Cats Have A Good Long-term Memory

Cats have a good long-term memory
Cats have a good long-term memory. Photo by Deni WIlliams
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My experiences tell me, with certainty, that domestic cats have a first class long term memory. Isn’t this an indicator that cats are more intelligent than given credit for?

Memory is an important factor in intelligence. Reasoning relies on memory. Long-term memory is about a file of experiences which can be called upon to assist in resolving current problems and in making decisions.

The ability to recall data in people must be correlated with intelligence. Life experience is very important in wise decision making and wise decision making is a sign of intelligence.

On television, almost all the quizzes which are considered to be measures of a person’s intelligence are in fact measures of a person’s ability to recall facts.

Obviously aΒ cat is going to store data in long-term memory which is suitable to his/her lifestyle and to improve his chances of survival. This is often different information to that which we store.

My experiences relate to a cat’s ability to recognise a person visually, through scent and sound many years after first knowing the person but with no contact with the person in between the initial interactions and the current one.

My first experience of this was with Helmi Flick‘s Maine Coon, Zak (this is a photo of mine of him):

I visited the Flick’s home near Dallas, Texas, USA, twice. The period between the visits was, I recall, about 2 years.

When I arrived the second time Zach immediately remembered me visually and through my scent. How do I know this? Well, his behavior was relaxed with me as if I had only been away a day. He clearly knew me. If I was a stranger he would have behaved in the way cats normally behave with strangers, somewhat cautiously, at least. In fact Zak is quite a cautious and reserved cat, the evidence being that on my first visit it took a while (the entire 10 days of the visit) for him to get to know me.

There is no doubt in my mind that he absolutely knew me after a two year absence. That has to be because of a very good long term memory.

My second experience happened a day ago. I was staying at my girlfriend’s home where I had lived for about 6 years or more. I met a stray cat who I fed while I was living there. I had not seen this female tabby cat for about a year. She certainly recognised me by my voice and appearance as she was very friendly with me.

Cats must also have decent short-term memories because they rely on the degradation of the scent of feline urine to decide when a cat was there. As we know cats spray mark territory. As strength of the scent of urine degrades cats are able to tell how long ago it was deposited thereby helping to work out where the other cat is located.

It appears that cats are able to compare the strength of the scent from previous days which means they are able to store the scent in their memory.

As mentioned Zak was able to memorize my scent over two years. I am sure he would still be able to remember me now, 6 years later. Β I miss the boy. He is such an impressive cat.

15 thoughts on “Cats Have A Good Long-term Memory”

  1. Hi everyone. I always thought Cats had a long Memory. One thing I’ve noticed especially lately. When Its grocery week they seem to know when it’s that Time. As we do our Grocery shop every fortnight on a Saturday. They always know things that we may always forget. I.e Food, When we feeling stressed and worried and sad. So much more than we can ever imagine.

    • Take care of yourself Ahsan, your cats there need you and we need you here too, you truly care for cats as we do x

  2. Thank you for improving my knowledge.
    I thought/believed that cats and kittens should have a strong memory but when I surfed the internet and specially in Yahoo Answers… I was ready to change my ideas as there many people were not in belief that cats and specially kittens should have a strong memory. My 50/50 kitten was with me when she was at her 8th weeks of age and I took care of her but she ran away to the neighbors and she was not willing to stay with me but when the neighbors started torturing her means beating her with stick, shoes and every sort of things, then she has decided to stay with me. Maybe she has the memory call of love and safety from my side, she trust me now and she is now with us. It sounds good if really cats and kittens have a good memory. I am still undergoing my research whether it is true or just a belief of cat lovers. It will surely take time for me to understand it but better to follow the experienced people as they have spent a long life with cats and kittens.

