognize the cat they’ve previously lived with even after separating for a year or two. 

The memory span depends on the following:

  • Frequency of interactions
  • The strength of the social bond
  • Positive or negative experiences your cat had with the other cat(s)
  • Duration of coexistence

Your cat will quickly remember a litter mate it had a strong bond with or despised most.


Cats can remember strangers after one interaction for 16-24 hours. The duration depends on the type of the nature of the interaction, the cat’s personality, and previous experience.

If a cat has a brief and uneventful encounter with a stranger, it may not remember that individual for an extended period. Cats are more likely to remember individuals with whom they have had more significant interactions.

On the other hand, if a stranger provided a positive experience, such as petting, treats, or playing, the cat may remember that individual for up to 24 hours. Conversely, if the encounter was stressful or negative, the cat may remember the stranger with caution or fear for 24 hours if there is no repeated interaction.

When They Were Kittens

Cats can keep memories of their kittenhood. However, the strength and specificity of the memories vary. 

Kittens go through a critical period of development during their early weeks and months of life, and some of their experiences during this time can leave lasting impressions.

For example, if a cat lacks human contact during its kittenhood, it might become fearful and shy around people. The feline may have difficulty bonding with people as an adult.

Pro tip: If a kitten has no human contact within the first 6-8 weeks, it is not likely to interact with a person easily in later life. At the most, it will struggle to trust humans, which might explain why feral cats are often very skittish and unwilling to snuggle.

Gesture and Words

Cats can remember some gestures and words, especially if they associate them with specific actions, behaviors, or outcomes. While the memory for words and gestures isn’t as extensive and precise as that of humans, cats can learn to associate some cues with an event or experience.

If you use a word like “treat” or a specific gesture (such as reaching for a treat jar) before giving your cat a tasty treat, it may start recognizing and responding to the word or gesture.

Your kitty can also recognize its name if you consistently use it in a positive context. While felines cannot understand the meaning of a word, they might respond to it based on the associated experience. 

Through training and repetition, your kitty can learn to associate certain words or gestures with specific behaviors.

Trauma and Bad Experience

Some owners will beat their cats if it’s destroying furniture. The problem with beating your cat is that it triggers a bad experience. 

Your kitty can remember bad experiences for a long time and can make it behave undesirably around you, even in different contexts.

According to experts, your kitty’s bad memory can last a few weeks to several years (up to 10-15 years). The lifespan of the memory depends on the severity of the experience. 

Cats have strong associative memory, allowing them to recall specific events that caused pain or discomfort.

Cats and Memory Loss

Cats experience memory loss as they age because of feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome (FCD) condition.

According to ASPCA, over 50% of cats aged 11- 15 experience the symptoms of FCD, which include memory loss. Other signs include:

  • Disorientation
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Changes in social behaviors
  • Reduced grooming
  • Difficulty in problem-solving
  • Inability to recognize familiar people or places
  • Agitation and anxiety

The study further affirms that 80% of cats aged 16-20 actually suffer from FCD.

As cats get older, they begin to lose brain cells, resulting in loss of long-term and short-term memory and overall cognitive decline.

A cat with memory loss may not be able to remember you later in the day, let alone after years of separation. There’s nothing you can do in the long run to prevent your cat from memory loss because it’s a natural aging process.

Pro Tip: You can slow the process and make your cat’s golden year much better by feeding your kitty food rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

How Long Are Cats Memories: Wrapping It Up

Cats have short and long-term capabilities. The short-term memory stores and remembers experiences and information it learned within the past 16 – 24 hours and then uses the data to solve problems.

On the other side, a feline’s long-term memory has an information-retention duration of up to ten years or a lifetime.


How Long Does It Take For A Cat To Forget You?

Cats forget one-time visitors after 16-24 hours. For their caregivers or owners, cats can take a lifetime to forget them. Depending on the bond, a cat might be unable to forget its owner for a lifetime.

Do Cats Forget Their Owners?

Cats don’t forget their owners. Cats’ long-term memory can store information for people who feed them or take care of them for a lifetime.

Will My Cat Remember Me After 1 Year?

Your cat is likely to remember your sight, smell, voice, and behavior even after a year (provided you have a strong bond). The strength of memory and the bond can vary, depending on your cat’s experience and personality.

Does My Cat Miss Me When I’m Away?

Yes, your cat can miss you when away because it’s a social creature and craves attention. The kitty will miss you because you’re the source of their love and affection.

How Far Back Can Cats Remember?

How far back a cat can remember depends on whether it stores the information in short-term or long-term memory.  A cat’s long-term memory can retain information for up to ten years (or a lifetime), while the information in the working memory stays for 16-24 hours.

How Long Do Cats Remember Other Cats?

Cats can remember the other cats they have interacted with for two years (or a lifetime), depending on how the cats relate, the strength of their social bond, and the period of coexistence. A cat can remember an enemy cat or another cat it has a strong bond with for a lifetime.

Do Cats Experience Memory Loss?

Yes, as cats get older, most develop cognitive dysfunction disorder that causes memory loss.

About Laura Martin

I'm Laura Martin. I get excited about all things cat related. I love my two cats - Dom and Kitty. When I'm not playing with my two feline friends, you can probably find me hiking. And yes, I have a 9 to 5 job. Although if you asked me I'd rather spend my time blogging and educating other cat moms and dads about what it takes to raise a healthy cat.

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