Do cats remember their owners after a long time? To answer the question I am going to initially rely on personal experience; it’s the best way albeit it is ‘anecdotal evidence’. In any case I am struggling to find the views of experts as I don’t think there are any definitive studies on the long-term memory of domestic cats especially in relation to remembering people.
When I boarded my female cat at a boarding cattery she remembered me after 2 weeks. She recognised my voice and she recognised me visually. There is nothing startling about that. I am sure millions of cat owners have had the same experience.
When I visited Helmi Flick in the US I made friends with her Maine Coon, Zak. He is a great cat. I revisited Helmi about 2 years later and it was quite clear that Zak recognised me. You know when a cat recognises you.
I have not had the opportunity to test a separation between me and a cat for longer than 2 years so I can’t comment on it. However, it is fairly clear that cats do have good long term memories in respect of the recognition of other animals and we can also rely on the lion stories I refer to below. Further anecdotal evidence supports this…
One guy says:
“I spent three years away from my parents’ home. Within a minute of returning there, I was sitting on the couch with all three cats wanting my attention. That said, I’m the only one who is “nice” to them….so perhaps that has something to do with it. Happy memories and stuff.” (pets.stackexchange.com).
Another guy says that after an absence of 2 years his friend’s cat still remembered him and was affectionate. However, after longer periods of absence, the cat “while he still seemed to remember me, he is not as friendly to me as he used to be.”
As mentioned in another post, there are many instances of lost and reunited cats showing distinct signs of remembering their human family members years later.
There is also the story of a guy who played with a female cat who was not owned by him. They had a ritualistic form of play and the cat instigated it by pawing at a surface covered in cloth (couch or bed). After a year’s absence she’d still do this after recognising him and wishing to start the game again.
Cats remember us after years apart. I don’t know the limit to their long-term memory. There must be a limit. Their memory is probably stranger if the experiences of the relationship were excellent or very bad. This would be expected as humans have clearer memories of strong experiences.
Finally do you remember the “Christian the Lion Reunion Video“? It’s a well-known story. They were parted for years and Christian recognised his two human companions who had bought and raised him from a cub in London. There is also the story of “A Lioness Named Sirga Hugs A Man Who Saved Her Life“. They were reunited after 3 years and the lioness dived into his arms in a deep embrace (see photo on this page). That’s recognising you after a long time.