    Thank you for sharing this article with us, shared to my facebook and yes! yesterday was a long busy, tired day for me because moslems were celebrating the EID after performance of HAJJ in Mekkah.Could not be online for 2 hours, now again I am back <3

    • There are two kinds of memory: long term and working memory (short-term memory). There is no doubt that cats have a good long term memory. As for working memory that is something else. We don’t know but it would seem less likely that they have a good working memory.

  3. I’ve always known that cats have a good memory, when I fetched my (sadly now departed) darling Benji from the rescue he went around the house nibbling anything that was a ‘corner’ tables, cupboard doors etc I think this came from a bad memory where he may have come into contact with them not in a nice way and by nibbling them he could take the sharp point away πŸ™

    We took Basil in as a stray who was a stunning cat long haired Ginger and White and huge! I’m sure he was Norweigan Forest! For ages he would put his head down like Jayme’s cat as if he had been hit and was scared it might happen again.

    They remember these things because of their survival instinct

  4. Of course cats have long term memory, they know their name from being kittens and know where they live even after only being outside once and they know their family. They know unpleasant things happen at the vets and don’t like going there.
    It’s said that cats never forget abuse of them and that’s true too, they won’t go without being forced, to someone who has hurt them.
    Cats are much cleverer than people although some people don’t like to admit it.

    • You touched on one thing that i find true. When i adopted my cat, he was found as a stray. However, it did appear that at one time someone took care of him. He was skiddish of me for a long long time. Today even he exhibits some of that same reaction. When we play, there are times he ducks his head in this weird way. Especially if my hand comes near. Still in play mode, he will place his whole body tight to the floor like he is trying to avoid something and go stiff. When i try and pick him up sometimes his eyes will flinch like he expects something not good is coming. Makes me wonder. I feel something is there in his memory that i can’t extract. He is a bit better now, but it has been hard work getting him to relax and enjoy his home.

      • Some people think tapping a cat on the nose is a good way to punish them as kittens if they bite, it sounds to me as if maybe whoever had your boy first maybe did that!
        It is in fact as we know, very cruel as cats noses are very sensitive, I don’t know why people who profess to love cats don’t understand that cats should never be punished.
        One of our cats Walter, has never been keen on being picked up and I think it’s because when we rescued him as a tiny kitten, the man was wearing him like a brooch, clinging desperately to his pullover.
        I think he has remembered that all his life.

          • It was the dirtiest most horrible house and people Leah, we gave them Β£5 to get him away, he had been fed on cheese on toast, had fleas, worms, ear mites, a heart murmur, the lot. I remember tucking him in my coat as he was shivering so much.

  5. Michael, should i call you by your name “Michael” or should i address you as “Sir” since i was surprised to learn that you have a fantastic stamina for writing at the age of 65 years.I lived in N-e England for a few months in 1985/86 and as far as i remember our professor liked to be called by their names and not addressed as “Sir”. I once asked a professor the reason and it was simple, he said he was not knighted by the Queen and hence not a “Sir” !In India its protocol among the educated class to address anyone senior to you in age as sir, especially if a teacher or professor. You are definitely a “Professor” on the subject of cats and also a senior citizen. I hope i haven’t offended you by referring to you by your first name.In Mumbai i feel embarrassed when people call me “Uncle”, a normal term among most youngsters and sometimes people older than me as i am definitely more fit than most of the so called 30 and 40 year olds,not anyone’s “Uncle” ! Apologise to drift from the subject of cats but then i was surprised to know your age when you mentioned the same on the untimely death of cat writer association President Lorie.Huston.Yes Michael, enjoy your life and do travel if you like travelling as i do.As for cats having a long term memory its a fact . Having owned cats since 1995 i can definitely say that cats do have a memory and also recognize people by scent or voice.

    • My girlfriend calls me Mike. I don’t mind either. As for “Sir”, it’s nice but I don’t think I quite fit that description πŸ˜‰

      Writing keeps me occupied and my brain active. It also helps to “feed” the website to keep it healthy. Thanks for the compliment about stamina.


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