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How Good Is Cats’ Memory? Feline Brain Capabilities Facts

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Dr. Amanda Charles

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The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Living with a cat is sure to bring up many fond memories. While it’s clear that we can recall these fun and enjoyable memories, it’s not as clear if cats are able to as well. Cats are intelligent animals that have a good sense of memory, but their memory is built around their survival. So, they’re mostly able to remember information that’s functional and useful for their daily living. There’s still much research that needs to be done to understand a cat’s memory capacity thoroughly, but here’s what we know so far.

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What Types of Memories Can Cats Recall?

As we’ve mentioned before, cats remember things that are essential for their survival 1. So, they’re really good at remembering food sources, and they also have excellent spatial memory. Having spatial memory is essential to cats’ survival because it helps them to remember good hunting spots where they can consistently find prey.

Like humans, cats also have an easier time remembering important or extreme experiences 2. For example, if they’ve been in a situation that caused quite a surprise or put them in a dangerous situation, they’ll keep it in their memory and will avoid getting into similar situations in the future.

bengal cat hunting outdoor
Image Credit: Seregraff, Shutterstock

How Long Are Cats’ Memories?

More research needs to be done to determine how far back cats can recall memories. What we do know is that, like humans, fading memories for cats are affected by how useful and meaningful the memories are. Cats are also less likely to forget significant experiences, both positive and traumatic. However, accurate recollections of memories are likely to decline over time.

So, it’s difficult to tell how far back a cat’s memory can go, but it’s possible for them to remember things from at least a few years ago. It really seems to depend on how significant the impact of the situation was on their physical and emotional well-being.

Can Cats Remember Their Way Home?

Cats have something called a “homing instinct” that can help them find their way back home 3. This instinct is thought to use the earth’s geomagnetic fields and as well as the ability to detect scent cues. So, while cats may not rely so much on their memories to find their way back home, they do have the instinct to return back to their home base. In fact, there have been cases of cats returning home after a couple of years have passed.

A cat’s homing instinct is only applicable to places they’ve lived in for long enough to consider their home or areas of safety. So, if you’ve recently moved to a new place and your cat hasn’t settled in yet, your new home may not be registered with your cat’s homing instinct.

American Polydactyl cat walking outside
Image Credit: Jenny Margarette, Shutterstock

How Does Aging Affect Cats’ Memories?

Senior cats can suffer from cognitive dysfunction syndrome which results in a decline in cognitive abilities including memory. However one study suggests that age doesn’t consistently affect a cat’s spatial learning. In fact, some older cats in this study outperformed younger cats. So, you can technically teach an old cat new tricks.

Can Cats Remember Happy Memories?

When it comes to remembering happy memories, we first have to understand how cats register emotions. Research shows that cats are able to recognize and respond accordingly to certain human emotions like happiness and anger. They’re also capable of forming strong bonds with their humans and showing affection.

With all this in mind, cats can remember the positive emotions they feel from their humans, and this only helps them to form attachments and encourage them to show their affection toward certain people. They can certainly remember people and things that make them feel happy.

So, cats aren’t just built to look for food sources and safety. Newer research is indicating that cats are capable of storing and remembering episodic memories. They’re also able to remember pleasant experiences.

cat rubbing against owner
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

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Studies show that cats are capable of remembering episodic and spatial memories, and it’s important to create positive memories for your cat. Good memories are meaningful for your cat and benefit their happiness and well-being. So, don’t be shy about showing affection to your cat, spoiling them with treats, and creating positive experiences. Your cat will certainly appreciate them in the moment and is likely to continue to remember them as time goes on.

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Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock